Are Ramen Noodles Bad For You? It Really Depends.

We can all appreciate the cheap and tasty nature of a quick ramen noodle meal. This may even bring back memories of being a staple food during your struggling college years. These long, curly noodles are convenient and as cost-effective as they come. But are ramen noodles bad for you? The short answer is…it depends.

Learn about this unique food, the nutritional breakdown, and some healthier ways to incorporate ramen noodles into your diet.

Is Ramen Healthy? Bowl of ramen noodles and vegetables
Photo: Courtesy of No Revisions on Unsplash

What Are Ramen Noodles Made Of?

Traditional homemade ramen noodles contain three main ingredients:

  • Wheat flour
  • Water
  • Salt

The noodles are made from this combination of ingredients with the addition of kansui (alkaline mineral water). Kansui gives them their yellow color and distinctive texture. Ramen usually has other ingredients added for flavor, including MSG, TBHQ, and soy sauce.

Many different kinds of ramen noodles are available, but they all have one thing in common-they’re made from wheat flour!

Wheat flour is finely ground and cooked into a dough. It’s then dried out so they can be stored for long periods without going bad or spoiling.

Instant ramen noodles have similar but slightly different ingredients:

  • Enriched wheat flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Preservatives (including salt and TBHQ)

Many Different Types of Ramen

Ramen is a type of Japanese noodle dish in a broth with toppings. There are many different types of ramen, each with unique flavors and textures. Here are the most popular ramen noodle varieties:

Shoyu Ramen

This is the most common type of ramen in Japan. It is made with chicken or pork broth and flavored with soy sauce and seaweed. Shoyu has thin noodles that are usually yellowish-brown in color because they’re made using kombu kelp (a kind of seaweed). Standard toppings include sliced pork belly, scallions (green onions), soft-boiled egg halves, and nori seaweed sheets.

Shio Ramen

Shio ramen uses salt instead of soy sauce as the base seasoning agent; therefore, it doesn’t have as much color as shoyu ramen. It looks more like a clear soup than brown gravy.

Miso Ramen

Miso paste gives this type of ramen its distinct aroma and flavor. It is made from is a blend of fermented soybeans mashed into a paste. This type of ramen is likely the healthiest because it provides more health benefits than other forms of noodle soup.

Research shows that miso is a functional fermented food with anti-microbial, anti-obesity, and anti-cancer properties (1).

Tonkotsu Ramen

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 into gelatinous goodness that gives body weight without adding fat.

Block of ramen noodles on pink background, is ramen healthy?
Photo: Courtesy of Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Best Noodles For Ramen at Home

If you prefer to purchase pre-made noodles but want a more authentic dish than instant ramen, there are several options for the best ramen noodles to use.

The most common types of noodles to use in a ramen noodle recipe are:

  • Soba noodles- primarily made from buckwheat flour
  • Somen noodles- thin noodles made from wheat flour
  • Udon noodles- thicker noodles made from wheat flour

Any of these noodles are good choices, and honestly, it boils down to personal preference. However, I will say that what makes a noodle soup “ramen” is the addition of the alkaline water “kansui” during the noodle-making process.

Is Ramen Healthy?

Is ramen healthy? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to lose weight or limit calories, ramen can be an excellent option since it only has around 200 calories per serving. However, I recommend adding more nutritious and filling components to your ramen meal for added protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Skip “How To Make Healthy Ramen Noodles” below for more! 😉

If you’re watching your sodium intake or have high blood pressure or heart disease, ramen noodle soup might not be the best choice. This is especially true if you use the flavoring packet with instant ramen packages or large amounts of soy sauce, MSG, or other high-sodium ingredients.

Ramen noodles are also high in carbohydrates and fat. If you have diabetes or need to monitor your carbohydrate intake, keep this in mind.

Ramen also lacks fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients compared to noodles made from semolina flour, for instance.

Additionally, instant ramen noodles contain around 4 grams of saturated fat per serving, which is another reason to make ramen a “sometimes” food.

TBHQ is also present in ramen noodles. This is an antioxidant preservative that prevents fat oxidation and increases the shelf-life of ramen noodles. While the FDA does not ban TBHQ, its consumption is still controversial, with some studies showing it causes tumors in rats, and vision disturbances, and possible cancer development in humans (2, 3).

In the end, it may sound like ramen noodles are bad for you, but you can still safely include them in a balanced diet…with maybe a few minor tweaks.

Is Ramen Good When Sick?

Ramen noodles are popular for those who want something warm, comforting, and easy on the stomach when sick. They contain carbohydrates for energy and a small amount of protein.

The broth can also replace fluid and electrolytes that may be lost through sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting.

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 (4).
  • Most brands contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), added as a flavor enhancer and preservative. Some people may be sensitive to MSG and need to avoid it.
  • The higher fat content in ramen noodles may not sit well in your gut. Fats take longer to digest which may lead to abdominal bloating and nausea.

In some cases, it may be better to stick to plain vegetable or chicken broth which may be lower in sodium and fat and does not contain MSG.

Nutritional information on Maruchan brand ramen noodles

Why Does Ramen Have So Much Sodium?

It’s a simple question, but the answer is not as straightforward.

The ramen noodles themselves still have a significant amount of sodium. The high sodium content isn’t solely due to their manufacturing process. It’s also because they’re made with some naturally high-sodium ingredients.

For example, soy sauce and fish sauce are both high in sodium.

Alternatively, if you buy your ramen pre-packaged from a grocery store, high-sodium ingredients will likely be included as preservatives and in the form of a “seasoning packet.” Seasoning packets will add a significant amount of sodium to your diet.

Expert Tip: To reduce the amount of sodium, use only half of 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. If making homemade ramen noodles, use low-sodium soy sauce, and fish sauce, or tamari.

Does Ramen Have MSG?

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a flavor enhancer often added to certain foods, including ramen noodles. You can find MSG on the ingredients list of packaged ramen.

MSG is made from glutamic acid, which is found naturally in foods like seaweed and mushrooms. It gives foods an umami flavor.

Although studies show evidence of health issues such as headaches, nausea, and fertility and fetal development problems from MSG intake, there is no clear evidence that it is causally linked to these claims (5).

Common Foods With MSG

Some foods that may contain MSG include:

  • Ramen noodles or other soups
  • Potstickers and dumplings
  • Soy sauce
  • Other condiments including ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, etc.
  • Snack foods including chips, cookies, and crackers

If have a sensitivity or prefer to steer clear of MSG, always check the ingredients list 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

Several brands offer ramen noodles with reduced sodium. However, many of these “low-sodium” options still have over 500 mg per serving.

For example, Koyo brand Tofu Miso, marketed as reduced sodium, has 760 mg per serving. That’s 33% of your daily sodium intake!

All in all, it’s best to purchase the 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 looking for a quick and easy meal. But if more nutritional value, there are some simple changes you can make.

First off, consider substituting ingredients in your ramen bowl for healthier alternatives. For example:

  • Add tofu, tempeh (a fermented soybean cake), or any lean protein source. This will add protein without adding much fat or sodium.
  • Top your ramen with various vegetables like broccoli florets, julienned carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green onion, or spinach leaves.
  • Instead of using a seasoning packet, use a low-sodium broth. This will significantly reduce the sodium content.
ramen noodle piles on a dark colored table

Healthy Ramen Noodle Recipes

Here are a few of my favorite healthier ramen recipes. These experts have a healthy take on ramen and have created some exceptional recipes that add a ton of nutrients.

For more healthy and delicious recipes, visit my recipes page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do ramen noodles expire?

All instant ramen noodles have an expiration or “best by” date. This is usually 8-12 months from the time the product was made. Preservatives in the noodles will make them last longer; however, they will lose flavor the longer they sit uneaten.

Are ramen noodles gluten-free?

Ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, which is not suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. However, you can easily substitute rice noodles, which are 100% gluten-free!

Are ramen noodles bad for you without the packet?

If you avoid using the flavoring packet, you will eliminate a significant amount of sodium. This is great if you need to limit your sodium intake. Just remember that the noodles alone lack nutritional value, including protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients.

Conclusion

So, are ramen noodles bad for you? As you can see, it really depends. Are you making homemade ramen or purchasing commercially prepared, packaged ramen noodles? Are you adding other nutrient-packed ingredients (lean protein sources, vegetables, herbs, spices)?

Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists to ensure you know what you’re getting.

Some benefits of ramen are that it is quick, cheap, and easy to make. It comes in many flavors and varieties, so there’s something for everyone. It is also versatile, and the noodles can be used for more than just soup.

However, you still need to be mindful of the sodium content. Some brands may contain more than others, which can worsen health conditions. I highly suggest avoiding brands with more than 500 mg of sodium per serving, which can lead to higher blood pressure or fluid retention.

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