I used to eat ramen noodles without the seasoning all the time. I figured it’s at least lower in sodium that way, and hey—it’s cheap and tasty! But eventually, I realized the problem with ramen noodles goes much deeper than the seasoning packet.
Ramen noodles without the seasoning packet are still unhealthy. Compared to regular noodles, they typically have added vegetable oil and salt, so they are higher in calories, fat, and sodium. They also often have TBHQ, a controversial preservative which has caused tumors and paralysis in animal studies.
Below, I’ll break down many aspects of ramen noodle nutrition (without the seasoning). We’ll look at ingredients, calories, sodium, TBHQ, and more. I’ll also share practical tips to make your noodle dishes healthier.
What Part of Ramen Is Bad for You?
Unfortunately, when it comes to instant ramen, both the noodles and the seasoning packet are unhealthy. Before we get into the details, here’s the bird’s eye view:
- The noodles in ramen packets are not the same as regular noodles. Regular noodles are already empty calories—which is not great. But ramen noodles come with extra processed fat, salt, and controversial additives, too. I’ll share more below.
- The seasoning packets typically have a lot of sodium. Plus they often have a little sugar, oil, and other junk, too… Let’s just say, it’s not the healthiest way to season your food! I’ll share some better options.
Now let’s take a closer look at those noodles.
Are Ramen Noodles Worse Than Regular Noodles?
Instant ramen noodles have added vegetable oil, salt, and TBHQ compared to regular noodles. This makes ramen noodles less healthy than regular noodles, even without the seasoning packet.
Obviously, the exact comparison will depend on the specific brands you choose. But let’s compare leading brands of ramen noodles vs regular noodles:
|Maruchan Ramen||Enriched Wheat Flour (wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (contains One Or More Of The Following: Canola, Cottonseed, Palm) Preserved By TBHQ, Contains Less Than 1% Of: Salt, Soy Sauce (water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Potassium Carbonate, Sodium (mono, Hexameta, And/or Tripoly) Phosphate, Sodium Carbonate, Turmeric.|
|Barilla Spaghetti||Semolina (Wheat), Durum Wheat Flour. Vitamins/Minerals: Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Vitamin B1 (Thiamine Mononitrate), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Folic Acid.|
I see at least three problems with the ramen:
- The ramen noodles contain vegetable oil. Vegetable oils are highly processed. Many of them add excess inflammatory omega-6 fat to your diet. Regular noodles are free of added oil, but Maruchan ramen is not.
- The ramen noodles contain TBHQ. This is a controversial preservative paired with the vegetable oil in ramen noodles. It is FDA approved in small quantities, but some people have reported “vision disturbances” linked to TBHQ. Animal studies have also shown side effects like tumors, liver enlargement, convulsions, and paralysis. (source)
- The ramen noodles contain added salt. Ramen actually has salt in the noodle itself—not just the seasoning packet. This means the plain noodles still add to your daily sodium intake. Actually, there are multiple sodium-rich ingredients, including soy sauce, in the noodles themselves.
Regular noodles may taste kind of bland compared to instant ramen. But there’s a nutritional cost you pay for the added taste in ramen noodles.
Granted, regular noodles are not the healthiest food, either. They are mostly empty calories—not many nutrients—and most noodles are high-glycemic carbs made from processed wheat.
The healthiest option would be to add some healthy seasonings or sauce to some of the healthy alternatives shared below.
How Many Calories Are in the Ramen Seasoning Packet?
Instant ramen seasoning packets have very few calories—likely 10 calories or less. Almost all the calories from instant ramen are in the noodles, not the seasoning.
You might be wondering how I know this. Unfortunately, most instant ramen companies don’t actually share the nutrition facts for “just the noodles without seasoning.”
But Maruchan does share separate ingredients lists for their seasoning packets vs the noodles. And we can actually estimate the calories from that. I’ll explain how.
Here are the ingredients for a typical Maruchan seasoning packet:
Maruchan Chicken Flavor Seasoning Ingredients: Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrin, Contains Less Than 1% Of: Spices (celery Seed), Hydrolyzed Corn, Wheat And Soy Protein, Turmeric, Lactose, Natural Flavors, Dehydrated Vegetables (chive, Garlic, Onion), Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Vegetable Oil (palm), Yeast Extract, Powdered Cooked Chicken.
As you can see, the main ingredients (listed before “Less Than 1%”) are salt, sugar, MSG, and maltodextrin—in that order. Out of those seasoning ingredients, the salt and MSG do not add calories. So really, we’re just looking at sugar, plus possible carbs from the maltodextrin.
But if you check the nutrition label for Maruchan ramen, you’ll typically see only 2g of sugar (or less) in the whole package. There is not much sugar in ramen seasoning. Two grams of sugar is only around 8 calories.
Of course, there might be a few more calories from the maltodextrin or the other seasoning ingredients. But it can’t be much, considering that they’re so far down on the ingredients list (after “Less Than 1%”).
Therefore, I estimate a typical ramen seasoning packet to have around 10 calories. At the most, it would be around 20 calories. Some might only be 5 calories.
Meanwhile, the rest of the calories are in the noodles. For most Maruchan ramen flavors, that’s about 370 calories per package.
Do Ramen Noodles Make You Fat?
Instant ramen tends to be fattening, with or without the seasoning packet. This is because ramen noodles are high in calories and low in fiber.
However, keep in mind: Individual foods don’t actually make you fat. Rather, it’s your overall diet and calorie balance that results in weight gain vs weight loss.
Therefore, it is possible to eat ramen (and other junk food) and still lose weight. In fact, there have been multiple famous stories of people who ate nothing but McDonalds and lost weight, just to prove this point.
As long as you’re in an overall calorie deficit—that is, you’re burning more energy than you eat—you will typically lose weight. However, it can still be said that ramen noodles are “fattening.” Here’s why.
When you eat highly processed food like ramen noodles, you feel less full for each 100 calories you eat. Since the noodles are high in calories and low in fiber, they don’t fill you up as much as whole foods for each 100 calories.
Compare it to something like beans, whole grains, or vegetables. These whole plant foods are high in fiber, and comparatively low in calories. That means you can eat big servings for the same amount of calories as a small bowl of ramen.
This is a concept called calorie density, and it’s one of the big keys to healthy weight loss. If you focus on eating high-fiber, low-calorie foods, then you can eat many big meals and still lose weight.
Now, if you want to eat processed food like instant ramen on your diet, you can… But you will likely need to use more will-power to limit your serving sizes. Or you may need to use strategies like intermittent fasting or going to bed a little hungry.
In any case, the instant ramen will still not be healthy. Even if you only eat a small portion, it’s still empty calories—and you’d be nourishing your body more by eating whole foods.
What Can I Use Instead of the Ramen Packet?
Even if you insist on using instant noodles as the base for your meal, there are still ways to make it healthier. Instead of using the included seasoning packet, try some of the following.
You may find a combination of these to work best. Also keep in mind that some of these will be more appealing with dry noodles (drain the water):
- Marinara sauce: Many tomato-based pasta sauces are quite healthy. Ideally, choose one made with olive oil and no added sugar. Here is my personal favorite (common in US grocery stores).
- Nutritional yeast: This is a somewhat “cheesy” tasting health-food topping. It’s high in protein, often fortified with B vitamins, and it has yeast beta-glucans, which strengthen the immune system. Not everyone likes it, but many vegans and vegetarians are obsessed with it.
- Mashed avocado: One of the great breakthroughs of my life was when I realized you can use mashed avocado as a pasta sauce. It’s so creamy and good. And who doesn’t like green pasta?
- Curry Powder: Curry is quite good for you, as it harnesses all the health benefits of turmeric. You can also add some full-fat coconut milk, veggies, and beans to make a full-on ramen noodle curry!
- Better Than Bouillon: This paste is super convenient to keep in your fridge and add to soups (including ramen) anytime. It’s definitely healthier than an instant ramen packet. Here’s my favorite flavor.
- Italian seasoning: Here I’m talking about oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and the like. It makes your ramen taste kind of like pizza—especially if you add some red sauce. Buy this shaker of Italian Seasoning to make it quick and easy.
- Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Cumin, Paprika, and More: These simple spices and seasonings can be found in most kitchens—and many of them provide healthy antioxidants along with flavor.
Obviously, there are hundreds more ideas you could come up with. Steam some vegetables or add a can of beans into the mix, too, and you’ve got yourself a much healthier meal.
Can You Buy Ramen Noodles Without the Seasoning?
You can buy ramen noodles without any seasoning here on Amazon. That said, you may want to compare the prices to common options in stores, like Maruchan and Top Ramen.
Personally, when I eat ramen, I never use the seasoning packets. But I still buy Top Ramen because it’s the cheapest brand I could find. You may also find that it’s cheaper to just buy ramen with the seasoning, and then throw away the packets.
4 Healthy Noodle Options to Replace Ramen
If you’re willing to step away from your instant noodles, how should you replace them?
As mentioned above, even just regular wheat noodles are an improvement over instant ramen. But what if you want an extra nutritious choice?
Well, here are four healthy pasta options you can try:
- (1) Shirataki Noodles: These low-carb Japanese “miracle noodles” are mainly just fiber. This means they are extremely low in calories. Basically, you’ll only get calories from your sauce and toppings. Way healthier than instant ramen!
- (2) “Zoodles” (Zucchini Noodles): There are many vegetables you can make into noodles, but zucchini is most popular. Zoodles are very low in calories—and they add healthy fiber, water, and nutrients to your diet, too! Use a spiralizer like this one to make zoodles at home.
- (3) Whole Wheat Pasta: As long as you don’t struggle with digesting wheat, whole wheat pasta is a great, affordable option. It’s not particularly low in calories, but the calories come packed with much more fiber than regular pasta or instant noodles.
- (4) Bean or Lentil Pasta: There are many bean- and lentil-based pastas on the market now. These have more fiber and score much lower on the glycemic index compared to instant noodles. The soy-based ones are highest in protein. But other choices like red lentil pasta and Banza (made with chickpeas) are also good.
Keep in mind: Shirataki noodles and zoodles are very low in calories. This means you will definitely want to add some sauces or toppings for more energy. If you’re an athlete or you need a high calorie intake for another reason, I don’t recommend shirataki noodles or zoodles.
For sauce and topping ideas, see the above section on what to use instead of the ramen seasoning packet. All those options would be great when paired with these healthier noodles, too.
[Related post: Is Lentil Pasta Healthy? 10 Things You Need to Know.]
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