Along with frozen pizza and microwave burritos, instant ramen is one of those fast and easy foods that seem to do the trick when you’re short on time and money. (It’s practically a rite of passage for college students!) But now that you pay some extra attention to what you eat, those old-school ramen bowls and styrofoam cups filled with noodles aren’t exactly your go-to for daily sustenance.
Whether you’re following a low-carb or keto diet, or just being more mindful about your food choices, traditional instant ramen is something you probably bypass now when browsing the grocery store aisles. Still, you might be thinking it would be nice if you didn’t have to give up eating ramen altogether. You may be wondering, “Is ramen healthy?”
Well, it all depends on what kind we’re talking about.
Fresh ramen noodles that you find in some Chinese and Japanese restaurants are a healthier choice, especially when served with veggies and protein like pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, egg, or tofu.
In this guide, we’re focusing on those all-too-familiar instant noodles that you can nuke or steep in boiling water. Let’s take a look at the facts about instant ramen so you can make an educated decision about whether you want to put this convenient classic back on rotation.
Health Facts on Instant Ramen
The nutritional profile of ramen will vary from brand to brand, so make sure you always read the food label. Here are the nutrition facts of one cup of ramen noodles (chicken flavor, dry):
- Calories: 290 grams
- Carbs: 41 grams (15% of recommended daily value)
- Fat: 11 grams (14% of recommended daily value)
- Fiber: 2 gram (6% of recommended daily value)
- Protein: 6 grams
- Sodium: 1160 milligrams (51% of recommended daily intake)
Keep in mind that the average cup of ramen noodles offers two servings, so there’s a good chance you’ll have to double the amounts you see on the label. (It’s a tricky tactic used by many food companies, so always pay attention to serving size.)
If you’re keeping it low-carb, instant ramen noodles are a no-no. (Well, unless it’s immi low-carb instant ramen.) Most conventional ramen brands are high in carbs (anywhere from 40-80 grams net carbs) and starch count since they’re made with enriched wheat flour. At the same time, they lack any real nutritional value. And as research shows, consuming refined and overly processed starches can be bad for your health. It’s tied to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and an increase in blood sugar.
Making matters worse, most brands such as Maruchan and Nissin’s Top Ramen use noodles that are fried in oil and then dehydrated — this process is what makes it possible to cook them up so quickly. While this might be convenient, it’s horrible for your health.
Eating fried food four or more times per week increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Ultimately, it’s not worth the trade-off when you consider that these insta-meals have hardly any fiber or nutritional value and come loaded with questionable additives and a higher risk for health problems.
As mentioned, a major problem with instant noodles is the sodium content. It’s true that sodium is an essential nutrient that we all need (in small amounts) to keep muscles and nerves in tip-top shape as well as to balance body fluids and minerals. But most Americans eat too much sodium, which increases the risk factors for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and calcium loss.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans shows that most Americans consume too much sodium.
The reason for this overconsumption of sodium isn’t that people are pouring salt all over their food — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 70% of the average person’s sodium intake comes from packaged foods and restaurant meals (including fast food).
Fortunately, immi ramen is about 30-40% lower in sodium versus traditional brands. And because we use high-quality sea salt, you can enjoy your noodles without stressing about sodium.
Most instant ramen noodles include tertiary butylhydroquinone (better known as TBHQ), which is a synthetic preservative that helps processed food last longer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety assert that it’s safe to use TBHQ in limited dosages, but some studies show it can damage DNA, has the potential to cause cancer with chronic exposure, and lacks the antibacterial properties it was once thought to have. Instant ramen also typically has other artificial flavorings and colorings, which ends up compounding your exposure to chemicals and additives — not exactly the healthiest option.
4 Ways to Make Ramen Noodles More Nutritious
So, is ramen healthy? As you may have surmised by now, the answer is no when it comes to most instant ramen noodles that are out there. With low nutritional value, high carbs, too much sodium, and some dubious-sounding ingredients, traditional instant ramen brands are best left for that once-in-a-while craving when you’re feeling nostalgic. (Sort of like hot dogs on the Fourth of July.)
That said, there are some ways you can make your next bowl of ramen noodle soup more nutritious. Here are just a few:
- Opt for low-carb noodles: Thank goodness for keto-friendly noodles. We admit they don’t taste exactly like the ones you slurped as a kid, but they can still satisfy your cravings. You can try shirataki noodles, which are made from the Japanese konjac yam (although many people complain that shirataki is too slimy and jellyfish-like). Better yet, stock up on immi ramen, which has the chewy noodle texture that you love. These fresh, shelf-stable noodles (not dehydrated) are also low in net carbs, high protein (40 grams!), fiber rich, keto friendly, and vegan.
- Serve with a variety of veggies: Your mom was right when she said to eat your veggies, which are loaded with vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight off sickness and disease. By adding different vegetables to your ramen noodles — green onions, mushrooms, squash, cabbage, zucchini, and bok choy, to name a few — you can amp up the nutrient quotient and fill up on nature’s bounty rather than just the noodles themselves.
- Don’t forget the protein: Back in the day, you might have thought that instant ramen flavored with chicken, beef, or pork was enough to get your protein intake. (Or maybe you weren’t thinking about it at all.) Either way, you can make any bowl of noodles a much more rounded (and filling) meal by adding protein — and it doesn’t just have to be meat. You can try eggs, tofu, or edamame.
- Replace the seasoning packet: Instead of using the seasoning packet that accompanies traditional instant ramen, make your own version with low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth and season with whatever seasonings you have on hand. Garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, coriander, cayenne, and black pepper are great at doctoring up any soup, including ramen.
Ramen Recipes to Keep You on the Right Health Track
Now that you have some ideas on how to make more nutritious ramen choices, you still need more options. We’re here for you. Check out our library of ramen recipes, loaded with easy and tasty ideas. Some favorites you won’t want to miss include:
- At-Home Vegan Ramen
- Stir Fried Spicy Mi Goreng Ramen
- Garlic Clam Ramen With Leek Butter
- Jjamppong Spicy Korean Seafood Ramen
Is Ramen Healthy? It Depends on What Kind You’re Eating
Making better food choices and doing your best to stay on track takes consistency. It also requires you to rethink some (let’s be honest, a lot) of your favorite foods that you grew up eating.
As it turns out, most instant ramen noodles are bad for your health with all the carbs, nutritional deficits, high sodium, and chemical additives. But the good news is that you can still enjoy the satisfyingly slurpable sensation that a bowl of piping hot noodles brings.
By making some simple modifications and choosing low-carb noodles, you can treat your taste buds and still keep your health on track. If you’re looking for a delicious and nutritious ramen option that will satisfy your craving and make you feel great, try immi ramen.