Asian-flavoured soup noodles are packing in followers with some flaunting their superiority in soup base much to the delight of the foodies. But little did consumers know that lurking behind the savoury taste lies the health risk of high sodium intake. In a joint collaboration the Consumer Council and the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) have conducted a test on 10 types of Asian soup noodles (totalling 100 samples), 76 samples were found to contain high sodium, exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended daily 2,000mg sodium intake for an average adult. The sample with the highest sodium was a type of spicy rice noodles, which was in excess of the WHO limit by twofold; eating one bowl of the rice noodle will consume a sodium quantity equivalent to 3 days limit altogether. In fact, on the basis of 3 meals a day, taking one bowl of all samples will exceed the sodium limit (667mg) for a meal. Even the lowest sodium sample, a wonton noodle with 1,200mg, will exceed the intake limit by 80% per meal.
The real culprit behind the high sodium content in Asian noodles was traced to the soup base. By skipping the soup, and eating just the noodles and the toppings, the sodium intake dropped drastically by 18% to 68%, bringing down the number of sample with excessive sodium to only 20 samples. The biggest sodium reduction was found in a tom yum Pha Thai noodle, down from 3,000 mg to 970mg. However, all the 10 spicy rice noodles samples, even without the soup base, remained high in sodium as 9 still exceeded the daily intake limit. Again on the basis of 3 meals a day, only a wonton noodle with a 620mg sodium content (without the soup base) was slightly under the sodium intake limit per meal. The Council cautioned that the high sodium content in the majority of the samples detected in the test is putting consumer health in jeopardy with increased risks of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
Maximum 70% less sodium by skipping soup; watch out serving size & cooking method
Included in the test were 10 typical Asian-flavoured noodles: Noodles in tom yum soup; Spicy rice noodles with pork belly and cuttlefish ball; BBQ pork ramen in pork bone soup; Wheat noodles (thin) in soup with wonton; Dan Dan noodles with spicy and minced pork; Pho with thin sliced beef; Noodles in soup with fried pork chop; Stewed beef noodles; Seafood Laksa; Noodles with assorted seafood in spicy soup. Each flavour covered 10 samples totalling 100. The test measured the food ingredients (noodles together with veggie/seafood/meat), and the soup base separately for their sodium contents and energy values.
The results showed the average sodium content of all 100 samples was 350mg per 100g. Pha Thai noodles in tom yum soup base recorded the highest average sodium content of 440mg per 100g and among them 1 was measured with 610mg sodium. According to the CFS, food containing more than 600mg sodium per 100g is regarded as high in sodium. Following closely in high average sodium per 100g were: Spicy rice noodles (420mg); BBQ pork ramen (380mg); and Wheat noodles in soup with wonton (380mg).
Consumers should note that eating one bowl of the samples varying in weight from 330g to 1,400g, could easily exceed the daily intake limit. For instance, in the case of a spicy rice noodles found with the highest sodium content of 6,000mg sodium; followed by the second highest also a spicy rice noodle with 5,800mg and the third a noodles tom yum soup with 5,400mg.
Consumers are advised to minimise drinking the noodle soup in order to reduce sodium intake. Taking the example of a noodles in tom yum soup , consuming both noodle and soup would result in a sodium intake of 3,000mg, but without the soup, it dropped to 970mg though still slightly above the limit for one meal. As for the highest sodium sample, a spicy rice noodle, by skipping the soup its sodium content would be reduced by over 40% to 3,500mg, but still 5 times above the recommended intake.
The test results indicated also that even for the same type of soup noodles, vast variations existed in sodium content among different restaurants. In the tom yum Pha Thai noodle samples, between the lowest sodium (1,600mg) and the highest sodium (5,400mg) the difference amounted to 2.4 times.
On energy values (calories), the 100 samples were measured with an average of 93 kcal per 100g, with Dan Dan noodles scoring the highest average energy value of 160 kcal. A bowl of which would generate an energy intake of 1,300 kcal accounting about 65% of the daily energy need (based on a daily intake of 2,000 kcal energy).
Sodium content of 1 prepackaged cup/bowl noodle almost hits daily intake ceiling
In addition, the Council also inspected the nutrition labels of 10 samples of prepackaged cup/bowl noodles on sodium content and energy values. The average sodium content per serving size of the 10 samples was 1,900mg, representing 95% of WHO recommended limit of daily sodium intake. Among the 3 highest sodium samples were 2 beef noodles containing 2,244mg and 2,577mg sodium respectively, and a Japanese-style bowl noodle with 3,150mg sodium. Prepackaged cup/bowl noodles are truly instant and convenient and have become a favourite choice of busy people and as a midnight snack. Consumers are urged to pay attention to the nutrition label on the products to avoid regular consumption of food with high sodium content.
Improve recipes & enhance nutrition information transparency
In light of the high sodium content in most samples in the test, the food industry is strongly urged to reduce the sodium in food in the interest of consumer health. As reflected in the wide variations of sodium content per 100g among the same type of soup noodles by nearly twofold, there is clearly room for the industry to cut down on the sodium level of their food. Restaurants and eatery operators can consult the CFS “Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sodium in Food” to improve their recipes by sourcing natural food materials and producing dishes in salt. Further, the industry can display on the menu or price list nutrition information, for instance, the calories and sodium content, to enable consumers to make informed choices. As for prepackaged cup/bowl noodles their seasoning powder should be separately packed to allow consumers to decide the amount of seasoning to add according to personal taste.
Consumers choosing Asian-flavoured soup noodles should pay heed to the following:
- When ordering food, ask the restaurant to reduce salt or sauce;
- As much as possible skip drinking the soup to reduce sodium intake;
- If the serving size is too big, consider sharing it with others;
- Reduce the amount of seasoning powder, sauce or condiments added to the dishes, or add an appropriate amount after tasting;
- Carefully read the nutrition label on the packaging of cup/bowl noodles, and choose products with lower sodium content.
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