Today we examine the persistent myth claiming that instant noodles and their containers are made with a wax which causes cancer.
Persistent Internet Myth
This myth has been circulating in various forms on the internet for nearly 15 years. One of the recent manifestations is a graphic being shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media havens. The text of the graphic states the following:
“FOOD FOR THOUGHT… Instant noodles contain wax coating which is also used in styrofoam containers. That is why instant noodles don’t stick to each other when cooking. Our body needs up to two days to clean the wax. Make sure you stop eating a pack of noodles for at least 3 days after a session of noodles. This wax can cause CANCER. Share if you care. SHARE IT”
Other products have also been targeted with similar claims. For example, paper cups also faced comparable accusations several years ago. More recently, Italian company Ferrero, which markets a candy that comes in a plastic egg called Kinder Joy, has been the victim of a circulating graphic which is very similar to the instant noodle allegation. The Kinder Joy graphic reads:
“FOOD FOR THOUGHT… KINDER JOY contains wax coating which is also used in styrofoam containers. That is why Kinder Joy don’t stick to each other when eating it. Our body needs up to two days to clean the wax. Make sure you stop eating Kinder Joy. This wax can cause CANCER. Share if you care. SHARE IT”
Disproving the “Wax Causes Cancer” Hoax
Wax is not used in Styrofoam containers, and it is not an ingredient of instant noodles or Kinder Joy. Wax is a greasy, oily substance which would melt with heat, thus it would not make sense to include it within instant noodles or Styrofoam products. Additionally, many edible waxes (such as paraffin or beeswax) are not considered to be toxic unless eaten in large doses, and this is mainly due to the possibility of intestinal obstruction, not cancer.
According to a webpage committed to wax poisoning by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, wax is only harmful when ingested in large amounts: “In general, wax is not poisonous. If a child eats a small amount of crayon, the wax will pass through the child’s system without causing a problem. However, eating large amounts of wax or crayons can lead to intestinal obstruction”.
Here are some additional sources which also debunk the myth:
- Center for Food Safety from the government of Hong Kong – This research report, entitled “The Food Safety of Instant Cup Noodle Containers,” was released in 2009 due to public concerns over unsafe instant noodle containers. The results of the study found that the instant noodle containers met standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Monde Nissin Corporation – Monde Nissin is a company in the Philippines that makes instant noodles. They maintain a webpage dedicated to Truths Vs Myths in relation to cancer causing waxes in instant noodles, paper cups, and Styrofoam containers. As they point out, instant noodles and paper cups do not contain wax, and they do not use Styrofoam, so this issue is not addressed.
The Truth About Instant Noodles
Although there is no wax within instant noodles or their containers, processed instant noodles have been criticized for high levels of sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats. It should be noted, however, that this is specifically in regards to processed instant noodles, and may not be applicable to more nutritional homemade noodles.
Here is a collection of news stories addressing these somewhat lesser known risks which have evaded attention:
- CNN – 2001 article focusing on the high sodium and fat levels within processed instant noodles. According to the article, a serving of instant noodles contains as much fat as a cup of potato chips or 1/4th of a medium pizza, and enough salt to equal a fast food meal.
- WebMD – Archived WebMD article claims that the flavor packets within instant noodles contain high levels of sodium and MSG. The article states that a serving of instant noodles contains 11-17% of the recommended daily intake of fat.
- 2011 Science Study – Korean researchers compared the diets of adults who ate instant noodles with adults who did not eat instant noodles. Results showed that the people who ate instant noodles took in significantly higher rates of fat, sodium, thiamine, and riboflavin while getting significantly lower rates of protein and vitamins. The study can be viewed here.
- 2014 Science Study – South Korean researchers studied people who ate ramen noodles compared with those who ate a more traditional Korean diet for two years. Study results showed that women who ate ramen noodles twice a week were more likely to develop “metabolic syndrome,” which is associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Researchers attributed the findings to the sodium, sugar, and fat content of instant noodles. The study was featured in a scientific journal called The Journal of Nutrition and was covered by a number of major news outlets such as Time and Fox News.
- 2012 Science Study – This study, which was reported by USA Today, compared a diet of processed noodles with a diet of homemade noodles by use of a small camera that was swallowed and examined the digestive process. The results showed that the processed noodles were digested much slower than the homemade noodles.
Instant noodles, Kinder Joy, paper cups, and Styrofoam containers do not contain wax. Even if they did contain a small amount of wax, it would pass through the body without harm. Processed instant noodles do, however, contain high levels of sodium, sugar, and fat which could contribute to the future development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eating unprocessed homemade noodles does not seem to carry the same health risks which have been associated with processed instant noodles.
Updated August 5, 2015
Originally published September 2014