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Is Ramen healthy?

There are many scare stories across the internet about how ramen noodles are packed with industrial waste products and hormone disruptors, and how eating them can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer, but is this the whole truth? Are ramen noodles really that bad for you?

Instant Ramen noodles

It's true that the packaged instant noodles that you find in your local supermarket are not particularly good for your health, much like any cheap, mass produced fast food these days.

These convenience foods are often high in saturated fat and sodium, and loaded with chemicals and preservatives. A recent study of a popular instant noodle brand found that the best-selling chicken flavour variant contained as much as 1,820mg of salt - over half the recommended daily sodium intake.

Many of the nutritionists and food bloggers calling out instant ramen as being death in a packet, often forget to mention the difference between instant noodles, and the traditional, authentic ramen of Japan, which is vastly different.

The distinction is so great in fact that it's a crime to lump the two into the same category - one is a traditional dish loaded fresh ingredients and bursting with nutrients and flavour, and the other is a cheap college convenience food designed to fill a hole on a shoestring budget.

What goes in Ramen?

Authentic japanese ramen is an incredibly versatile dish with hundreds of variants and regional specialities. The word 'ramen' actually comes from the specific style of wheat noodle that makes up the dish, and these are often prepared by hand and cooked fresh to order.

A typical bowl of traditional ramen noodles will be served with seaweed, bean sprouts, scallions, leeks, bamboo shoots, a slice of pork and a soft boiled egg. Though the soup (which is often based on soy sauce, miso and pork or chicken broth) can be high in sodium, it's not expected for the diner to drink all of it.

Are Ramen noodles vegan?

Traditional japanese ramen is not considered vegan or even vegetarian, and meat has been a large part of Japanese cuisine ever since the late 1800's when it came to be associated with European wealth and a rejection of feudalism. The signature broth made from slow cooked pork bones gives a distinct flavour that's hard to replicate, and then there's the presence of fish stock in which is in almost all aspects of japanese cooking.

Having said that, there is a growing vegan movement in Japan, with many speciality vegan ramen joints popping up in the major cities. Here, you can find ramen made with carrot broth, and served with mushrooms, sweet potatoes and other hearty vegetables. The idea of restaurant style vegan ramen is still relatively new however, and regarded as somewhat of a novelty.

If you don't live near a speciality vegan ramen restaurant, then your options are a bit limited when it comes to vegan ramen. There are some specific brands and flavours of instant noodles that are considered vegan, and while these might make a quick and easy meal, they're still just as bad for you as other varieties of instant noodles, and of course won't every match up to an authentic ramen experience.

So...is ramen good for you?

It goes without saying that the instant noodles people are nicknaming 'little packets or death' aren't going to do your health a lot of good, and you should really avoid eating these regularly, if you want to avoid any bad consequences.

On the other hand, authentic japanese ramen can be a very nutritious and hearty meal, and if you're fortunate to live near a proper ramen restaurant, go ahead and enjoy a bowl in good conscience! Of course, as is the case with food in general, moderation is the key, and staying physically active can do much to prevent health problems in the future.

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