INSIGHT INTO HEALTHY EATING: RAMEN AND SODIUM

By Yoko Galloway

Until recently, when you said ‘ramen’ in Toronto, you were more or less referring to Kenzo and Ajisen. But to foodies, it still wasn’t quite the real McCoy. ‘Authentic’ ramen can be a real sticking point, as everybody loves ramen in Japan; it’s their favorite comfort food. Personally, when I visit Japan, I don’t feel at home until I’ve enjoyed a bowl of ramen and gyoza (dumplings) at a local eatery.

Specialty ramen shops have recently began popping up all over Toronto.Yet 10 or 15 years ago, there were only a handful of places that focused on it.  So it’s taken a lot longer than expected, but they’re finally here, and are garnering some serious line-ups. Those who’ve been waiting for ramen shops to compete solely on their quality of noodle and flavor of soup, now have a lot to smile about.

As die-hard ramen fans, my friends and I decided to check out all the new ramen shops in town and exchange report cards; evaluating the elements necessary for reputable ramen shops. Everyone in the group has their favorite types of noodles and soups. In my case, the very first sip of soup is the key to my heart. If the first sip is lukewarm, I’m instantly disappointed regardless of how savoury and tasteful the rest of the soup is. For others, it’s all about the first mouthful of noodles.

Newspapers in Toronto have started running similar ramen round-up articles. Yet one article in the Toronto Star really caught my attention. Until reading it, I had always slurped up every last drop of soup; even if it meant feeling like a piggy and being embarrassed about my greedy behavior. Yet the Toronto Star article I read in early July, reminded me how much salt and other ingredients are in this delicious soup. I had always known it was bad for me but I just couldn’t help it. Now, however, I make an effort to leave as much soup as possible.http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/nutrition/2013/07/04/tonkotsu_ramen_loaded_with_badforyou_nutrient.html

The article answers questions from a few readers about the health factors involved with ramen. “While calories and fat can be reduced by smaller portions,” the article says, “sodium is more problematic and more people are reducing their sodium intake for health reasons.”

For example, it says that if a ramen dish weighs roughly 750g, with soup, noodles, two slices of tender roast pork, pink-swirled fish cake, a soft boiled egg and sprouts, that it would register approximately 640 calories, and therefore, would not be too far above the 500-calorie limit recommended for the average person’s meal. Its 14 grams of fat would also be respectable for a restaurant dish.

However, it goes on to say that its 3,388 milligrams of sodium is about 1,000 milligrams more than the maximum recommended daily allotment, and is the equivalent to adding about 85 shakes of salt to your dish. The journalist recommends the shop cut about 1,500 milligrams of sodium from its ramen, and that health conscious ramen lovers would be wise to leave a lot of the broth in the bowl to curtail some of the salt. “And chase your meal down with a pitcher of water so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night feeling parched.”

Recently, Toronto Public Health launched a “Savvy Diner” campaign in support of restaurant menu labeling, in an effort to raise awareness about the calorie and sodium contents of restaurant meals.  See the information below.  It’s worth looking at the site.
http://www.savvydiner.ca

CALORIES + SODIUM
WHY CALORIES AND SODIUM ON THE MENU?

  • Many restaurant meals are very high in calories and sodium.
  • People underestimate calories and sodium in restaurant meals.
  • High calorie intakes are linked to obesity and overweight, and high sodium intakes are linked to high blood pressure.
  • Health experts strongly support putting calories and sodium levels on the menu.
  • There is public support for making this information readily available.

CALORIES

  • The average sitdown restaurant meal has more than half the calories you need in a whole day.
  • Calories are a measure of energy in food. Most adults need about 2000 calories a day but the exact number of calories you need depends on your age, gender, body size and activity level. Eating more calories than your body needs can lead to weight gain.
  • Knowing how many calories YOU need and how many calories are in your food can help you to make healthy choices.

SODIUM

  • The average sit-down restaurant meal has 1.5 times the sodium you need in a whole day.
  • Sodium is an essential nutrient found in salt and many foods. It is added to food to enhance taste and act as a preservative. Our bodies need a small amount of sodium to be healthy, but too much can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at risk for a stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.
  • Most adults should aim for 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. Eating more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day can cause health problems.

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