Is Instant Ramen Unhealthy?
Instant ramen is a classic, affordable comfort food. When you sink into a hot bowl of noodles, it can make all your troubles melt away. There’s also an element of nostalgia. For anyone who went to college, noodles conjure up memories of late nights in the dorm.
But you’re an adult now, and you have higher standards. Maybe you’re also more concerned about what goes into your diet. A bowl of ramen might sound delicious, but it’s also “instant” food. Like hot pockets and frozen pizza, it just doesn’t sound very healthy. Then again, millions of people eat ramen every day, and are in great shape.
So which is it? Is instant ramen actually unhealthy, or does it get a bad rep because it’s lumped in with other pre-packaged foods?
The answers to those questions are “no,” and “maybe.” The fact is that there are all kinds of ramen. For example, you can walk into any authentic Chinese or Japanese restaurant and find all kinds of healthy ramen dishes. They’re packed with veggies, meat, and other ingredients, and can be a full, satisfying meal.
But when most people think about ramen, they’re talking about instant ramen. Even in that case, there are significant differences between typical instant ramen and craft ramen. Typical instant ramen is fried, packaged in Styrofoam, and often so loaded with salt and oil that the flavor is overpowered.
Craft ramen is just that – crafted. It’s about noodles made from scratch that are steamed not fried. It’s about bold, complex flavors that use simple ingredients and aren’t overpowered with salt. And you can still prepare it in your kitchen in five minutes.
So, is instant ramen unhealthy, or is it something you can feel great about eating any time? Here’s what you need to know.
Instant Ramen Nutrition Facts
If we’re going to talk about nutrition, let’s start with the raw numbers. What is the actual nutritional content of typical instant ramen? Obviously, not every brand is the same, and even within the same brand, you’ll see some variation in sodium from flavor to flavor. But let’s look at the nutrition facts for one cup of chicken-flavored ramen from one of the major brands.. you know the one ;)
It has 290 calories, noodles that are fried, Styrofoam packaging, and a whopping 1190 mg of sodium in 1 container! Ouch! That’s over half your daily recommended sodium! It’s also a surprising amount of fat
Not only that, but it also has 43 ingredients on its list! Many of these are pretty much unrecognizable.
Now, let’s take a look at our Chicken Craft Ramen cup from Mike’s Mighty Good. It has only 210 calories, nearly 40% less sodium (780mg), HALF the ingredients 41 in total), simple ingredients, and steamed not fried organic noodles. So clearly, it does make a difference which ramen you eat. But what is it that makes some ramens healthier than others?
Mike's Mighty Good Chicken Flavor Ramen Noodle Soup Cup Ingredients
ORGANIC UNBLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, CHICKEN BROTH*, CHICKEN FAT*, ORGANIC SUNFLOWER OIL, SEA SALT, YEAST EXTRACTS, ORGANIC STARCH, GARLIC*, CHICKEN*, ORGANIC SUGAR, ORGANIC WHEAT GLUTEN, ORGANIC SESAME OIL, KOMBU SEAWEED*, SOY SAUCE POWDER (SOYBEANS, WHEAT, SALT), ONION*, GREEN ONION*, CABBAGE*, MUSHROOM*, SPICE. *DRIED
Let’s start with the basics. Most prepackaged foods use chemical preservatives to help them last longer on shelves. In the case of ramen noodles, the majority of manufacturers use a chemical called tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).
While TBHQ is approved by the FDA for human consumption, some people are still concerned about having too much of it in their diet. Mike’s Mighty Good doesn’t contain any TBHQ, so that’s not a concern with our foods.
If that’s not enough, most ramens use artificial colorings and flavorings, which all have their own health implications. Mike’s Mighty Good ramen is made with simple ingredients that you can feel good about eating, so you’re not eating any chemicals you can’t pronounce.
If you're looking for the perfect instant ramen to feel good about, start with our Ramen Cup Best Sellers Sampler Pack! It was a mix of our Chicken, Pork Tonkotsu, Vegetarian Miso, and Spicy Beef Cups!
You might think that the main concern about noodles is the amount of carbs and starches. To be fair, this is a valid concern, and you’ll need to limit consumption on a low-carb diet. If you’re on a ketogenic diet, you’ll have to give up ramen altogether unless your diet plan allows for specified cheat days. Otherwise you’d think you could treat ramen like any other carbs, such as ordinary pasta.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most major ramen brands fry their noodles in oil before dehydrating them. This allows for much faster cook times than boiling in water – seconds, rather than minutes – so the manufacturers can keep prices as low as possible. But you also get a lot of extra fat.
Not only that, but frying the noodles changes their character. When you’re at a ramen bar, you get a steamed noodle, not a fried noodle, and the results is the perfect chewy bite that complements, rather than overpowers the broth. What happens when you flash fry noodles is that the oil in the noodles overpowers the subtlety of the broth.
Mike’s Mighty Good steams our noodles rather than flash frying them, so they’re healthier to eat. Steaming our noodles and making them organic was a lot of work, but we did it because you deserve to have restaurant-quality ramen noodles wherever you go. We also make our noodles 100% organic and literally make them in-house from scratch each day.
Another thing that makes Mike’s noodles stand out is that they’re crafted with organic and non-gmo ingredients. You don’t have to worry about pesticides and other contaminants that are common to non-organic foods.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but doctors recommend limiting consumption to maintain a healthy diet. Sadly, the average American diet contains far more sodium than a healthy person should be eating. And most of this sodium comes from pre-packaged food and fast foods. In fact, the FDA has recently asked manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium in their foods.
With typical instant ramen, you get a lot of salt. This can leave you feeling bloated, or with a sense of brain fog. It can also make you thirsty, so you end up needing to guzzle a bunch of water after your meal.
Another problem with salt is that it’s often used to cover for other issues with the food. Noodles not up to par? Add some salt. Don’t want to invest in a quality spice blend? Add more salt. The result is a strong flavor, but it’s not very nuanced.
Mike’s Mighty Good uses nearly 40% less sodium in our ramen than the leading brands. Instead, we invest in all kinds of other spices, to create a rich, textured flavor profile. Who says you have to load up on salt to enjoy a delicious meal?
5 Ways to Make Ramen Noodles Healthier
So, how can you make your ramen noodles healthier? Here are five tips:
- Choose steamed or boiled noodles rather than fried ones. Not only will you be eating less fat, but you’ll also have a softer, more flexible noodle.
- Add plenty of vegetables! Noodles are a great snack, but they’re just noodles. They stick to your ribs, but they don’t have a lot of vitamins. So add a few of your favorite veggies to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
- Protein is also important, especially if you have an active lifestyle. Add some chicken, beef, tofu, or shrimp to your ramen for an even more filling meal.
- Read the label. If you see a bunch of preservatives and chemicals you can’t pronounce, consider choosing a brand with simple ingredients.
- Take it easy on the salt! There’s no need to add more salt to the broth or your toppings.
5 Ramen Recipes for Staying Healthy
Want some quick and easy ramen recipes that are also good for your health? Here are five tried and true favorites:
- Coconut Curry Ramen is packed with protein-rich chicken, and has enough kick to satisfy anybody. It’s also extra low in sodium, since you discard the seasoning packet and make your own broth with chicken broth and coconut oil.
- Chicken Katsu Ramen is another perennial favorite. For protein, you have chicken and soft boiled eggs. For flavor, you have scallions and seasoned panko bread crumbs.
- Vegan Tofu Ramen is so delicious, your meat-eating friends will swear it’s not vegan. It’s loaded with veggies, and the savory flavor soaks right into the tofu.
- Beef Broccoli Ramen is a great choice when you’ve gone past Hungryville and into Hangry Town. With beef, egg, onions, and a generous serving of broccoli, this is a dish that will fill even the emptiest belly.
- Loaded Veggie Ramen is made with eggs, shitake mushrooms, and a mix of other vegetables. It’s rich. It’s crunchy. It’s delicious.
So, Is Ramen Healthy or Not?
So, is ramen healthy? As you can see, there’s a big difference between all-natural, low-sodium, steamed noodles than your typical fried and salted instant cup. If you’re trying to eat healthy, but still want to enjoy your favorite college comfort food, try Mike's Mighty Good craft ramen today!