04/23/2014 CAMBRIDGE, MA Isabella Wei (cq) (left) and Claire Lee (cq) shopped for ramen during the Grand Opening of H Mart in Cambridge. (Aram Boghosian for Boston.com)
04/23/2014 CAMBRIDGE, MA Isabella Wei (cq) (left) and Claire Lee (cq) shopped for ramen during the Grand Opening of H Mart in Cambridge. (Aram Boghosian for Boston.com)
The Boston Globe

I remember making that mega purchase of instant ramen noodles at the beginning of more than one fall semester, but let’s make a pact this year to make the stash last until spring finals.

Although Asian countries have lower obesity rates than the United States, it’s not because of their instant noodle habits. In fact, women everywhere should probably start cutting back on this salty slurpfest.

Research published in the August issue of Journal of Nutrition found that South Korean women who ate instant noodles at least twice per week were 68 percent more likely to have a metabolic syndrome that increased their risk for heart disease. In the country with the highest per capita consumption of instant noodles in the world, the prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors are rapidly increasing. The rate of overweight adults increased from 26 percent in 1998 to 32 percent in 2007.

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The research team, lead by Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, analyzed the dietary habits of South Koreans over two years using the 2007-2009Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV, which collected data for more than 10,000 adults from 19 to 64 years old. The data on nutrition in the survey was collected in response to a 63-question-series about frequency of certain foods in residents’ diets.

Two major diet patterns emerged in the country with the highest instant noodle consumption rate. The arguably healthier “traditional” diet pattern (TP) included lots of rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes. The “meat and fast-food pattern” (MP) was rich in meat, soda, fried food, and fast food—including instant noodles. Not surprisingly, in residents with a higher frequency of MP diet, researchers found a greater prevalence of abdominal obesity, higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and high blood sugar (triglycerides).

The impact of the instant noodles was so striking on the South Korean woman’s diet because researchers were able to isolate instant noodle frequency from the other two major diet patterns of TP or MP. Metabolic syndromes typically associated with heart disease risk factors include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels. South Korean women who ate instant noodles more than twice a week were 68 percent more likely to have these symptoms. On average, South Korean women who followed a typical MP diet had instant noodles 1.2 times per week. The women with largely MP diets and higher instant noodle intake were also more likely to be younger, smoke, drink more alcohol, and be less physically active.

Dr. Hu told The New York Times that some sociological factors may have had an affect on the gender-weighted results. While women are more likely to report their diets more accurately (not surprising), postmenopausal women’s bodies are also more sensitive to effects of increased carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fats. (Great, something to look forward to.)

“We speculate that postmenopausal women may be more susceptible to detrimental metabolic effects of highly refined carbohydrate and saturated fats contained in instant noodles. More studies are needed to examine gender difference in this association,” Dr. Hu said in an email exchange with Boston.com.

Dr. Hu said that instant noodles aren’t off-limits, but there is a healthy balance.

“Instant noodles should not be included as part of a healthy diet because it is typically highly processed and contain a large amount of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and glycemic load,” said Dr. Hu. “It’s better to avoid the consumption of instant noodles, although occasional consumption (e.g., once or twice per month) should not be a problem.”

So...