How Safe Are Instant Noodles?

Image (c) Jun Seita via Flickr

For many years now, instant noodles appear to have become one of the most favourite meals in many homes in this part of the world, and seem to have retained the capacity to greatly endear many mothers to their children.  Ask any child out there the particular meal he expects his mother to serve him once he gets home and he will not hesitate to name his favourite brand of instant noodles. Also, among students faced with several lectures in a day and workers hurrying off to their offices and sundry assignments, instant noodles remain a readily available, easy-to-prepare, meal to quickly assuage biting hunger before rushing off to the next lecture or assignment. Some people have even become so addicted to these noodles that even where they have all the time in the world to prepare another meal, they would still settle for their favourite brand of instant noodles.

Image (c) Jun Seita via Flickr
Image (c) Jun Seita via Flickr

Whatever the brand – IndomieChikkiMimee, Honeywell, Tummy Tummy, etc., – it has, no doubt, become the magic word that can instantly wake a child from sleep to take his meal when ordinarily he wouldn’t have loved to.  For many children, adolescents and even adults, these noodles qualify as the “real meals” in the family menu.

Not too long ago, I heard some people talking about how these instant noodles do not constitute the healthy diet their consumers have always assumed they are.  This got me really troubled. As is the case in many other homes, instant noodles were also enthusiastically consumed in my own home. This now compelled me to research this popular meal, and what I discovered was quite astonishing.  As one with a deep passion for children and youths who of course are the major consumers of this product, I cannot but cry out just like I did in one of my articles last year titled “The Child, The Youth and The Country, Nigeria .”

I would be glad if the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the Ministry Of Health and all other government agencies entrusted with the duty of determining the healthiness of what are offered to consumers, and indeed, concerned well-meaning Nigerians, would look at my findings and see if indeed we are not all running after this favourite, easy-to-prepare, delicious meal to our own hurt?  If indeed my discoveries are valid, then many kids and adults are already at the waiting hall of future health disasters.

Now, these instant noodles contain very high amount of sodium, in fact, more than 50% of the recommended limit for adults and even much more for children.  This means that as one consumes other meals that equally contain sodium, it would amount to excess intake which then exposes the consumer to the high risk of hypertension, other heart diseases, stroke, kidney damage, etc.

Also, these noodles are coated with waxes that are considered very injurious to health. Some findings have even suggested the wax could cause cancer. Now do this little experiment.  Get a pack of instant noodles and put into a bowl, and pour hot water on it which should cover it and wait for a few minutes. You will see the wax coating which was probably used to stick the noodles together separating themselves and floating on the water.

A look at a pack of instant noodles will also show that one of the ingredients it contains is the toxic preservative known as Tertiary-Butyl Hydroquinone (TBHQ).  The amount of it in the product as stated on the pack may appear small but considering the quantity of instant noodles consumed regularly by many people, soon, several consumers may discover when it has become too late that the amount of this TBHQ in their bodies have become excess and therefore harmful. And according to experts, restlessness in children, nausea and actual vomiting could be some of the indications that one has got this substance in excess in one’s body.  Also, the seasoning that accompanies each pack of instant noodles contains Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). This serves to enhance the flavour of the noodles, thereby increasing its demand and consumption and also the negative effects it has on consumers.  Interestingly, this same additive is found in several prepared and packaged food.  MSG operates on the brain and may affect the brain cells as more doses are consumed over a considerable time.  Its impact on the brain can also lead to several other diseases.

These ingredients are clearly listed on each pack of instant noodles but who has taken some pain to explain to the public and consumers their effects on their bodies?  Indeed, Nigeria has quite a number of food scientists, nutritionists, dietetics and experts in several related fields who are capable of subjecting these instant noodles to serious analysis in order to present an informed opinion to Nigerians despite the clean bill of health already given to them by regulatory agencies. Should we be left at the mercy of producers who are certainly aware of the harmful nature of the ingredients they use in the production of these instant noodles, but who would choose to hide them from us to protect their huge profits?

Since these fears begun to be began, Nigerians have waited in vain for regulatory agencies like NAFDAC, SON, or even the Ministry of Health to come out to either confirm or allay the people’s fears. Yet the questions crying for answers are many and very scary.

For instance, do instant noodles actually contain Styrofoam which can cause cancer? Is Propylene Glycol one of the ingredients used in their preparation which is known to weaken the immune system as some findings are saying?  What are the likely negative effects of instant noodles on the development of a foetus, the digestive system, the brain, the heart and the kidney?  Given the rate of its consumption, do instant noodles have enough nutritional value to serve as a healthy diet for the growing child, adolescent and pregnant woman?

These are questions and fears our experts should help the citizenry to urgently address. The people need to be properly advised. No responsible government should sit still and allow its citizens to continue ingesting harmful products only to embark on some panic measures when an epidemic breaks out. The government and its regulatory agencies whose responsibility it is to safeguard the health of the people should be proactive.

These agencies, especially, NAFDAC and SON should not appear to have forgotten that it is their work to regulate the manufacture, advertisement, sale and use of food items in the country.  In order to do this work creditably, they should conduct periodic tests on products to determine which one has continued to meet the approved standard.  On no account must they seek to favour the companies that manufacture these products at the expense of Nigerian lives. On behalf of all Nigerian children, youths and parents who consume instant noodles, I wish to call on NAFDAC, SON, and Ministry of Health to investigate these reports about these noodles and properly advise us before it becomes late.

When a particular brand of instant noodles experienced some crisis in 2004 as a result of reports that some consumers had taken ill after eating it, NAFDAC had at that time investigated the matter and later certified it okay for consumption.  Another call is coming out today for the reinvestigation of not just a brand, but all the brands of instant noodles consumed in this country to determine how healthy they are.

According to World Instant Noodles Association, Nigeria was in 2013 rated as the 12th largest consumer of instant noodles.  This can now give us a fair idea of the number of people that consume the product in Nigeria .  Today, there are more than ten different brands of instant noodles with varieties of flavours with, of course, different effects on their consumers.

Some of the attractions of these instant noodles are that they are cheap, quick and easy to prepare and tasty.  Like I observed earlier, it was once consumed as snacks or something to hold on to while waiting for the main meal, but today it has become part of the family diet in many homes.  In some homes, it is the daily breakfast for kids.  Among college students, it is a routine meal.  It is the most requested for at many joints and food centres.  Many offices and road side workers have made it their daily meal.  Corporate workers book them in advance for lunch and the noodles are prepared in a ‘corporate way’ and delivered to their offices almost on daily basis.  Looking around in the streets in the evenings and even at nights, you would find queues of waiting buyers and some others seated at instant noodles spots either eating or waiting for it to be served them as that day’s dinner.  Now, if the discoveries are true, do we not see an epidemic ahead, that is, packs of time bombs waiting to explode and release all manner of diseases like: hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, heart and kidney problem, miscarriages, malnutrition and diverse abnormalities?  What a future health risk many youths and homes are unwarily nurturing today?  Will our nation be able to handle the offshoot?

We need to know the quantity of instant noodles that is safe for the child, youth, pregnant woman and other adults, if we must continue to consume them.  The producers must be mandated to place more value on the lives of their consumers over their pursuit of gain and fame.  Also, all adverts of these tantalizingly packaged noodles ought to be censored to present only what is true about them.  It might even be necessary to compel the manufacturers to place warnings on the packs to regulate the rate at which people consume them. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine!


Image (c) Jun Seita via Flickr

Written by
Carllister Ejinkeonye
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