What not to eat: ramen

The start of a new school year typically brings about thoughts of reunions with friends, optimism for new classes, and an academic tabula rasa. However, after life is unpacked from boxes and some serious benjamins are dropped at the bookstore, the reality of college poverty finally sets in. Strapped for cash and accepting the funds spent on books as fixed and sunk, the frugal student and amateur consumer economist naturally focuses on the costs well within his power to control: food. While this can be a good exercise in personal finance, the long-term health ramifications of consuming inexpensive food with little to no nutritional value are serious, and can set a precedent for (un)wellness for adult life outside of school. Given the wide availability, great taste, and, most importantly, low cost of healthy food, there is no reason to consume popular dime meals such as ramen.

It is only natural that the profit-seeking student sees a 12-pack of Maruchan Ramen at Giant Eagle for $1.50 and — after doing some basic arithmetic — says, “Wow! Thirteen cents per package! With the money I will save on lunch, I can finally afford to impress Julio/Julia and cook for him/her, and invite 46 of our closest friends. (Thanks, Facebook!)”

While pondering the prospects over a bowl of ramen, the left arm of our protagonist feels a shooting pain, and soon the next great microeconomist is collapsed on the floor from a heart attack. Fortunately he is able to be revived, but after recuperation at home and many more ramen lunches later, he eventually seizes up and loses consciousness, ultimately suffering a stroke and dying... all over trying to save a couple of bucks.

While ramen is by far one of the most inexpensive foods on the market, it just might be the most hazardous to your health. A package consisting of a dried noodle block and a packet of seasoning (technically two whole servings) typically contains about 1800 milligrams of sodium, which is over 90 percent of the recommended daily intake. The seasoning carries most of the blame for that, but the benign-looking noodles are no innocent party. The noodles are deep-fried at a factory, then formed into little bricks and dried. Besides being devoid of any significant amount of vitamins or minerals, the high salt content of the seasoning combined with the saturated fat in the noodles is a significant contributor to weight gain, heart disease, and stroke.

Eating healthily is well within the budget of any student. While seven cents per serving is hard to beat, normal spaghetti with tomato sauce and bread costs little more than $1 per serving, is available at any grocery store, and provides the carbohydrates and minerals to fuel an active lifestyle without any of the saturated fat and sodium of pre-packaged ramen. As any healthy diet needs more than carbs, fruits and vegetables are not too far away or out of budget. The new Giant Eagle Market District at Centre and Negely avenues, as well as vendors at the Oakland Farmers Market and the Strip District, consistently have high-quality produce at reasonable prices.

While seeking and preparing fresh ingredients is not going to be as easy as pouring hot water over a block, and while the price of the alternative presented is a little higher than the status quo, a question is raised: Which is more important, your wallet or your health?