The above photo has been circulating around Facebook after having been posted by Dr. Joseph Mercola on his Facebook page. Dr. Mercola is a man of dubious credentials and holds a wide array of controversial and disputed views, including questioning whether HIV causes AIDS. Articles on his website rarely reference peer-reviewed scientific literature and more often link to other articles elsewhere on the same site. He has also been warned by the FDA numerous times to stop marketing various products as ways to diagnose or cure various illnesses and diseases. He does not seem to me a man who has a right to speak with authority on this subject. However, I don’t want to be accused of making an ad hominem attack, so I will turn from the man himself to the claims he is making.
Ramen is not a particularly healthy food. Eating a lot of it is almost definitely bad for you. But this infographic is full of fearmongering, scientific illiteracy, and logical fallacies. Let’s take a look, point-by-point.
1. “It does not contain any nutrition, but it DOES contain close to 2,700 mg of sodium in just one package”
I’m not even quite sure what that first phrase is supposed to mean. It’s not exactly the most nutritious, vitamin-rich food but it has carbs, and some fat, and iron and calcium and magnesium and B-12. Those are all considered nutrients, and thus Ramen “contains nutrition”. “Nutritional value” is kind of a nebulous term anyway and is a far more complex issue than “protein good, carbs bad”. Also, while ramen is by no means a low-sodium food the number there is exaggerated. Most brands contain around 1700mg in a package. (Again, still incredibly high, but this infographic is exaggerating the amount by nearly 60%)
2. “It contains the toxin THBQ, common in all kinds of processed foods, which is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. Exposure to just one gram of THBQ can cause nausea and vomiting, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), delerium or a sense of suffocating.”
I’m not going to delve into the subject of petroleum-derived food additives, which is admittedly controversial, but I’ll point you to the FDA’s page on color additives and this study on the toxicity of petroleum waxes.
Regarding THBQ specifically, however… assuming ramen has the maximum amount allowed by the FDA (which is likely an exaggeration), you would have to eat roughly 11 pounds of it to consume one gram (http://www.livestrong.com/…/439290-what-is-a-tbhq-preserva…/). The fact that something is harmful at a certain dose does not necessitate that it is harmful at all doses. Selenium is a carcinogen and can be toxic at certain concentrations, but it is also an essential trace element for our bodies to function and a lack of it can be harmful to the heart. (http://www3.epa.gov/airtoxics/hlthef/selenium.html) Arsenic can be fatal at doses much lower than one gram but it occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, fish, and grains, and may be essential for our bodies as well (http://chemsee.com/…/poison-det…/chemnote-arsenic-poisoning/). [THBQ isn’t essential at all, so avoiding it completely is a fine choice, but my point isn’t to defend THBQ but rather that the implication here is fearmongering based on faulty logic and a misunderstanding of toxicity]
3. “It contains MSG, an excitotoxin which can overexcite your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to various degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and more.”
MSG has been intensely studies for years and yet not a single study has been able to show a link between consumption of MSG and any adverse health effects. MSG is simply a type of salt and one that “occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses (http://www.fda.gov/…/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAddit…)
Additionally, Mercola himself is probably the most major proponent of the claims that MSG is linked to any of these diseases. The main article about it on his website does not cite any peer-reviewed scientific literature. Dr. Blaylock, whose book on excitotoxins is heavily cited in that article, also holds various dubious views, including that airplanes are spewing deadly “chemtrails” into the air and that this is being done on purpose by the goverment.
I should probably note that excitotoxins are a real thing. Casein is also one, so you should probably watch your milk intake. [I was unable to find any credible sources tying consumption of foods containing excitotoxins and adverse health effects.]
4. Women who ate instant noodles more than twice a week were 68 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome.
This is really the only point of this entire infographic that isn’t misleading. There was a study done in South Korea in 2014 that discovered this link. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/…/140812121642.htm) It was only one study, so it requires further research to prove it is causation and not simply correlation. Other factors may be at play, including accuracy of reporting by those studied, other diet habits, and even the effect of the ramen being cooked in styrofoam containers. However, a link between high consumption of a sodium-heavy product and metabolic issues isn’t exactly surprising. And, as I mentioned earlier, it does not mean that all consumption of ramen is bad for you. Eating too much of anything is problematic. Eating too many brazil nuts can lead to selenium poisoning. Eating too many carrots can turn your skin orange. Eating too much tuna can cause mercury poisoning. However, none of that means you must never eat them at all.
Here’s the bottom line. I don’t think ramen is particularly healthy. I don’t think eating it occasionally is going to be your undoing either. My problem with this infographic is not that it vilifies ramen in particular, but that it is indicative of the sort of scientific illiteracy and fallacious reasoning used by far too many “health-conscious” sorts. It is little more than fearmongering and confirmation bias. If you want to argue that certain foods are harmful, by all means go for it, but please, do so with sound reasoning and cited, factual evidence or you’re just wasting everyone’s time.