Health Hack: Instant Noodles
Instant noodles are quick, easy and comforting. It seems to be an ideal candidate for us city-dwellers who are time-poor and just want to satisfy your food craving. Although instant noodles have become a staple in almost every family’s kitchen, they are typically deep fried in oil, which means they are high in fats, namely trans fat. Trans fat can raise our blood low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (aka the "bad" cholesterol) levels, whilst lower our high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (aka the "good" cholesterol). This increases the risk of coronary heart disease, which is the 3rd killer in Hong Kong.
It is not recommended for one to consume instant noodles regularly, however, it is important to remember that there are no absolute “good” or “bad” foods, there are just bad diets. Moderation is key and here are some ways you can healthily elevate your favorite instant noodles (and possibly even make them taste better)!
A good ol’ bowl of instant noodles is often accompanied by spam, sausages, spiced pork cubes, satay beef...you name it. These add ons share something in common - nope, not how delectable they are, but how they are high in fat and sodium. Here are the numbers: a bowl of spam and eggs instant noodles provides 39g of fat, equivalent to nearly 3 tablespoons of oil, and 2,457mg of sodium, which exceeds our daily recommended salt intake for adults of <2,000mg of sodium per day (1).
What you want to add into your bowl is quality protein that helps you stay fuller for longer periods of time. Eggs are a source of complete protein, providing us with all 9 essential amino acids - the amino acids that our bodies can't synthesise on their own, which is why we need to include them in our diet. Mix in a beaten egg into a pot of boiling noodles for a flavorful and creamier texture, or just crack an egg into the pot as a topping. This way, no extra cooking oil is used!
2. Fresh or Frozen Veggies
To enhance the nutritional density of your noodle soup and make it a more nutritionally balanced meal, it is important to add at least a portion of vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, bok choy, or other veggies of your choice. You may also throw in a handful of leafy greens or frozen veggies like carrots, peas, or corn just before the noodles finish cooking to increase the bulk of your meal, keeping you satiated for longer periods of time. If you are not a fan of greens, you can opt for different varieties of mushrooms or gourds, this could also add umami and flavour to your dish. These ingredients are high in potassium, which can help relax blood vessels and excrete sodium while decreasing blood pressure.
3. Less Is More
There are so many instant noodles out there that are not deep fried - this can significantly reduce your total fat and saturated fat intake! Ask a Dietitian if you are unsure what options there are or if you need help with understanding nutrition labels, we are here to help! When preparing instant noodles, try and use only half of the seasoning, including the soup powder, oil and other sauces included. Most importantly, refrain from slurping down the soup, it is high in salt, which could range from 834 to 5800 mg of sodium per 100g of food (2) - that’s a lot of salt! You are capable of making small changes to your health, one bite at a time.
Overall, enjoying instant noodles once in a while will not sabotage your health journey. It is important to develop a good relationship with food, to understand what your needs are and be empowered with ways to build sustainable eating habits.
(1) World Health Organisation (2012) Guideline: Sodium intake for adults and children. Geneva.
(2) Centre for Food Safety (2010) Instant Noodles. Joint Consumer Council's Article Series on Nutrition Labelling. Hong Kong