The first-of-its-kind experiment by Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to find out exactly what happens to food in the stomach and digestive tract after consuming ramen noodles.
Thanks to the "smart pill," a camera the size of a multi-vitamin, Dr. Kuo could do his experiment, showing what happens in the gut of someone who ate a package of instant ramen noodles compared to fresh.
Dr. Kuo recorded 32 hours from the pill camera.
"What we're seeing here is a stomach contracting back and forth as it's trying to grind up the ramen noodles," Dr. Kuo says of the beginning of the video.
For comparison, the study volunteers also ate fresh, homemade ramen noodles on a different day.
The video at 20 minutes, and 2 hours, shows a striking difference.
"The most striking thing about our experiment when you looked at a time interval, say in one or two hours, we noticed a processed ramen noodles were less broken down that homemade ramen noodles," noted Dr. Kuo.
This affects nutrient absorption and could theoretically allow preservatives to linger longer periods in the stomach cavity before being transported to the intestines and subsequently eliminated.
What Is TBHQ?
In processed foods, it's sprayed on the food or on its packaging to prevent discoloration and changes to flavor and odor. Others products, such as cosmetics, perfumes, varnishes and lacquers, contain TBHQ to maintain stability.
Small amounts of TBHQ may not kill you (although death has occurred) or even make you feel immediately sick, but it can have a long term effect on your health such as weakening of organs and contributing to the onset of cancers and tumors.
The FDA says that TBHQ must not exceed 0.02 percent of its oil and fat content. Death has occurred from the ingestion of as little as 5 grams. This would be a considerably high dose compared to the amounts found in foods, but it gives us a good indication on the toxicity level of this preservative.
At higher doses, it has some negative health effects on lab animals, such as producing precursors to stomach tumors and damage to DNA. A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high doses of TBHQ may be carcinogenic, especially for stomach tumors.
Ingestion of a single gram (a thirtieth of an ounce) has caused nausea, vomiting, anaphylactic shock, diarrhea, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. Some people have reported having anxiety and night terrors and asthma after ingesting TBHQ. Others have reported having a body rash and swollen lymph nodes.
You can find TBHQ in McDonald’s chicken Mcnuggets across the United States, however Mcdonalds European chicken nuggets do not contain the toxic preservative. This is interesting since both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the FDA have evaluated TBHQ and determined that it is safe to consume at the concentration allowed in foods. The EFSA considers TBHQ to be non-carcinogenic, so why do they not allow it in chicken mcnuggets?
Other Food Products Containing TBHQ:
- Mcdonalds chicken nuggets and french fries
- CHEEZ-IT Crackers made by Kelloggs
- Butterfinger chocolate and Resee’s Peanut butter cups
- Nestle Crunch
- Wheat Thins
- Microwave popcorn
- Pam cooking spray
- Aldi products
- Keebler Club crackers
- Kellogs eggo frozen waffles and many other kellog products
- Taco bell beans and some taco shells
- Teddy Grahams
- Red Barron frozen pizza
- Keebler Cookies
- Little Debbie
- Kellog’s Pop-Tarts
- Homestyle Peanut butter cookies
- Some forms of soymilk
- Different breads cerals and crackers could contain TBHQ
- Crisco oil
- Some pet foods
- Many cosmetic products and baby products
- Some hair dyes lipsticks and eyeshadows
- Wrigley’s gum
- Little Debbies nutty bars and some M&M products
- KFC beans and fried chicken
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.