There is no quick-fix when it comes to a healthy, clean and nutritious meal, but the question is who is going to cook such meals? The age of ‘instant’ solutions is here, and instant noodles have become our children’s staple.
The main ingredients used in instant noodles are wheat flour (mostly maida), palm oil, and salt. Common ingredients in the flavouring powder are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG or E 621), seasoning, and sugar. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, also known as excitotoxin. In simple words, exitotoxins are substances that over-stimulate (excite) the brain and interfere with human hormonal system – appetite is increased, feeling of satiation is subdued, making people eat more than they need. Some people even get nightmares after eating a meal loaded with MSG. Look for anything that says ‘hydrolysed protein’ in the label. It is not something nutritious as you may imagine, it is just another name of MSG, a wolf in disguise, as in the story of the Red Riding Hood.
If the brand of instant noodles does not have MSG, then it may have some other flavour enhancers like disodium inosinate (E631) and disodium guanylate (E 627). It is a proven fact that MSG and other flavour enhancers are highly addictive and once hooked to them, the taste buds crave for more. If people, especially children eat more of the foods containing flavour enhancers, all other foods start tasting bland by comparison. The ‘enhancer addicts’ will insist on foods containing the same. Not only these are highly addictive but are also known to cause obesity. Numerous researchers around the world are using MSG or E 627 as a tool to create obese rats and mice to carry out research on.
Don’t just look for E 621, look for E 627 which in many countries is not permitted in foods for infants and young children. E 627 is isolated either from sardines (fish) or yeast and may trigger gout in adults, hyperactivity and asthma in children. Gout is a kind of arthritis or inflammation of joints. It can cause an attack of sudden burning pain, stiffness, and swelling in a joint, usually a big toe.
Citric acid is a normal component of human cells that is metabolized, degraded, and eliminated from the body. Also known as E330, and is present in citrus fruits. It is one of the main ingredients in food and beverage mainly as an acidity regulator. Unlike the food enhancers, citric acid has several health benefits but it has some other health effects on the consumers. Its regular consumption (from processed foods) can cause stomach upset, dark stools and weakened hair roots. It is not advisable to give citric acid to infants and very small children.
Study the label for food colours (150a, b, c and d). These are caramel colours. Caramel colour is one of the oldest and most widely used food colourings, and is found in many commercially produced foods and beverages. It is derived from sources such as wheat, malt syrup, or lactose (from milk); most of them are common allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions). Many people, especially children are sensitive to these.
Instant noodles are highly processed foods and are marketed worldwide in hundreds of different brands. To manufacture the instant (two minute) noodles is a long process. The noodle shaped dough needs to be dried in one of two ways: by frying or by hot air drying. Fried instant noodles (more than 80% brands follow this method) are dried by frying in oil for a few minutes at very high temperatures. The frying process drastically decreases the moisture content for preservation or a longer shelf life. Common oil used for frying is palm oil that is odourless, tasteless, and solid at room temperature, making it ideal for enhancing the consistency and shelf life of commercial food products. Palm oil is also high in saturated fats that increase the bad cholesterol and clog the blood vessels.
Last but not the least, buy simple pasta or noodles and cook them for ten minutes instead of two and add masalas available at home. One can spare those extra eight minutes for avoiding all the toxic and allergic substances in the instant noodles. Unless you want your children to be the ‘enhancer’ junkies, feeding on loads of maida, sugar, and artificial colours, the foods that disturb their hormonal balance. The choice is yours, when it comes to nutrition, there is no free lunch.
The author is a microbiologist and has worked for food and pharmaceutical companies in marketing as well as business development in countries like Germany, India and the United Arab Emirates. She has written articles on ‘health & medicine’ in a leading Marathi newspaper and was also a freelance health columnist for a leading English newspaper in the Gulf for several years.