How unhealthy can your favourite noodle dish get? We break down the facts
Do you have it with soup or dry? Are vegetable-coloured noodles more nutritious? Read on to see which ones are less calorie-packed and carb light – and how to slurp up healthier noodles.
Everyone has his or her favourite noodle dish, whether it's bak chor me or mee siam, mee goreng or ramen. And that goes for noodle preferences, too, whether it's mee pok, bee hoon, ban mian or soba noodles.
Other than rice, noodles have to be the other most popular form of carbohydrates in this part of the world. But as much as we enjoy slurping them up, do we stop to think how they fare in the nutrition department?
Are some noodles healthier than others or are they all the same? Is opting for a soupy noodle dish really better than going for a dry one?
CNA Lifestyle finds out from the dietitians what you’re feeding your body each time you order noodles for breakfast, lunch or dinner – and tips on how to possibly eat healthier.
WHAT’S IN YOUR NOODLES?
To give you a better idea how the various types of noodles rank in terms of calories, carbohydrates, fat, sodium and fibre, below is a table of common cooked noodles and their respective nutrition values.
Do note that cooked noodles can be two to 2.5 times higher in weight than their uncooked versions, so the information can be different from the nutrition labels on the packaging. Also, the nutrition values may differ from brand to brand.
NOODLE TYPE (PER 100G; COOKED)
|CARBS (G)||FAT (G)||SODIUM (MG)||FIBRE (G)|
|Mee tai mak||154||42.1||1.1||21||0|
|Ban mian and mee hoon kueh||138||25.2||2.1||0||1.2|
|Mee pok and mee kia||135||29.2||0||0||0.8|
|Thick bee hoon||120||27.5||0.5||2||1.6|
|Instant noodles (without seasoning)||106||15.3||4||0||1|
|Shirataki or konjac noodles||12||0||0||0||3.9|
(Information: HealthifyMe; and Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants)
WHICH FLOUR TYPE IS BEST?
Whether it’s fried bee hoon or Korean ramyeon, noodles are either made with rice or wheat flour as the key ingredient. A few exceptions are tang hoon (based on mung bean flour), soba (primarily buckwheat flour) and shirataki noodles (made from the konjac root).
Other flour types, such as tapioca flour, potato flour, sago starch and corn starch, may also be added to create a thicker and chewier texture (think kway teow and mee tai mak). Sometimes, salt and oil are used as well.
Unfortunately, most of the noodles that you find on supermarket shelves and in your plate of char kway teow are made with refined flour, regardless of type. Which means you aren't getting much nutrients, save for starch. Even the seemingly healthy soba may contain more refined wheat flour than buckwheat flour.
"Every gram of starch contributes 4 calories and each gram of fat has 9 calories," said HealthifyMe’s senior dietitian Kong Pun Pun. In fact, she considered noodles more damaging than the broth or sauce they come with.
“Noodles usually have small amounts of fat but very little or no vitamins, minerals and fibre,” she said. By comparison, the broth or sauce can be “nutrient dense” when made with natural ingredients.
But the one thing that puts rice flour above wheat flour is that it doesn't contain gluten and is friendly for those with digestive issues or gluten allergies.
If you want healthier noodles, choose something with a shorter ingredient list when shopping at the supermarket. Whenever possible, opt for noodles made with brown rice flour or whole wheat flour instead of refined flour. Better yet, make your own noodles so you know what goes into them.
IS THERE COLOURING?
Generally, noodles with a yellowish hue contain eggs, such as pasta (eggs and durum wheat flour) as well as ban mian, mee hoon kueh, mee pok and mee kia, which are made with varying ratios of wheat flour and eggs.
The exception is perhaps yellow noodles, which get their colour and springiness from food-grade lye water. Again, there's no saying for sure so check the ingredient list for artificial colouring.
What about those colourful noodles made with vegetable extracts such as beetroot, pumpkin or spinach? They are typically coloured with powdered vegetable extracts – but they do not deliver much “nutritive benefit”, according to Rachel Tay, a senior dietitian with Gleneagles Hospital’s Food, Nutrition and Beverages Department.
“They are lacking in vitamins and minerals that actual vegetables provide,” she said.
PRACTISE PORTION CONTROL
Like other foods, portion control is key if you're keeping a lid on your blood sugar levels, said Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical and sports dietitian at Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants. “The portion size of carbs per meal is important.”
Generally, “carb exchange” is a way of counting carbohydrates. One carb exchange equals 15g of carbohydrates, and diabetics should be eating two to three carb exchanges per meal, said Reutens. "Talk to your diabetic nurse or dietitian for a more personalised carb exchanges plan."
It is also important for diabetics to take note of the glycaemic index (GI) of the food they eat. “The lower the GI, the longer it would take for a rise in blood sugar levels when a particular food is consumed,” explained Tay.
But it isn’t that cut and dried. “Many factors can affect the GI of foods such as the presence of fat, fibre, and the processing and temperature of the food,” she said. Besides, "there is no specific cap on the GI for diabetics", said Tay.
If you're cautious about the GI, Reutens suggested keeping to foods with low to medium GIs (1 to 69).
BROTH OR DRY?
Order or cook the soupy version instead of those with thick sauces, advised Tay. “Sauces tend to contain more sugar, salt and fat than broths,” she said.
Even better, opt for a clear broth (for instance, laksa and chicken stock are both broths but the latter is definitely healthier) and ask for more vegetables to make the dish more nutrient packed, said Tay.
Of course, if you add chili oil or oil cooked down with blackened garlic over your ramen, you’re going to up the dish’s overall nutritional value (read: Fat content), too, said Kong. The same goes for the fragrant bits of fried shallots that you sprinkle on your noodles. You might want to hold those back a little.
But what if you prefer saucy noodles? “A sauce can be made from natural ingredients such as tomatoes, garlic, herbs, onions, spices, vinegar and vegetables, which can contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidant components, that have high nutritional value,” said Kong.
For a more nutritionally balanced meal, pair your noodles with ingredients that are high in protein and fibre, suggested Reutens.
For instance, use lean minced meat, chye sim, sliced shitake or button mushrooms for a low-sodium vegetable broth, she recommended.
Or add prawns and/or squid, garlic, olive oil and parsley for a seafood aglio olio pasta.
For an easy stir-fried mee tai mak dish, Reutens suggested minced chicken, bean sprouts, xiao bai chye, spring onions, garlic, soy sauce and olive oil.