Ramen is a tasty Japanese soup filled with noodles and broth, and it's often topped with some type of meat, green onions, bean sprouts, seaweed and corn. But to eat ramen as a health food, you might need to make your own tweaks.
Is Ramen Healthy?
Many people wonder if ramen is bad for you, and while the popular dish may be delicious, it's often filled with salt, calories and carbohydrates. That said, eating ramen noodles every day is probably not a good idea.
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There are ways you can enjoy ramen in a healthy way, though. Making your own at home can help you customize the ingredients so you're in control of the nutrition.
There's nutritional value in ramen, though store-bought or restaurant versions are typically higher in calories, fat and sodium.
Check out the nutritional value of packaged ramen noodles (per half-package-serving), according to the USDA:
- Calories: 220
- Total fat: 10 g
- Saturated fat: 5 g
- Sodium: 1,000 mg
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Carbohydrates: 28 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Sugar: 4 g
- Protein: 7 grams
Ramen Calories and Macros
The number of calories in ramen will depend on which fix-ins and toppings you include in your soup. On average, a serving of ramen will give you 220 calories. You'll also get 10 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbs and 7 grams of protein.
Ramen noodles do not contain any cholesterol, but they do have a fair amount of fat. The fat in ramen noodles is high because the noodles are fried during the manufacturing process. A half package of ramen contains 10 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat.
Saturated fat in the diet raises cholesterol levels and contributes to cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 6 percent of your total daily calories.
Ramen Noodles Protein
You'll get 5 grams of protein in ramen noodles, per half package. Adding high-protein mix-ins, like meat or eggs, will add protein to your bowl.
Protein is needed to build and repair the body's tissues; in addition, it provides a feeling of fullness after eating, slowing the emptying of food from the stomach. Protein may also be obtained from other foods that contain less saturated fat, such as lean meats, soy and nuts. Because ramen noodles contain some not-so-desirable nutrients, you are wise to make other protein choices.
MSG in Ramen
In addition to high amounts of sodium, the flavor packet contains monosodium glutamate or MSG.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives MSG the nod as an ingredient that is "generally recognized as safe," according to the Mayo Clinic. But some people have reported MSG side effects, including headaches, numbness or tingling, chest pain, sweating and flushing, weakness and nausea.
No scientific studies back up these claims, but researchers acknowledge some people may have adverse reactions to the ingredient, per the Mayo Clinic.
How to Make Healthy Ramen Noodles
To make your ramen healthier, aim to reduce its sodium, choose the right broth and load it up with vegetables and other healthy additions.
1. Lower the Salt
Find ways to reduce the sodium in your ramen bowl. You may want to stay away from packaged ramen entirely and choose to make ramen at home rather than going out to a restaurant. When you cook at home, it's easier to choose healthier ingredients.
To make low-salt ramen at home, choose low-sodium chicken broth and low-sodium soy sauce.
2. Choose the Right Broth
In traditional Japanese ramen dishes, there are four main types of ramen broth: shoyu (flavored with soy sauce) shio (salt), miso (soybean paste) and tonkotsu (pork bone). But if you're molding your ramen dishes to fit into your diet, you can experiment with different types of broths that may be lower in fat and salt content.
Mix a low-sodium chicken broth with some miso paste, for example. Miso, a staple in the Japanese diet, is made from fermented soybeans and contains protein, manganese, vitamin K and zinc.
Miso is also a source of probiotics, which are live "good" bacteria that live in our guts and are linked to an improved digestive and immune system, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It is high in salt, though, so be careful with the amount you use.
You can also make your own vegetable broth using mushrooms and other green veggies. Add in low-sodium soy sauce and some hot sauce to give it flavor.
3. Fill It With Vegetables
Typical restaurant ramen bowls come with soft-boiled eggs and certain types of vegetables, like leeks or corn, in addition to seaweed and bean sprouts. But if you are hoping to lose weight with a ramen soup diet, you may want to add even more vegetables to your dish and choose tofu instead of pork for your protein.
In theory, you can throw any vegetable you want into your broth to experiment. But a few options that may work well with ramen include cabbage, broccoli, spinach, scallions or bok choy.
Bok choy, for example, is filled with vitamins A and K and is an excellent source of fiber. These dark leafy greens have been linked to a variety of protective health benefits, according to the USDA, and they can help you lose weight.
If you're eating to gain muscle, you can even tweak your ramen noodle diet to one that will aid in bodybuilding. Fill your bowl with not only vegetables but also protein options like pork, chicken or fish.
Because ramen noodles are so high in calories, and you have the ability to fill it with nutrition, they can actually be an excellent choice to fuel muscle building.
4. Hone in on Healthy Additions
The Japanese diet has famously been touted along with the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, as it's been associated with lower cardiovascular risk and overall mortality, a February 2016 study published in BMJ found.
It's no secret that Japan has had a higher life expectancy than most countries, and many claim it's the diet of fresh fish, vegetables, soy and fermented foods.
A small April 2017 study in the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis found that people eating a Japanese diet improved heart disease risk factors like body weight and cholesterol. That being said, you can be creative with Japanese staples like fresh fish, soy products and seaweed to add to your ramen noodles.
Benefits of Ramen Noodles
It's OK to eat ramen in moderation. Some of their benefits include:
- They're inexpensive.
- They cook in about 3 minutes.
- They're customizable: You can leave out the flavor packet and mix them instead with healthy ingredients like vegetables, grilled chicken, shrimp or other seafood.
- National Health Service: "What Should My Daily Intake of Calories Be?"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat per Day?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Benefits of Probiotics"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Dark Green Leafy Vegetables"
- Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis: "Effects of a Japan Diet Intake Program on Metabolic Parameters in Middle-Aged Men: A Pilot Study"
- BMJ: "Quality of Diet and Mortality Among Japanese Men and Women: Japan Public Health Center Based Prospective Study"