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It’s a staple item in the diet of college students across the nation, one that we all know isn’t the best for us on a nutritional level, but have you ever stopped to consider just how bad instant ramen noodles may be? The truth may surprise you…

What is it about instant ramen noodles that is so enticing? The answers may vary slightly depending on who you ask, but it’s likely going to come down to two key points – they are incredibly cheap for those of us who may be on an incredibly tight budget (college students, I’m looking at you) and they are unbelievably easy to prepare. However, while a ramen-heavy diet may not hit your bank account hard, don’t think you’re not paying a price in some area of your life.

Let’s start with the fact that we don’t eat just for the taste and enjoyment of the food that we prepare. Your diet is the fuel that you put into your body, with the power to improve or destroy your health. As the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services explains on their website, “a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death. These include heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. By making smart food choices, you can help protect yourself from these health problems.”

With this in mind, even if you are looking for budget-friendly options when hitting the grocery store, wouldn’t it make sense to prioritize proper nutrition? After all, being sick comes at a great cost in our country! This is where instant ramen noodles really miss the mark. Notorious for their incredibly high sodium content, some brands have sodium levels as high as 72% of your daily recommended intake! Furthermore, that little package of noodles is packed with refined grain flour, fried in palm oil prior to being packaged. The only real redeeming quality is the incredibly small amount of dehydrated vegetables that they include. With little to no fiber or protein and no beneficial vitamins or antioxidants, they are the very definition of ‘empty calories’.

In an effort to better understand the impact of a ramen-heavy diet, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study in 2014 which was then published in the ‘Journal of Nutrition’. Acknowledging that ramen is a staple in the diet of most of the population of South Korea, they set out to understand the potential health implications. They discovered that women who ate ramen at least twice a week as part of their regular diet showed a 68% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, obesity, and an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke than those who ate a well-balanced diet.

“You’re much better off buying a can of soup filled with vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like beans or chicken,” explained Michelle Dudash, RDN, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and author of ‘Clean Eating for Busy Families’. “Or if you’re craving a bowl of Asian noodles, boil some brown rice noodles or buckwheat noodles, pour some reduced-sodium or homemade broth on top and add sautéed vegetables and edamame.”