What to Know About Ramen Noodles

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 14, 2022
4 min read

Ramen noodles are not a dish that is associated with a good meal or anything near healthy. It gives a nostalgia for college days and eating them in your dorm after the cafeteria closed. These fried noodles are full of salt and have no protein or veggies. Most Americans equate ramen to the inexpensive fried noodles that come with the little seasoning packets. But there is a world of ramen outside of the little orange and red plastic and styrofoam containers they come in.

Ramen noodles are little bricks of dried noodles. They come with a flavor packet that is very high in sodium and has no nutritional value. Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that is popular both in Japan and worldwide. Even though there are numerous variations, the mainstay of ramen noodles is a broth base, long thin wheat noodles, and various toppings. In the US, ramen noodles are mostly associated with the dried content of the loud colored packaging. But to understand the dish, it should be considered a soup that contains noodles, not just noodles.

The noodles in ramen are thick and straight or they can be thin and curly. A heavier broth usually contains a thicker noodle, but sometimes ramen restaurants will allow those dining in to choose both a broth base and the style of noodle. But all ramen noodles are commonly made from wheat flour, water, salt, and kansui, an alkaline mineral. Kansui gives noodles their elasticity and chewiness. It also gives ramen its yellow color. For this reason, ramen noodles may sometimes be thought to have egg as an ingredient, but they do not.

According to USDA.gov, one packet of ramen noodles (81g) contains 14g of total fat and 6.58 g of total saturated fat, which is around 33% of your daily recommended intake. Ramen noodles are low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein. They are very filling, but ramen noodles offer almost no nutrition but many calories. To preserve ramen in its storage condition, it is preserved with tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ). It is a petroleum-based product that is hard to digest and is also found in pesticides and lacquers. It makes the noodles hard to digest, therefore allowing the body to be exposed to this chemical for a longer period of time than normal. It will also impede your body from taking in other nutrients. You may experience nausea and vomiting if exposed to it for too long.

It is believed that ramen noodles originated in China and were eventually introduced to Japan. But ramen is a common and popular dish in Japanese diets and throughout all of Asia. Japan has a large selection of dried, pre-packaged ramen containers ready to be boiled and seasoned. But fresh ramen can be found literally everywhere, including tiny alleyways to ramen restaurants. 

Another difference in Japan is the presence of vegetables. A bowl of fresh ramen may have an abundance of vegetables that may include:

  • bean sprouts 
  • bamboo shoots
  • scallions 
  • leeks
  • seaweed
  • other green veggies

Also, fresh ramen will contain some protein in Japan. The most popular choice is a slice of pork. Some come with a fish paste or cake, and some with a soft-boiled egg. You may also find fried tofu.

Is there a difference between the noodles we see in Japan and those eaten here? Is ramen noodle nutrition different? Most noodles in Japan are fresh. Every shop does not make noodles from scratch, but larger cities will have famous shops that hand-make their noodles. Also, the broth will provide the flavor, which consists of pork, soy, miso, or salt. You can find some fish stock, but most broths are meat-based and high in sodium. But the Japanese do not drink all of the broth.

Ramen noodles have been shown to increase metabolic syndrome in women. The ones who eat instant noodles over two times a week, are 68% more at risk to develop metabolic syndrome. This is regardless of how many other healthy dishes they eat or if they have a high level of physical activity. The culprit is the highly processed ingredients like saturated fat and high sodium. They contribute to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

Heart disease includes the risk of heart failure. Sodium is a direct cause of increased blood pressure which can directly lead to stroke and heart failure. According to USDA.gov, generic ramen noodles contain 1503 mg of sodium, which comes around to 65% of the daily FDA-recommended intake. They can elevate your combined daily salt intake without you knowing. Your risk increases each time you eat packaged ramen noodles.

Making ramen noodles is very simple. Boil two cups of water. Then drop in the noodles and cook them for three minutes. Lastly, stir in the seasoning packet that came in the container. If you are very particular, you may choose to use an easier cooking option like a microwave. There is also a complicated method. The site Epicurious states you should add the seasoning to the boiling water prior to adding the noodles. From there you could slow the cooking process by removing the noodles from the broth after two minutes. Then fan the noodles and eat.

Throw away the shiny packet of sodium seasoning! Replace it with low-sodium chicken or bone broth. For extra flavor, you can add a chicken breast to the boiling broth and then shred it. Something else you can do is to add chopped-up veggies to the top like cabbage, carrots, or mushrooms, and then sprinkle green onions. Your ramen will now have additional vitamins, nutrients, and minerals. Want protein? Add a boiled egg or tofu. Upscale ramen spots will often serve an egg on the side due to its nutritional value and its great taste.