Drunken noodle, also known as pad kee mao, is a popular Thai stir-fried noodle dish made with wide rice noodles, vegetables, basil leaves, chili peppers, and various seasonings. It gets its name from the slight tingling sensation caused by the chili heat. Drunken noodle is beloved for its tasty blend of spicy, salty, sweet, and sour flavors.
However, its high sodium content from soy sauce and oyster sauce coupled with the high glycemic index of white rice noodles has led some to question whether it’s a healthy choice or not. This article will analyze the nutritional content of drunken noodle and weigh out the pros and cons to help you determine if enjoying this iconic dish in moderation can be part of an overall healthy diet.
Nutritional content of drunken noodle
The exact nutritional content of drunken noodle can vary greatly depending on the specific ingredients and recipe used. However, here is the approximate nutritional information for a common version in a 1 cup cooked serving:
As you can see, a single serving provides over 500 calories and 75g of carbohydrates, making it a high calorie, high carb meal. The sodium content is also very high at 1000mg per serving, accounting for nearly half of the daily recommended limit of 2300mg.
However, drunken noodle does provide a decent amount of protein and contains very little saturated fat. It also contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the vegetables and herbs.
So what does this all mean for whether drunken noodle is a nutritious option or not? Let’s explore the potential pros and cons.
Potential pros of drunken noodle
Here are some of the advantages drunken noodle offers nutrition-wise:
– Provides protein – The protein from the eggs and meat helps keep you full and aids muscle building/repair.
– Contains fiber – The vegetables add fiber, which supports healthy digestion.
– Rich in vitamins and minerals – Ingredients like bell peppers, basil, cabbage, and tomatoes contain vitamins A, C, and K along with minerals like manganese and potassium.
– Low in saturated fat – With just 3g saturated fat per serving, drunken noodle is relatively low compared to other takeout options.
– Meat and veggie versions available – You can opt for just vegetables or add in lean proteins like chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu.
– Customizable – Don’t like oyster sauce? Ask for lower sodium soy sauce. Can also request less oil, more veggies, and brown rice noodles.
Potential cons of drunken noodle
However, there are some nutritional downsides to keep in mind:
– High in sodium – The 1000mg sodium accounts for almost half the daily limit, which may contribute to high blood pressure.
– High glycemic index – White rice noodles cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, which can be problematic for diabetics.
– Heavily sauced – Lots of oil and salty seasonings like fish sauce and oyster sauce make it high in fat and sodium.
– Refined carbs – White noodles lack nutrients and fiber compared to whole grain options.
– Large portions – One plate can pack over 1000 calories, so easy to overeat high calories.
– Fatty proteins – Common additions like pork belly and crispy chicken increase fat and calories.
– Easy to over-customize – Adding extra sauce, oil, salt, and meat amplifies nutritional downsides.
Tips for making drunken noodle healthier
There are several ways you can modify drunken noodle to make it a more nutritious option:
– Choose brown rice noodles – This simple swap adds more fiber, nutrients, and gives you a lower glycemic index.
– Load up on veggies – Double up on mixed veggies to increase fiber, vitamin, and mineral content.
– Go easy on sauce – Request light sauce or sauce on the side to control excess oil, salt, and sugar.
– Opt for lean proteins – Chicken, shrimp, and tofu are far lower in saturated fat than fatty pork.
– Avoid deep fried toppings – Say no to crispy pork belly and fried egg to trim calories and fat.
– Spice it up – Skip the oyster sauce and just use chili sauce for flavor to reduce sodium.
– Watch portions – Stick to a single serving rather than supersizing your plate to limit calorie overkill.
– Drink water – Pair it with water instead of sugary beverages like soda or juice.
Is drunken noodle healthy for weight loss?
If you’re trying to lose weight, drunken noodle may not be the best choice for a few reasons:
– High calorie – With around 500 calories per serving, a single drunken noodle meal may blow a large part of your daily calorie budget.
– Refined carbs – The white rice noodles are high glycemic and not very filling, so they aren’t ideal for controlling hunger and appetite.
– Sauces and oils – The sauces and stir-frying add a lot of extra oils and calories that you want to limit when dieting.
– Large portions – It’s easy to overeat with the giant servings at many Thai restaurants.
– Sugary drinks – Pairing it with high calorie beverages decreases the meal’s nutrition density.
However, you can make some modifications to enjoy the flavor while reducing the calorie density:
– Order vegetarian or chicken with extra veggies.
– Opt for brown rice noodles.
– Use light sauce and low calorie cooking methods like steaming.
– Request a half portion or take half home for leftovers.
– Avoid sugary drinks and fried topping options.
Overall though, while delicious, traditional drunken noodle is probably not the best meal for losing weight due to its high carb and high calorie characteristics. You’re better off choosing dishes with more fiber, protein and nutrients per calorie.
Is drunken noodle keto or low carb friendly?
Drunken noodle is definitely not keto or low-carb friendly, since rice noodles alone contribute 75g net carbs per serving. Some factors making it incompatible with low-carb diets:
– Made with white rice noodles – Rice is a high carb ingredient not allowed on keto or low carb.
– No fiber in noodles – The lack of fiber results in all the carbs being digested, contrary to keto.
– Noodles spike blood sugar – The refined high glycemic carbohydrates increase insulin rapidly.
– Typically served in large portions – Easy to consume over 100g carbs in a single meal.
– Often cooked with sugar – Ingredients like oyster sauce add unnecessary carbs.
– Usually paired with carby sides – Served alongside white rice or stir fried veggies with starch.
To make drunken noodles low carb friendly, you’d have to swap rice noodles for “zoodles” (zucchini noodles), shirataki noodles, or spiralized vegetables. You’d also need to skip sugary sauces, rice side dishes, and strictly control portions to keep net carbs very low. But at that point, you’re essentially creating a completely different low carb dish altogether.
Is drunken noodle gluten-free?
Traditional rice noodles used in drunken noodle are naturally gluten-free. However, cross-contamination is still a risk:
– Shared oil – Fried gluten items like dumplings may share oil with noodles.
– Shared surfaces – Noodles prepared on same surface as wheat noodles.
– Soy Sauce – Regular soy sauce contains wheat and is not GF.
– Oyster Sauce – May have gluten from thickening agents.
– Noodle brand – Some rice noodle brands improperly add wheat.
To make drunken noodles gluten-free:
– Verify rice noodles are produced in a GF facility.
– Request separate, clean oil and cooking surfaces.
– Ask for GF certified oyster sauce and soy sauce.
– Avoid fried items cooked in same oil.
– Emphasize your gluten allergy to avoid cross-contamination.
With precautions, you can stay gluten-free. But it requires extra care and confirmation from the restaurant on their gluten-free practices.
Is drunken noodle paleo?
Drunken noodles are not paleo-friendly for several reasons:
– Contains noodles – All noodles, including rice noodles, are off limits on the paleo diet.
– Oyster sauce – Made from oysters and soybeans, which were only introduced in farming age.
– Soy sauce – Fermented soy sauce is not considered paleo either.
– Vegetable oil – Paleo avoids modern highly refined seed and vegetable oils.
– Sugar – Small amounts of sugar used in sauce sweeteners are not paleo.
To make drunken noodles paleo, you’d need to replace noodles with spiralized or shredded vegetables. You’d also need to ditch oyster sauce, soy sauce, and vegetable oil in favor of paleo-friendly seasonings and cooking methods like sesame oil, garlic, chili peppers, vinegar, fish sauce, etc.
It’s possible to recreate the flavors of a drunken noodle stir fry using just paleo ingredients, but it would be an extremely loose interpretation basically just involving stir frying paleo veggies and proteins in a similar style.
Can you eat drunken noodles on a plant-based diet?
Drunken noodles are highly customizable, so they can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by:
– Choosing vegetable broth
– Using coconut aminos instead of fish sauce
– Skipping the egg
– Swapping in plant proteins like tofu, tempeh, or seitan
– Avoiding oyster sauce by using tamari and chili paste
– Loading up on veggies like bell peppers, cabbage, mushrooms, etc
The rice noodles, chili peppers, herbs, spices, and sauces give plenty of flavor. As long as you sub in plant-based seasonings and proteins, you can absolutely enjoy drunken noodles meat and dairy free on a plant-based diet.
While drunken noodles are high in refined carbs, sodium, and calories, they can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet in moderation by:
– Watching portion sizes
– Choosing healthier proteins and more veggies
– Opting for brown rice noodles
– Going easy on oil, salty sauces, and fried toppings
Certain dietary needs like weight loss, keto, and paleo preclude drunken noodles from being a good choice. But the dish can be modified to be gluten-free or vegan friendly. At the end of the day, like most foods, drunken noodle comes down to mindful enjoying of balanced portions as part of diverse nutrition plan.