If there is one food everyone in South Korea is crazy for, it has to be Ramyeon or Korean ramen. But are these Korean noodles healthy for you?
According to studies, South Koreans consume the largest amount of instant noodles in the world.
Related: Are Korean Rice Cakes Healthy?
And why not? They come in amazing flavors like Jajangmyeon, kimchi, hot chicken, and beef, and they are super easy to make as well.
But at the same time how healthy are these Korean instant ramen? Can you eat them everyday without consequences? Let’s find out!
Are Korean Noodles Healthy
Any type of instant food contains a lot of preservatives to increase shelf life. Apart from this, there can be high levels of sodium, MSG, and carbohydrates in these noodles. And despite many of these Korean noodles containing dehydrated vegetables, there are not nutrients to make these noodles healthy.
Not Enough Nutrients
Korean noodles are usually made of wheat flour, vegetable oils, and various types of seasonings. To make instant ramen, flour-based noodles are fried and packaged.
You then only need to add hot water and flavoring or boil them to get them to cook completely.
These are very popular with kids and students living in dormitories.
As they are made of refined flour, you can count on Korean noodles to be high on carbohydrates.
But what about the other nutrients?
Here are some nutritional facts about one packet of Samyang Instant Korean noodles. This particular brand and flavor of noodles became quite popular worldwide due to them being really spicy.
According to some, these noodles even have a 8,000 Scoville Heat Units score. They are that spicy!
- Carbohydrates – 69g
- Protein – 10g
- Fat – 16g
- Sodium – 1870mg
- Vitamins – 0mg
- Calcium – 2mg
As you can see these noodles have a very high sodium content. According to several sources, people are required to limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day.
There is also a high level of carbohydrates. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommends a healthy adult to take anywhere between 225 and 325g of carbs per day.
So just one pack of Korean noodles can complete 21% of your daily carb intake.
It might not sound like much, but if you eat a lot of bread, pasta, sugar, or even complex carbs like potatoes, quinoa, etc. it can quickly add up.
You can also notice that apart from a bit of added calcium, there are no minerals or vitamins in these Korean noodles or ramyeon.
A healthy meal should consist of several vitamins, including A, D, and C, zinc, iron, potassium, and other nutrients required for normal functioning of your body.
Eating Korean noodles everyday will deprive your body of several of these nutrients.
Some Korean instant noodles come with added vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, people add vegetables, beef, broth, etc. while cooking these noodles in an attempt to make them healthier.
But still, this cannot compensate for lack of fiber or the presence of simple carbohydrates.
High Sodium Content
A little bit of sodium is essential for your body. A lot of it can lead to severe issues.
Most of the sodium content in our diet comes from processed foods and junk food.
This includes stuff like French fries, packaged chips, canned foods, and of course, instant food like these Korean noodles.
An average packet of instant noodles contains anywhere from 1500-2000mg of sodium.
The example of Samyang Hot Chicken noodles mentioned above contains 1870mg. That is a whopping 81 percent of the total sodium requirement for one adult as recommended by the FDA.
Consuming this much sodium through instant noodles and other salty foods is not good for you.
It is well known that excess sodium can raise the blood pressure and contribute to hypertension.
If you’re consuming a lot of sodium, it can lead to bloating, increased pressure on your kidneys, and increased chances of heart disease and stroke.
Might Contain MSG
A lot of instant food, including the Korean instant noodles contain MSG or monosodium glutamate.
This ingredient is used as a flavor enhancer and also helps with thickening the soups used in Korean ramyeon.
While MSG can be safely consumed in small amounts, there have been certain health issues like headaches, flushed skin, high blood pressure, nausea, etc. linked to this ingredient.
What’s more, certain people are more sensitive to MSG, which leads to these side effects being more pronounced in them.
There is another preservative called Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) which also appears frequently in Korean instant noodles.
It is used to extend the shelf life of the product and prevent it from getting spoiled.
This ingredient is more harmful than MSG. While you can still consume it in very small doses, TBHQ has been linked with neurological disorders, blurred vision, liver issues, and other serious side effects.
The Samyang Korean noodles I tested for this article contains Monosodium L-glutamate as a flavor enhancer, it is free of TBHQ.
How to make Korean noodles healthy?
If you’re someone who really loves their Korean ramen and cannot dream of getting rid of it from your diet, here’s how you can make it healthier.
Add more vegetables
I know that actually adding vegetables and meat to your Korean ramyeon and cooking them defeats the entire purpose of instant noodles.
But hey, who said eating healthy was easy?
According to your personal preference and tastes, you can add veggies like carrots, broccoli, green onions, leeks, tomatoes, and mushrooms in your Korean noodles to make it healthier.
Adding a lot of vegetables in your Korean noodles won’t reduce the carbohydrates, MSG, or fat present in them.
In fact, if you’re adding potatoes, yams, etc. you will end up increasing the carbs in this dish.
But these vegetables add other essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, zinc, etc. that are so important to a healthy, balanced diet.
Don’t add the flavoring
The noodles are just fried flour, most of the sodium and MSG in Korean ramen comes from the stock and the flavoring.
You can buy plain noodles instead of instant noodles and create your own stock and seasoning at home.
If you make chicken broth or beef broth at home, you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.
This helps you regulate the sodium content in the noodles.
Plus, you can play with the flavors and add any sort of seasoning you like.
Another advantage of making your own flavoring for noodles is that there won’t be any flavor enhancers like MSG or preservatives.
Add more protein
If you’re worried about weight loss and calories, this is a good trick. All you need to do is add more protein to your Korean noodles.
You can add boiled eggs, chicken chunks, beef, or fish. A lot of nutritionists suggest adding more of white, lean meat like chicken breast or salmon and less beef or bacon.
These meats add to your daily protein quota and are not fattening like red meats.
Adding them to your Korean noodles helps keep you full for longer. So you can make an entire healthy dinner out of your Korean ramen instead of snacking on them and having dinner later on.
Fish, in addition to being rich in protein, is also a source of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
Get the low-sodium noodles
Yes, Korean instant noodles are very popular. But so is healthy food!
People now have access to instant dietary information. There’s a lot of focus on eating healthy due to Diet Culture and health and fitness Youtubers and Instagram celebrities.
So it’s no surprise that instant food companies are catching up with the times.
You can find several “healthy” versions of Korean instant noodles. These claim to have low-sodium content (or at least a smaller amount of sodium than regular Korean ramen).
Some of these noodles even contain added nutrients like zinc, vitamins, and riboflavin. While not the most ideal food, they are still a better choice than regular Korean noodles.
Korean instant noodles are a staple for many South Korean people.
And due to the popularity of Korean celebrities and influence from Korean food and mukbang youtubers, this dish is now beloved worldwide.
But are Korean noodles healthy? Not really. However, you can eat it infrequently as a snack.
If you love Korean ramyeon, you can also try to eat a healthier version of it with whole-grain noodles and fresh black bean sauce instead of artificial flavorings and preservatives.