Women who ate instant noodles twice a week or more had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome. (BIGSTOCK)

It’s convenient, cheap and best served hot, but how healthful is it?

The instant noodles commonly known as ramen — a staple food for college kids and other young adults, as well as for people in certain cultures — may increase people’s risk of metabolic changes linked to heart disease and stroke, new research finds.

In the study, women in South Korea who consumed more of the precooked blocks of dried noodles than others were more likely to have the condition known as metabolic syndrome, regardless of what else they ate or how much they exercised, the researchers found. People with metabolic syndrome may have high blood pressure or high blood sugar levels, and they face an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

“Although instant noodle is a convenient and delicious food, there could be an increased risk for metabolic syndrome given [the food’s] high sodium, unhealthy saturated fat and glycemic loads,” said Hyun Shin, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the study. [7 Foods Your Heart Will Hate]

Shin and colleagues at Baylor University and Harvard analyzed the health and diet of nearly 11,000 adults in South Korea between ages 19 and 64. The participants reported what they ate, and the researchers categorized each participant’s diet as centered on either traditional healthful food or fast food, as well as how many times weekly they ate instant noodles.

Women who ate instant noodles twice a week or more had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome than those who ate ramen less, or not at all, regardless of whether their diet style fell into the traditional or fast-food category. The researchers found the association even among young women who were leaner and reported doing more physical activity.

Shin and his colleagues guessed that biological differences between the genders might account for the lack of an apparent association in men between eating noodles and developing metabolic syndrome.

So what’s so bad about instant noodles?

“Instant noodles are high in fat, high in salt, high in calories, and they’re processed — all those factors could contribute to some of the health problems [the researchers] addressed,” said New York University professor Lisa Young who was not involved in the study. “That doesn’t mean that every single person is going to respond the same way, but the piece to keep in mind is that it’s not a healthy product, and it is a processed food.”

Young said there might be ways to dampen the dangers of eating instant noodles without swearing off them altogether. “Number one, don’t eat it every day,” she said. “Number two, portion control.”

— Live Science