Ramen Nutrition: Facts, Myths, And How To Make It Healthier

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Ramen Nutrition: Facts, Myths And Tips

Here’s what most people “know” about ramen noodles:

  1. They’re extremely popular in Japan.
  2. They’re fast and easy to prepare.
  3. They’re an incredibly inexpensive meal to make at home.
  4. They’re not very good for you.

You may find the first fact interesting. And the last fact might make you feel a little guilty when eating ramen – although we keep eating Big Macs and KFC too, even though we know they aren’t good for us.

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The other two facts, though, explain why the global market for instant ramen noodles is growing by almost six percent per year. A bowl of ramen is the perfect snack for college students, it’s a quick and filling lunch for workers who can’t get away from the office, and it’s an easy solution when there’s nothing else in the house to eat. (One other fact we didn’t mention: ramen is pretty tasty.)

That’s why America isn’t going to stop eating ramen.

But what about that “not very good for you” thing? Is ramen really a nutritional nightmare?

It can be – but it doesn’t have to be.

That’s because not all ramen is the same. Most of us visualize the twenty-five or fifty-cent packets of instant ramen they sell at the supermarket, but that’s a very different food than the healthier instant ramen you can buy online, or the ramen noodle soup sold at a growing number of shops throughout America.

Let’s look at the truth about ramen nutrition.

The Ramen We Know and “Love”

When you think about ramen you probably think about packets of Maruchan or Top Ramen, the two most popular instant ramen brands in America. (They’re manufactured by the companies that also produce Japan’s two most popular instant ramen products, Toyo Suisan’s Maruchan Gotsu Mori Instant Noodles and Nissin’s Cup Noodle.)

The two brands, in their brightly-colored packages, are ubiquitous in U.S. grocery stores – and they’re also the reason that ramen has “earned” the reputation of being unhealthy. Their “nutrition facts” labels are slightly different depending on the flavor you purchase, but here are the details for the two most commonly-purchased varieties.

Two notes before we start. First, the companies each claim that half a package of instant ramen constitutes “one serving.” Anyone who has made instant ramen knows that’s really disingenuous; there’s really one adult-sized serving in each package, so we’ll be looking at the nutritional details per package (along with the percentage of the daily recommended amount for each ingredient). Second, those daily values are figured as a percentage of a 2,000 calorie diet.

Maruchan Chicken Flavor

  • Calories: 380
  • Total Fat: 14 grams (22% of recommended daily value)
  • Saturated Fat: 7 grams (35%)
  • Sodium: 1660 milligrams (72%)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 52 grams (17%)
  • Dietary Fiber: 1 gram (4%)
  • Sugars: 2 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Iron: 3.6 milligrams (20%)
  • Vitamins. Potassium, Calcium: 0 milligrams

Top Ramen Chicken Flavor

  • Calories: 380
  • Total Fat: 14 grams (22% of recommended daily value)
  • Saturated Fat: 7 grams (35%)
  • Sodium: 1600 milligrams (70%)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 53 grams (18%)
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 grams (7%)
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Iron: 3.6 milligrams (20%)
  • Potassium: 180mg (4%)
  • Vitamins, Calcium: 0 milligrams

You don’t have to be a dietician to realize those products aren’t very good for you, and that ramen is most certainly not going to help with weight loss.

380 calories, 14 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat (thankfully, no trans fats), and 52 grams of carbs can be problematic if that’s just a small part of your everyday diet – and the 1600 mg of sodium can be a big problem, since high sodium content in food has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

The nutrition information doesn’t tell the whole story, either. Dehydrated instant ramen noodles don’t just contain wheat flour; there are often additives like folic acid, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate – and a preservative called tBHQ (tertiary-butyl hydroquinone). And the seasoning packets usually contain the flavor enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate). tBHQ has been linked to possible liver, neurological and vision problems, as well as some forms of cancer. And in some people, MSG is known to cause reactions like headache, numbness, weakness and muscle tingling, known collectively as “MSG symptom complex.”

There are a limited number of fatty acids and a decent amount of protein in these instant ramen products, and some of them do contain some iron and niacin. Overall, though, there are very few micronutrients in instant ramen, and many of the other ingredients can be troubling. You can do a lot better.

Healthier Instant Ramen

Most of the instant ramen products on the market, including tasty options from South Korea like Nongshim Tonkotsu (pork broth) Ramen and Samyang Ramen, have nutritional profiles similar to those of Maruchan and Top Ramen (although, on the plus side, they don’t contain tBHQ or MSG).

There are a few much healthier alternatives, however. Perhaps the best of the bunch is low-fat Public Goods Original Ramen Noodles – because this yummy choice is made from only a few natural ingredients.

Public Goods Original Ramen
Public Goods Original Ramen Noodles

The noodles only contain wheat flour, water and salt, and they’re prepared with a method that doesn’t require them to be deep-fried like most instant ramen noodles. There’s not a seasoning packet, either; there’s a pouch with a simple sauce made from just soy sauce and white sesame oil. No tBHQ or MSG; no other additives, either.

The nutritional details tell the tale:

  • Calories: 290
  • Total Fat: 3 grams (4% of recommended daily value)
  • Saturated Fat: 0.4 grams (2% of daily value)
  • Sodium: 1510 milligrams (66% of daily value)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 58 grams (21% of daily value)
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 grams (7% of daily value)
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Iron: 0.7 milligrams (4% of daily value)
  • Vitamins, Calcium: 0 milligrams

Yes, there’s a lot of sodium content, but you’re not going to find Ramen noodles without it. Yes, there are carbs; after all, it is a noodle dish. But when it comes to calories (almost a third fewer than Maruchan and Top Ramen), fat (about 75% less), and saturated fat (about 90% less), the Public Goods ramen is clearly a much better nutrition choice.

Still troubled by the lack of micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and other minerals? There’s an easy way to fix that.

Healthiest Instant Ramen

When you order ramen noodle soup in a restaurant or at a ramen shop, you’re never served a bowl containing just broth and noodles. There’s lots of other good stuff in there, too. You can prepare the same type of meal at home, using your choice of instant ramen.

Veggies like scallions, bean sprouts, seaweed and even corn are traditional ramen add-ins. Proteins like chicken, beef or tofu are commonly added as well, depending on the flavor of ramen broth, and a boiled egg is often the finishing touch.

Of course, it will take a little more time and require a little more work to chop the vegetables or prepare the protein. But adding healthy ingredients is the best way to add protein, micronutrients and all of the health benefits that will turn ordinary instant ramen into completely delicious – and more nutritious – ramen noodle soup.

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