askST: Is eating instant noodles harmful to our health?

Reader Tan Pin Ho wrote in to ask about whether the consumption of instant noodles is harmful to one's health.

He said: "I have been eating instant noodles quite often because of its convenience and affordability. However, I read a few articles about the harmfulness caused to our health by consuming instant noodles. If this is true, why was there no warning to the public or some kind of control by the authorities?"

Food writer Eunice Quek finds out.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital's dietitian Seow Vi Vien says: "The nutritional quality of instant noodles is of concern because it contains a high amount of fat, saturated fat and sodium, as well as little fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals."

However, there is no recommended intake for instant noodles because it is not considered a replacement for meals.

Miss Seow notes that one packet of instant noodles prepared with a full sachet or premixed seasoning can easily contain up to 1,700mg of sodium, which is about 85 per cent of the recommended daily amount of sodium intake. Furthermore, excessive consumption of salt/sodium can increase a person's risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

A person who consumes only three servings of instant noodles daily will become malnourished over time because he does not get the required amount of nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals to support health. So, consider limiting intake of instant noodles to one to two times a week, Miss Seow suggests.

Her advice is to read the food label, and choose a product with lower sodium, saturated and total fat content. Or, watch your calorie intake by choosing a smaller portion. Koka's purple wheat noodles, for example, has the Healthier Choice endorsement by the Health Promotion Board.

To make an instant noodle meal healthier, Miss Seow recommends adding vegetables, lean meat, fish, egg or tofu, and using a quarter or just half a portion of seasoning instead of the full packet. Garnish such as spring onion or coriander can be added to enhance taste.

She says: "If you are using the instant version that does not require cooking, avoid consuming all the soup to help you reduce salt/sodium intake and include vegetables and a protein source like egg on the side. If you can't include the vegetables, then make sure to catch up on your vegetable intake at the next meal."

More askST stories here.