Noodles: friend or foe?

A RECENT US study linking instant noodle consumption by South Koreans to some risks for heart disease has prompted a passionate response throughout Asia, where the noodles are not just a cheap treat but an essential part of life.

Instant noodles are an essential, even passionate, part of life for many in South Korea and across Asia. Hence the emotional heartburn caused by a Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital study in the United States that linked instant noodles consumption by South Koreans to some risks for heart disease.

SOUTH KOREANS DEFEND DIET. A cook prepares “ramyeon” instant noodles for a customer at a ramyeon restaurant in Seoul, South Korea. A study by a United States hospital that found excessive consumption of instant noodles was associated with health risks has left a bad taste in the mouth among South Koreans. (AP FOTO)
SOUTH KOREANS DEFEND DIET. A cook prepares “ramyeon” instant noodles for a customer at a ramyeon restaurant in Seoul, South Korea. A study by a United States hospital that found excessive consumption of instant noodles was associated with health risks has left a bad taste in the mouth among South Koreans. (AP FOTO)

“There’s no way any study is going to stop me from eating this,” says Kim Min-koo, a free freelance film editor who indulges about five times a week. “The taste, the smell, the chewiness — it’s just perfect.”

The study has provoked feelings of wounded pride, mild guilt, stubborn resistance, even nationalism among South Koreans, who eat more instant noodles or “ramyeon” per capita than anyone in the world.

“Ramyeon is like kimchi to Koreans,” says Ko Dong-ryun, 36, an engineer from Seoul, referring to the spicy, fermented vegetable dish. “The smell and taste create an instant sense of home.”

Many of those interviewed vowed not to quit. Other noodle lovers offered up techniques they swore kept them healthy: taking Omega-3, adding vegetables, using less seasoning, avoiding the soup. Some dismissed the study because the hospital involved is based in cheeseburger-gobbling America.

The study raises important questions, but can’t prove that instant noodles are to blame rather than the overall diets of people who eat lots of them, cautions Alice Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition lab at Tufts University in Boston.

The health study didn’t worry many South Koreans, though. “Don’t I look fit?” one asked. “Instant noodles every once in a while won’t kill you.” (AP)


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