My favorite food is any bowl of spicy noodles in a simmering broth. My mom always cooks a variation of this every time I visit her. It’s not always the best meal choice for my weight, so it’s not something that I eat every day. However, just how bad it is depends on the noodle and how it’s prepared.
By and large, Asian noodles are often healthier because they are lower in calories and carbs and are typically served with a lot of vegetables.
The recipes featured on this blog will at some point mention each of the below Asian noodles. Each of them vary in terms of how “healthy” they are, much of which is dependent on how they are prepared.
Glass Sweet Potato Noodles (Korean)
Dangmyeon noodles, aka, glass noodles, are typically used for the Korean dish japchae. They are made from sweet potato starch and are naturally low in calories and gluten-free. They’re also a low glycemic index choice at 39-45 (anything less than 55 is considered low, meaning it is digested and metabolised slower making it less likely for a spike in blood sugar).
The real health benefits kick in from what else goes into japchae – typically served with vegetables including carrot, shitake mushrooms, onion and spinach. The protein in japchae is usually beef and/or egg (sometimes just the egg yolk).
Buckwheat Noodles (Japanese & Korean)
Popularly known as soba noodles, (soba is Japanese for buckwheat) these can also be gluten-free although not always so check the packaging. Your best bet is to find one with just buckwheat flour and water listed as the ingredients. These noodles are typically served cold with vegetables in dishes like memil guksu, or served in a hot broth.
They have about half of the calories of white wheat flour pasta, and higher protein content which is great for our vegetarian friends! It also contains 9% of recommended intake of thiamin (aka vitamin B-1) and 24% of daily intake of manganese.
Vermicelli Noodles (Chinese)
These thin glass noodles are usually made from mung bean starch, green pea starch, potato starch and even green bean starch rather than wheat flour. This means that they are also gluten-free.
Vermicelli noodles are lower on the glycemic index than white rice, but nutritionally speaking they offer about the same. Whether or not they are healthy to eat depends on how they are prepared in terms of vegetables quantity, sauce and oils used. We use a very small amount in our spring rolls for added texture, but it’s not the star ingredient.
Pho Noodles (Vietnamese)
Like the others, Pho noodles are made from rice and sometimes vegetable starches or tapioca but no wheat flour, making them low calorie and gluten-free. The nutritional benefit of choosing this noodle is again more so in what you get from the meal rather than the noodle itself, which doesn’t offer much. Pho is a nutritionally rich dish with bean sprouts and fresh herbs, as well as beef bone broth which are all good for the gut, immunity and joints.
There are also brown rice noodle options available to make Pho, which would increase the fiber intake and make it even healthier.
Ramen Noodles (Varies)
We have to mention ramen because it is so commonly eaten by Koreans and this is a hapa blog with a Korean angle. Unlike the others, ramen is made with wheat flour, then steamed and air dried to make it “instant” with a shorter cooking time. The big red flag when it comes to nutrition is the immense amount of sodium that comes from the package of seasoning that accompanies it.
There are ways to make ramen healthier by foregoing that seasoning package and using spices out of your cupboard (recipe coming soon!). It’s also important to eat lots of vegetables and kimchi with your ramen which not only gives the dish greater dimension but also gives you greater nutritional value.
Are you hungry for noodles yet? I am! But I always am. As it comes to buying any noodles, just make sure you read the ingredients label so you know what you’re in for. Happy eating!