web analytics

Instant Noodles, MSG, and Cancer

There is an e-mail circulating about the dangers of instant noodles that suggests they can cause cancer. A copy of the e-mail is below.

A few websites argue that this claim is false and that the warning is a hoax, such as Break the Chain and Snoopes.

However, reputable medical websites such as WebMD MedicineNet.com suggest that consumers have reason to be weary about instant noodles. It’s not surprising that the Stanford Cancer Center website offers a noodle recipe that calls for all natural ingredients.

One concern regarding instant noodles, such as the Top Ramen brand, is that they contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). In 1995, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiated an official investigation into the dangers of MSG and the findings of that investigation resulted in a report more than 350 pages long. The research concluded that MSG can cause the following symptoms:

  • burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
  • numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
  • tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms facial pressure or tightness
  • chest pain
  • headache
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • bronchospasm (difficulty breathing) in MSG-intolerant people with asthma
  • drowsiness
  • weakness

Despite the health concerns identified by this government study, many food producers continue to use MSG as a flavor enhancer in many products. The findings of this lengthy government study conclude that, “A reaction is most likely if the MSG is eaten in a large quantity or in a liquid, such as a clear soup.”

There is even some concern among the noodle manufacturers regarding quality. In 2001, it was reported: “About 70 delegates from nine countries opened a ramen summit Thursday aimed at improving the quality of instant noodles on the world market. The two-day summit in Bangkok is also aimed at creating an opportunity for delegates to discuss and exchange views, and experience new technologies to improve the quality of instant noodles to cope with the world market.” [Read: “Ramen manufacturers strengthen instant noodle standard” bNET article 15 March 2001, Bangkok]

The International Ramen Manufacturers Association (IRMA) is a permanent organization that has been formed among ramen noodle manufacturers to address quality and consumer concerns. Such an organization is reminiscent of similar alliances that have formed among tobacco manufacturers, such as the Tobacco Manufacturers Association. When companies engage in manufacturing and distributing potentially harmful products, they typically form such alliances to gain global political influence so as to promote and defend the continued production and use of their products.

Summary. A general rule to follow regarding food consumption is to ensure that the bulk of your diet consists of foods that are known to be good for you. Numerous studies point to the health benefits of consuming fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and plenty of water. No such studies exist to suggest there are benefits to consuming MSG, for example.

A copy of the circulating e-mail is below.


Dear instant noodle lovers,

Make sure you break for at least 3 days after one session of instant noodles before you eat your next packet! Please read the info shared to me by a doctor. My family stopped eating instant noodles more than 5 years ago after heari ng about the wax coating the noodles – the wax is not just in the Styrofoam containers but it coats the noodles. This is why the instant noodles do not stick to each other when cooking.

If one were to examine the ordinary Chinese yellow noodles in the market, one will notice that, in their uncooked state the noodles are oily. This layer of oil prevents the noodles from sticking together.

Wanton noodles in their uncooked state have been dusted with flour to prevent them sticking together. When the hawker cooks the noodles, notice he cooks them in hot water and then rinses them in cold water before cooking them in hot water again. This process is repeated several times before the noodles are ready to be served. The cooking and rinsing process prevents noodles from sticking together.

The hawker then ‘lowers the noodles in oil and sauce to prevent the noodles from sticking if they are to be served dry. Cooking instructions for spaghetti require oil or butter to be added in the water when boiling the spaghetti to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Otherwise, one gets a big clump of spaghetti!

There was an SBC (now TCS) actor some years ago, who at a busy time of his career had no time to cook, resorted to eating instant noodles everyday. He got cancer later on. His doctor told him about the wax in instant noodles. The doctor told him that our body will need up to 2 days to clear the wax. There was also an SIA steward who after moving out from his mother’s house into his own house, did not cook but ate instant noodles almost every meal. He had cancer, and has since died from it.

Nowadays the instant noodles are referred as ‘ cancer noodles ‘.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com