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MyLife >> Thursday June 19, 2008
The instant obsession

Are two-minute noodles healthy?


It has been 50 years since the first instant noodles were produced by Momofuku Ando, in Ikeda, Japan.

Ando's newly invented noodles were five to six times more expensive than the traditional Japanese udon noodles, resulting in his products categorised as "a delicacy" of that time.

The instant noodles today have become a global food that can be found commonly in most households.

During the past 50 years, the instant noodles have gone through many evolutionary steps and become diverse in tastes and flavours. The available sizes, too, are now numerous, with the smaller packs for children, regular packs for the general consumers and the jumbo packs for the hungry souls. There are also cup noodles to please the modern lifestyles of the consumers.

The popularity of instant noodles consumption has caused concerns that the noodles may not contain sufficient nutrition and that some noodles ingredients may be harmful to the consumers. Although some companies have begun to put the nutritional facts label on their products, the practice has not been required by any law.

What's in instant noodles?

According to Dr Prapaisri Sirichakwal of the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University, a typical pack of the instant noodles has the following ingredients:

- Flour (wheat): 60 to 70 per cent

- Fat from the condiments and the noodles: 15 to 20 per cent

- Salts and monosodium glutamate: Five to six per cent

Consumers should be particularly aware of the condiments as they tend to contain a high amount of sodium.

The human body needs about 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, but a pack of instant noodles contains more than 1,200 milligrams or 50 to 60 per cent of the required amount.

If the individual consumes other food with a high level of sodium such as fish source, soya source, fermented tofu, salted fish and various types of snack, the body may acquire more sodium. This may lead to illnesses such as high blood pressure and kidney diseases.

Healthy consumption of instant noodles

Dr Prapaisri suggests that consumers should not eat instant noodles as consecutive meals as the body needs a diversity of nutrients. If they must, or want, to eat instant noodles regularly, here are some tips for healthy consumption:

- Reduce the amount of monosodium glutamate or MSG addition, perhaps by half. If a blander soup is not preferred, reduce the amount of water used too.

- Add more ingredients especially proteins. Consider adding an egg or canned fish, preferably the mineral water kind, not the fish in tomato source or oil as it will unnecessarily add more sodium and fat. Various vegetables are also a good addition.

- Avoid instant noodles that were produced by frying to reduce the fat consumption. Choose the ones that used drying as the cooking method. Typically, the instant noodles that require boiling are the dried noodles, while the just-add-hot-water types tend to be the fried ones.

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