The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current, September 01, 2014, Page Page 5, Image 5

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    September 1, 2014
Noodles: Friend or foe? South Koreans defend diet
By Foster Klug and Jung-yoon Choi
The Associated Press
EOUL, South Korea — Kim
Min-koo has an easy reply to new
American research that hits South
Korea where it hurts — in the noodles.
Drunk and hungry just after dawn, he rips
the lid off a bowl of his beloved fast food,
wobbling on his feet but still defiant over a
report that links instant noodles to health
“There’s no way any study is going to
stop me from eating this,” says Kim, his
red face beaded with sweat as he adds hot
water to his noodles in a Seoul convenience
store. His mouth waters, wooden
chopsticks poised above the softening
strands, his glasses fogged by steam. At
last, he spears a slippery heap, lets forth a
mighty, noodle-cooling blast of air, and
starts slurping.
“This is the best moment — the first
bite,” Kim, a freelance film editor who
indulges about five times a week, says
between gulps. “The taste, the smell, the
chewiness — it’s just perfect.”
Instant noodles carry a broke college
student aura in America, but they 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-noodle consumption by South
Koreans to some risks for heart disease.
The study has provoked feelings of
wounded pride, mild guilt, stubborn
resistance, even nationalism among South
Koreans, who eat more instant noodles per
capita than anyone in the world. Many of
those interviewed vowed, like Kim, not to
quit. Other noodle lovers offered up tech-
niques 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
The heated reaction is partly explained
by the omnipresence of instant noodles,
which, for South Koreans, usually mean
the spicy, salty ramyeon that costs less
than a dollar per package. Individually
wrapped disposable bowls and cups are
everywhere: internet cafés, libraries,
trains, ice-skating rinks. Even at the
halfway point of a trail snaking up South
Korea’s highest mountain, hikers can
refresh themselves with cup noodles.
Elderly South Koreans often feel deep
nostalgia for instant noodles, which en-
tered the local market in the 1960s as the
country began clawing its way out of the
poverty and destruction of the Korean War
into what’s now Asia’s fourth-biggest econ-
omy. Many vividly remember their first
taste of the once-exotic treat, and hard-
drinking South Koreans consider instant
noodles an ideal remedy for aching,
alcohol-laden bellies and subsequent
Some people won’t leave the country
without them, worried they’ll have to eat
inferior noodles abroad. What could be
better at relieving homesickness than a
salty shot of ramyeon?
“Ramyeon is like kimchi to Koreans,”
says Ko Dong-ryun, 36, an engineer from
Seoul, referring to the spicy, fermented
vegetable dish that graces most Korean
meals. “The smell and taste create an
instant sense of home.”
INSTANT COMFORT. Japanese instant-
ramen-noodle expert Masaya “Sokusekisai” Oyama,
55, eats instant ramen noodles at a shop and restau-
rant specializing only in varieties of instant noodles in
Tokyo. Oyama knows a lot about the instant noodle.
He eats more than 400 servings of instant noodles
a year, and he usually goes by his nickname “Soku-
sekisai,” which means “instant.” He agrees eating
only instant noodles is not good for your health, be-
cause eating one thing all the time isn’t healthy, no
matter what it is. “You need nutritional balance,” he
said. “You should eat other things, too.” (AP Photo/
Koji Sasahara)
Ko fills half his luggage with instant
noodles for his international business
travels, a lesson he learned after assuming
on his first trip that three packages would
suffice for six days. “Man, was I wrong.
Since then, I always make sure I pack
The U.S. study was based on South
Korean surveys from 2007 to 2009 of more
than 10,700 adults between 19 and 64
years old, about half of them women. It
found that people who ate a diet rich in
meat, soda, and fried and fast foods,
including instant noodles, were associated
with an increase in abdominal obesity and
LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Eating instant
noodles more than twice a week was
associated with a higher prevalence of
metabolic syndrome, another heart risk
factor, in women but not in men.
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 cardiovas-
cular nutrition lab at Tufts University in
“What’s jumping out is the sodium (in-
take) is higher in those who are consuming
ramen noodles,” she says. “What we don’t
Continued on page 11
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