Ramen is a popular and versatile food.
Instant ramen is inexpensive, it can be prepared in less than five minutes, and unless you hate salt, it’s very tasty. What’s more:
- You can “dress up” instant ramen with almost any ingredient you can think of: proteins like chicken or pork, veggies ranging from green onions and bean sprouts to cabbage and carrots, and the traditional hard- or soft-boiled egg.
- You can make ramen dishes suitable for breakfast or dinner, lunch or brunch.
- You can also enjoy traditional “gourmet” ramen at a Japanese restaurant or the growing number of ramen shops across the United States.
- You can eat ramen without being overly concerned with calories or kcals.
But can you make it keto-friendly? Read on.
Why Ramen Is a Problem For Keto Dieters
You undoubtedly know that ramen is a noodle soup that’s popular around the world – particularly in Asia. The Chinese consume the most instant ramen in the world, the South Koreans eat the most per capita, and there are seemingly as many ramen shops in Japan as there are Dunkin’ Donut shops in America. Americans aren’t exactly slouches either, consuming more than five billion servings of instant ramen every year.
Ramen is noodle soup, though. And no matter how you prepare ramen or where it’s eaten, here’s the common denominator: the noodles are made from wheat flour.
Even those who know very little about the low-carb keto diet know this: wheat noodles contain a ton of carbs, so they’re not keto-friendly.
So why are we even bothering to talk about keto ramen?
Because there are lots of ways you can make a keto version of ramen soup.
Ramen Seasoning and Keto
Before we dive into the important subject of ramen noodles, let’s first talk about that seasoning packet that comes with the packages of instant ramen noodles you pick up at the supermarket.
You don’t have to look at the ingredient list to intuitively know that there’s more than natural flavor, salt and MSG in pre-packaged ramen seasonings. Some of them, like sugar, corn starch and maltodextrin, are high in carbs and might kick keto dieters right out of ketogenesis. Others are unhealthy oils which simply aren’t very good for you. Keto focuses on consuming lots of healthy fats, and instant ramen often contains unhealthy ones like vegetable oil.
Instant ramen seasoning isn’t very nutritious; you’d do much better creating your own soup or broth. And for those on keto meal plans, the seasoning packet can be a deal breaker.
But the noodles in that package of Top Ramen or Maruchan are even worse.
Noodles and Keto
Many keto dieters find that one of the foods that’s particularly difficult for them to give up is pasta. After all, spaghetti and mac-and-cheese have become mainstays of the American diet, and a survey by the polling firm Harris Interactive found that 59 percent of adults eat pasta at least once a week. That number would certainly be higher if kids had been surveyed as well.
There’s no argument, however, that all forms of regular pasta are off limits on keto.
Here’s why. When the body doesn’t get enough carbohydrates to produce glucose for energy, it’s forced into the fat-burning and weight loss mode known as ketogenesis. That’s why the foundation of ketogenic eating is eliminating most carbs from the diet. And pasta, sadly, is loaded with carbs.
A strict keto diet allows you to consume about 20 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) per day. One small serving (two ounces) of cooked, refrigerated noodles lets you sneak in under the limit, at 14 grams – but that doesn’t give you much leeway to eat any other carbs for the entire day. Boxed or packaged noodles? Forget about them; a cup of cooked spaghetti noodles contains between 37 and 45 grams of carbs, depending on whether you choose refined or whole-grain pasta.
The news is just as bad for instant ramen soup, which contains an average of 54 grams of carbs per package. Many of those gluten-free “low carb” ramen noodle soups you see at the grocery store aren’t much better.
So is ramen simply out for those on keto or paleo diets? Not quite.
But you have to find an alternative to those carb-laden ramen noodles.
Types of Low-Carb Noodles
More a thousand words are added to the dictionary every year, and one of the new words you could find in the 2018 Merriam-Webster dictionary was “zoodle.” By now we’ve all heard of these low-carb zucchini noodles, which have a different texture than wheat-based pasta but are a pretty decent substitute when you are trying to eat healthy (not to mention gluten- and dairy-free).
Zoodles have six grams of net carbs per serving, however, so they’re not the best choice for your keto ramen soup. There are many better ones.
Not only should these translucent noodles be your first choice when making ramen, they have so many things going for them that they should be your first, second and third choice.
Shirataki noodles (often called konjac noodles or miracle noodles) are made from a gelatinous fiber called glucomannan, which comes from the root of the Asian konjac yam plant (and isn’t really a yam). The noodles are sort of gooey and chewy, two attributes that make them different from regular pasta. They also don’t have much taste on their own, which makes them ideal for use in flavorful or spicy dishes; the Japanese use them often for exactly that reason.
There are two more reasons why shirataki noodles are ideal for use as keto ramen noodles: shirataki noodles contain zero net carbs, and they don’t fall apart in soup like many noodles made from vegetables.
You have to prepare shirataki noodles carefully, though. First drain them and soak them in cold water for 15 minutes, then fry them over medium heat for a few minutes. That will make them feel less slimy and better able to absorb the flavor of your soup.
If you’re looking for low-carb noodles, you won’t do better than shirataki noodles. You can find them in Asian grocery stores, many supermarkets and chains (including Walmart and Whole Foods), and of course, they’re sold on Amazon.
These seaweed noodles are also keto-friendly, with one gram of net carbs per serving. They’re good for you as well, containing a number of minerals like calcium and iron. You can find both green and white kelp noodles; the green ones are softer and tastier, while the white ones are harder, crispier, and not as ideal for use as soup noodles. (Disclaimer: don’t try green kelp noodles if you don’t like the taste of seaweed.)
Heart of Palm Noodles
With less than two grams of net carbs per serving and a firm texture, these noodles are more suited to “spaghetti and meatballs” than ramen soup, but some people like them for their flavor that’s somewhat similar to artichoke.
These are easy to make at home, since nearly everyone has cucumbers in their fridge, all you need to make them is a spiralizing tool, and they’re so soft they don’t have to be cooked first. Just two grams of net carbs per serving, too.
Other Low-Carb, Healthy Noodle Substitutes
- Eggplant Noodles: 3 grams of net carbs. Chewy and healthy.
- Kohlrabi (German Turnip) Noodles: 3 grams of net carbs. A spicier taste.
- Spaghetti Squash Noodles: 3 grams of net carbs. Prone to dissolving in soup.
- Edamame Noodles: 5 grams of net carbs, with a taste and texture that’s most like pasta.
- Zoodles: You knew we’d get here eventually. 6 grams of net carbs.
What Else Goes Into Keto Ramen Recipes?
Well, you’ll need soup, of course. The healthiest and most flavorful options are bone broths; pork and chicken bone broth are two great traditional choices. Of course, you can use chicken stock too, but be careful when buying canned stock because many brands contain lots of unnecessary carbs.
What else should go on your shopping list?
Ramen wouldn’t be ramen without the spice. Luckily, most spices are just fine on a keto diet, with onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper obvious choices. You can add a number of spices or herbs that will give your ramen a distinctive flavor profile; ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, lemongrass, coriander and sesame seeds will all contribute to a yummy Asian ramen bowl. Soy sauce, chili sauce (or chilis) and sesame oil are great add-ins, too, but be sure to check their carb content before using them. Try coconut aminos as a delicious soy sauce substitute.
Proteins and veggies are what will give your ramen its texture. Just about all proteins like shredded chicken and pork (stir-fry them in olive oil for an authentic taste) are standard keto foods, as are tofu and the egg that traditionally goes on top. And many of the vegetables normally used in ramen are low in carbs: mushrooms, onions, bok choy, cabbage, spinach and kale. Garnish with keto-friendly scallions.
Need more inspiration?
D-I-Y Ramen: Keto Recipes
You can find lots of keto-friendly ramen soup recipes online, but here’s a quick and easy one that you can use as a starting point. Feel free to alter it to suit your tastes.
Quick Keto Ramen (courtesy of allthenourishingthings.com)
Serving size: One pint; recipe makes two large servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5-7 minutes
Total time: 20-22 minutes
- Heat one quart of chicken bone broth and 14 ounces of drained/washed shirataki noodles over medium-high heat.
- When the soup begins simmering, add two teaspoons of turmeric, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, and reduce heat to low. Cook for two more minutes.
- Pour into bowls, add any desired vegetables, and garnish with scallions and poached egg if desired.
Sure, it takes longer than the five minutes you’d need to heat up a package of instant ramen, but ramen like this isn’t only healthier and tastier – it won’t kick you out of ketosis, either.
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