This Is What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles

June 26, 2019 Updated: June 27, 2019

If you’re a college student, a busy parent, or find yourself working a night shift, then a packet of instant ramen noodles might just mean the difference between eating and going hungry. Instant noodles are quick, easy, and pretty tasty to boot. But could they be doing your body more harm than good?

Ramen noodles are a staple for college kids, but they might not be the best brain food (Illustration – Shutterstock | Dragon Images)

Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital suspected so. The doctor conducted a voyeuristic foray into the bellies of a group of volunteers to find out how their bodies really coped with instant noodles. “People just have this macabre interest in terms of what’s going on in their bodies,” Dr. Kuo told WCVB, “when they can’t see it.”

So the good doctor brought the inner workings of our bodies to the small screen in a fascinating viral video that might just put you off your noodle dinner. But what’s all the fuss about instant noodles anyway? It’s just a simple snack food, right? The plot thickens as soon as we take a closer look at the ingredients.

Tasty, yes. But have you read the ingredients? (Illustration – Shutterstock | Apple_Mac)

According to research by LifeHack, instant ramen noodles typically contain the following seven ingredients:

1. Propylene glycol, which, frighteningly, is also used in tobacco products and antifreeze.
2. Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), which preserves the wheat, flour, salt, and vegetable oil in the noodles. However, TBHQ is also found in perfumes, resins, lacquers, and biodiesel. Yikes.
3. Monosodium glutamate (MSG). We expect you’ve heard of this one. It’s highly addictive, and in larger quantities can cause nausea, headaches, flushing, sweating, and heart palpitations.

What exactly are instant noodles doing to our gastro-intestinal tracts? (Illustration – Shutterstock | Magic mine)

4. Sodium, or “salt,” for us laypeople. One packet of instant ramen noodles contains an average of 1,875 milligrams of sodium; we are only supposed to ingest 1,500 milligrams daily.
5. Vegetable oil. Canola or cottonseed oils are okay, but if palm oil is used, watch out. Palm oil is very high in saturated fat.
6. BPA, an “endocrine disruptor,” is present if your noodles come in a polystyrene cup. BPA can leach into your noodles during the cooking process, and, when ingested, can affect your natural hormone balance.
7. Corn syrup, a preservative. Essentially a sweetener; essentially like dunking a teaspoon of sugar into your noodle pot.

Dr. Kuo’s participants ate both instant and freshly made ramen noodles (Illustration – Shutterstock | aldarinho)

If that jolly list hasn’t already put you off, Dr. Kuo’s experiment sheds even more light on the one question remaining: are instant noodles really bad for your health or not?

The doctor’s volunteers swallowed “smart-pill” cameras and then tucked into a noodle dinner to find out. Day one, instant ramen; day two, fresh, homemade ramen. The cameras recorded 32 hours of footage, and Dr. Kuo discovered that instant ramen noodles don’t digest half as easily as their freshly prepared equivalents.

The doctor’s footage showed participants’ stomachs trying in vain to break down the instant noodles (Illustration – Shutterstock | Emily frost)

Footage showed one participant’s stomach contracting repeatedly as it attempted to grind up the instant noodles. “The most striking thing about our experiment,” recalled Dr. Kuo, “in one or two hours, we noticed processed ramen noodles were less broken down than homemade ramen noodles.”

Dr. Kuo’s study was too small to draw credible generalized conclusions, but after witnessing the doctor’s fascinating footage, many consumers have become more critical of their noodle-eating habits. In the meantime, Dr. Kuo told WCVB that he planned to conduct further research into slower digestion and nutrient absorption; the world waits with bated breath.

The doctor also revealed that he was not put off; he still ate the tasty snack himself (in moderation!). If you, likewise, want to find a way to keep this delicious treat on your snack food repertoire, then there are a few ways that you can make it healthier.

Healthline suggests adding vegetables for more color, flavor, and nutrition. Perhaps add eggs, chicken, fish, or tofu for more protein, which will keep you fuller for longer.

Choose a low-sodium option to keep your salt intake on the right side of “too much,” and finally, ditch the MSG-heavy flavor packet and make your own broth! Are you up for the challenge?

The bottom line, Healthline states, is “though instant ramen noodles provide iron, B vitamins, and manganese, they lack fiber, protein, and other crucial vitamins and minerals.” So why not flex your cooking muscles at the same time as enjoying a tasty snack?

Your gastro-intestinal tract will thank you for it.