Is there an easier (or cheaper) dorm room snack than instant noodles? Boil water — and many a midnight student has simply run the hot water tap for a minute or two — pour on noodles, wait a minute or two, and then chow down on the thin, curly noodles afloat in a salty broth. Yet, a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered how making a meal of instant noodles too often is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome in a population of Korean women, while the same was not true for Korean men.

A cluster of related conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — is referred to by doctors as metabolic syndrome. Having just one of these conditions doesn't mean you have metabolic syndrome, but when they occur together, the combination may increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Plus, independently, any one may increase your risk of serious disease. The cause of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, which usually involves both genetic and environmental factors, including being overweight and inactive. Diet, then, is an important factor, but might certain foods be more likely to raise the risk for this condition?

Recognizing “the consumption of instant noodles is relatively high in Asian populations,” a team of researchers hailing from Harvard and Eulji University in Korea decided to investigate whether this meal might be linked to metabolic syndrome. Using the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV 2007-2009, a cross-sectional survey of the population, the researchers analyzed a total of 10,711 adults (55 percent women) between the ages of 19 and 64. Participants answered a 63-item food-frequency questionnaire and then the researchers identified two major dietary trends: the "traditional dietary pattern" or TP, which is rich in rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes, and the "meat and fast-food pattern" or MP, which is less about rice though rich in meat, soda, fried food, and fast food... including instant noodles.

The researchers discovered those participants who most often conformed to the MP diet had an increased prevalence of abdominal obesity, high LDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Meanwhile, those who most often followed a TP diet showed a decreased prevalence of elevated blood pressure and marginally lower trends for abdominal obesity. Neither group, though, showed a strong link to the prevalence of metabolic syndrome.

Then, the researchers dug further and discovered an interesting connection. Consumption of instant noodles more than twice a week was linked to a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome in women but not in men, and this occurred no matter which type of general diet they followed. Long story short? Too many servings of instant noodles is not the greatest idea if you are a woman, no matter how healthy you usually eat.

Source:  Shin HJ, Cho E, Lee HJ, et al. Instant Noodle Intake and Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Distinct Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Korea. The Journal of Nutrition. 2014.