Ramen gets a bad rap. Those sinfully delicious noodles and broth don’t have to be unhealthy. A bowl of ramen can be healthy compared to many other foods if done the right way. Let's break it down. The reason so many people claim ramen is bad for you is that they rely on packaged (often heavily processed) ramen or even restaurant ramen. Stop that. Make your own. As I tell my students in our ramen experiences, making ramen is intimidating at first but you control all of the healthy choices to make a better bowl of ramen if you have patience. Let's start with with why instant ramen packages, packaged ramen and many restaurant bowls of ramen can be unhealthy for you. First, those ramen packages often include noodles that have been fried as part of the preservation process. That adds a lot of fat potential. That won’t happen if you make your own noodles at home. A bit later, we’ll give you great tips to help with noodles and broth. Speaking of the broth. The most concerning health characteristics of the broth are often the sodium content and MSG levels. High sodium and high MSG levels often found in many pre-packaged, processed ramen are not healthy choices. You can control that with some tips we’ll give you. By the way, there’s little cholesterol in most ramen if that’s a benefit. Pre-packaged, and even some restaurant ramen, contains very little protein. You have some great options to increase that at home. Plus, your topping choices overall can not only make a difference but really boost the health potential for your bowl of ramen. Now that we’ve outlined some of the health concerns giving ramen it’s bad rap, let’s help you create a better, more health bowl of ramen.
1. Make Your Own Noodles
A simple recipe of bread flour, water, a pinch of sea salt and three grams of potassium bicarbonate/sodium bicarbonate solution can give you great noodles. Yes, you’ll tally about 275 calories from 90 grams of bread flour. But, most American bread flours contain about 11-12.9% protein. So, your are adding 11-12.9 grams of protein from those homemade noodles. The pinch of sea salt is almost negligible but could even be left out entirely if you must cut your sodium level to zero. Some people may find them bland. But if your sodium level is a critical health concern, you know what foods taste like without added sodium.
2. Make Your Own Broth.
Remember, ramen broth is really two parts — the actual liquid and the flavor put into that liquid. The liquid can be very healthy for you if you make it at home. Store-bought broths are often high in sodium in particular. Be careful with those.
Pork bone broth contains protein as well as other vitamins and minerals. Some doctors actually recommend drinking pork bone broth on a limited scale to help protect bones and joins, assist in weight loss, improve skin, hair and nail health. A traditional pork bone broth serving (300ml) for a bowl of ramen will contain about 50 calories, 4 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein. Remember, this is separate from the flavor of your broth.
Vegetable broth base created with 6-8 of your favorite veggies (ex: garlic, ginger, scallions, onions, carrots, seaweed, etc) can contain a great deal of vitamins and minerals (think: vitamins A, C, E, K, calcium, magnesium). A serving (300ml) of veggie broth for ramen may contain 10-15 calories but no fat or protein.
A traditional serving (300 ml) of homemade chicken broth may contain about 20 calories, 2 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein. None of the broth is too bad by itself. Again, the trouble comes from the flavor often put into the broth.
3. Make Your Own Flavor
That flavor packet you find in processed noodles may be the worst part of the whole package for your health (well, those processed noodles are up there as well for ‘bad for your health’). Too much sodium and not enough health benefits at all! Some restaurants also use powders or processed flavors (some make their own) which can also be very unhealthy for you. Here are tips to make some healthier flavor packages.
Shoyu tare - This traditionally contains a lot of soy sauce and MSG. Drop the MSG right away. Choose a low sodium soy sauce which can easily be found in many Asian markets.
Miso tare - We use a red miso and white miso. Red miso is fermented longer. Miso contains a particular strain of probiotics that is great for your gut health. It contains many vitamins and minerals plus helps support bone and nervous system health. But some miso tare for ramen also contains some of the shoyu (soy sauce, etc.) ingredients mentioned above. You can do a few things. Use the low sodium soy sauce in your shoyu which reduces the sodium in the miso. Or, skip the shoyu and use only the low sodium soy sauce in the miso mix. We also add some toasted sesame seeds which bumps if you proteins values slightly. And, add a small amount of red pepper flakes which can help digestion, reduce inflammation and adds a host of vitamins. Both sesame seeds and red pepper flakes are in small amount…but still healthy for you.
Shio tare - It’s often used with clear broths. But unfortunately, shio may not be the best choice especially if you are concerned about your sodium levels. Shio is basically “concentrated salt” or “salt seasoning”. On that alone, I would skip it and opt for a miso flavoring or low-sodium shoyu flavoring.
4. Choose Your Toppings for Health Benefits
Chashu: So many people love this of their ramen. Just remember, it’s high in fat usually but it does contain measurable levels of Vitamin C and fiber. Soft-boiled egg: A medium egg adds about 60 calories but it also adds proteins. Eggs contain a number of vitamins and minerals that can increase the health potential for your bowl of ramen. Woodear Mushrooms: High fiber an antioxidants. Can help improve gut health and lower cholesterol levels. Fermented Menma: Nature probiotics. Can help reduce blood pressure, Improve heart health and aid in weight loss. Scallions: Vitamin A, C and antioxidants. Nori: Full of vitamin B12, Omega-3 fats as well as fiber. Fish Cake: Great source of proteins and Omega-3 fats. Bean Sprouts: Improves metabolism as well as improves heart and immune health. Kimchi: Full of antioxidants, Vitamins A, C, K and many more. So, eating ramen every day may not be the healthiest choice for your diet. Eating instant or processed ramen is a concern as well. But if you love ramen like we do, make your own. Your patience and focus can pay off with a bowl of noodles, broth and toppings that are offer a relatively low caloric level, a high protein potential and a dish full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant potential with the right ingredient and topping choices! Let’s improve the bad rap of ramen. Make it at home for a glorious chorus of deliciousness!