We all know what ramen noodles are. The extremely cheap meal we ate in our college dorm room or when we wanted a quick, hot bowl of soup. These long, curly noodles are convenient and as cost-effective as they come. But is ramen healthy? The answer is…it depends.
In this article, I’ll answer some common ramen noodle questions and show you how to make ramen noodles better for you!
Table of Contents
What Is Ramen Made Of?
The main ingredients in ramen are wheat flour, water, and salt. The noodles themselves are made from this combination of ingredients with the addition of kansui (a type of alkaline mineral water). Kansui gives them their yellow color and distinctive texture. Other ingredients such as MSG, TBHQ, and soy sauce may also be added.
There are many different kinds of ramen noodles available, though they all have one thing in common; they’re made from wheat flour!
Flour is finely ground grains of wheat that have been cooked into a dough and then dried out so they can be stored for long periods without going bad or spoiling. Wheat flour is often used as an ingredient in baked goods like bread and cakes because it adds flavor without adding much weight to whatever dish you’re making–which makes it perfect for making noodles too!
Different Types of Ramen
Ramen is a type of Japanese noodle dish that’s served in a broth with toppings. There are many different types of ramen, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Here are the most popular types:
This is the most common type of ramen in Japan, and it’s made with chicken or pork broth flavored with soy sauce and seaweed. It has thin noodles that are usually yellowish-brown in color because they’re made using kombu kelp (a kind of seaweed). Common toppings include sliced pork belly, scallions (green onions), soft-boiled egg halves, and nori seaweed sheets.
This type uses salt instead of soy sauce as its base seasoning agent; therefore it doesn’t have as much color as shoyu ramen does–it looks more like clear soup than brown gravy.
Miso paste gives this dish its distinct aroma thanks to its blend of fermented beans mashed into paste form along with saltwater from the kelp fermentation process.
Tonkotsu translates roughly into “pig bones.” This style uses pork broth made by simmering pork bones for hours at low heat until all their collagen melts away into gelatinous goodness that gives body weight without adding any fat content
Best Noodles For Ramen at Home
If you prefer to purchase pre-made noodles but want a more authentic dish than what instant ramen provides, it’s nice to know which types of noodles are best to use in ramen recipes.
The most frequent types of noodles to use in ramen noodle recipes are:
- soba noodles
- somen noodles
- udon noodles
Any of these are good choices and it honestly boils down to personal preference. However, I will say that what makes a noodle “ramen” is the addition of the alkaline water “kansui” during the noodle-making process.
Is Ramen Healthy?
So, is ramen healthy? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to stick to a low-calorie diet, it can be an excellent option because it has only about 200 calories per serving. However, if you’re watching your sodium intake or have high blood pressure or heart disease (or are at risk for any of these conditions), then this noodle soup might not be the best choice for you.
Ramen noodles are also high in carbohydrates and fat–which means you will feel full faster than other types of noodles. Although, ramen does not contain much fiber, protein, or other nutrients in comparison to noodles made from semolina flour for instance.
You should also be careful of too much saturated fat–which 1 serving of instant ramen contains almost 4 grams of saturated fat!
TBHQ is also present in Ramen Noodles, which is an antioxidant preservative that prevents fat oxidation. This increases the shelf-life of the product. And while TBHQ is not banned by the FDA, its consumption is still controversial with some studies showing it causes tumors in rats, and vision disturbances and possible cancer development in humans (1, 2).
Is Ramen Good When Sick?
Ramen noodles are a popular choice for people who want to eat something warm, comforting, and easy on the stomach when they’re sick. They’re also a good source of carbohydrates and protein, which can help you feel full longer.
However, there are some downsides to eating ramen noodles when you’re sick:
The high sodium content can make your symptoms worse if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. It might also cause water retention if you have heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes (3).
Because most brands contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is added as a flavor enhancer and preservative, those that are sensitive to MSG should avoid MSG-containing ramen altogether.
In addition, the higher fat content in ramen noodles may not sit well in your gut. In fact, fats take longer to digest which may lead to abdominal bloating and nausea.
So, maybe stick to plain vegetable or chicken broth when you are feeling under the weather, just to be safe.
Why Does Ramen Have So Much Sodium?
It’s a simple question, but the answer is not as straightforward. The first thing to note is that the high sodium content of ramen noodles isn’t solely due to their manufacturing process. It is also because they’re made with some ingredients that are naturally high in sodium.
For example, soy sauce and fish sauce both have high levels of sodium (salt).
Alternatively, if you buy your ramen from a grocery store or supermarket where it is pre-packaged by the manufacturer (rather than made fresh at home), then these two ingredients will likely be included in your package in the form of a “seasoning packet”. This will add a significant amount of sodium to your diet.
The ramen noodles themselves have minimal sodium.
Ramen Tip: To reduce the amount of sodium, try using only half the seasoning packet or just enough to taste. Alternatively, omit the seasoning packet and cook the noodles in a low-sodium bone broth or stock. And if making homemade ramen noodles, use low sodium soy sauce and fish sauce, or low-sodium tamari.
Does Ramen Have MSG?
Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is a flavor enhancer that is often added to certain foods, including ramen noodles. You can look on the ingredients list of packaged ramen to find this ingredient.
MSG is made from glutamic acid, which is found naturally in foods like seaweed and mushrooms. It gives an umami flavor to foods. Though studies show evidence of health issues such as headaches, nausea, and fertility and fetal development issues from MSG intake, there is no clear evidence that it is causally linked to these claims (4).
Common Foods With MSG
Some foods that may contain MSG include:
- Ramen noodles or other soups
- Potstickers and dumplings
- Soy sauce
- Other condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, etc.
- Snack foods including chips, cookies, and crackers
Of course, you should always check the ingredient lists to be 100% certain. Look for words like monosodium salt, monohydrate, monosodium glutamate, monosodium glutamate monohydrate, monosodium L-glutamate monohydrate, MSG monohydrate, and sodium glutamate monohydrate.
Low Sodium Ramen Noodles
If you’re looking for a low-sodium option, several brands offer ramen noodles with reduced sodium. However, many of these “low-sodium” options still have over 500 mg of sodium per serving.
For example, Koyo brand Tofu Miso which is marketed as reduced sodium has 610 mg of sodium per serving. This is 26% of your daily sodium intake!
All-in-all, it is best to purchase the packages of uncooked noodles yourself (without seasoning packets) and add your own low-sodium broth or stock when preparing your ramen.
How To Make Healthy Ramen Noodles
Ramen noodles are a great option for those who need to make their meals quick and easy. But, if you’re looking to get more nutrition out of them, there are some simple changes you can make.
First off, consider substituting ingredients in your ramen bowl with healthier alternatives. For example:
- Replace the meat with tofu, tempeh (a fermented soybean cake), or any lean protein source. This will add some protein without adding as much fat or sodium as meat would provide.
- Top with vegetables like broccoli florets, julienned carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green onion, or spinach leaves.
- If using commercially-prepared ramen noodles with a seasoning packet, omit the seasoning packet and use low sodium broth instead. This will cut back on the sodium content.
So, is ramen healthy? As you can see, it really depends. Are you making homemade ramen or purchasing commercially prepared, packaged ramen noodles? Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists to ensure you know what you’re getting.
Some benefits of ramen are that they are quick, cheap, and easy to make. They come in many flavors and varieties, so there’s something for everyone. They are versatile and the noodles can be used for more than just soup.
You must, however, be mindful of their sodium content. Some brands may contain more than others (and thus be less healthy). I highly suggest avoiding brands with more than 500 mg of sodium per serving–which can make hypertension worse or lead to fluid overload and edema.
Try these healthy ramen noodles recipes:
- Easy Asian Chicken Salad by Meals With Maggie
- Coconut Curry Shrimp Ramen Bowl by Snacking in Sneakers
Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 13 years of experience. She has a degree in psychology as well as dietetics. She is also a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ and its Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group among others. Kiran proudly presents and promotes the most up-to-date, science-based nutrition information on all things heart-related. She aims to serve not only individuals with heart disease, but also those wanting to protect against it. Learn more about Kiran by visiting her About Page.