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.
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.)
But what about that “not very good for you” thing? Is ramen really a nutritional nightmare?
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.
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.
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.
For example, one serving of chicken-flavored instant ramen noodles has (1):
It should be noted that instant ramen noodles are different from fresh ramen noodles, which are traditional Chinese or Japanese noodles typically served in soup form and topped with nutritious ingredients like eggs, duck meat and vegetables.
Because they’re inexpensive and only require minutes to prepare, they appeal to people who are on a budget or short on time.
However, they lack many important nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Tertiary butylhydroquinone — more commonly known as TBHQ — is a common ingredient in instant ramen noodles.
Comparing Nutrition Facts of Instant Ramen Noodle Soup
Now that you understand some of the basics of ramen noodles nutrition, you probably realize that eating instant noodles is better as an occasional indulgence rather than a regular go-to option. In fact, at least one study shows regular consumption of instant noodles is associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
Still, not all instant ramen is created equal. (Don’t worry — we’ll soon show you the silver lining.) Check out the nutrition stats on the most popular instant ramen brands to see how they stack up:
What is the nutritional value of plain ramen noodles?
Is ramen a healthy carb?
How many carbs are in a pack of Ramen noodles?