When Momofuku Ando created instant noodles in 1958, they were designed to cure the hunger pangs of Japan's population as it rebuilt after the war. Today, his son and heir says the priority has changed.

Speaking at the recent World Instant Noodles Summit, held in Kuala Lumpur, Koki Ando said it is time for manufacturers of this cheap-and-cheerful staple to move away from a high-calorie, salt-heavy fast food and turn it into a nutritious meal that even the most health-conscious diner would consume.

"Evolution is very important," Ando told delegates at the end of the two-day conference of nearly 50 noodle manufacturers from around the world. ""We have to do it gradually, step by step, because our long-time customers enjoy the salt in our noodles, so we cannot simply reduce it just like that."

Ando is chief executive of Nissin Food Holdings, the company his father created after his first recipe - for instant chicken ramen - quickly became a hit product in post-war Japan. Ando senior died three years ago, at the age of 96.

In 2009, Nissin sold a whopping 92 billion servings of its products around the world, and Koki Ando told the conference that he hopes that figure will soon surpass the 100 billion servings figure.

And Nissin's noodles are not only available on planet Earth; in a stroke of advertising genius, the company worked with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to create a vacuum-packed instant noodle that was taken into space and eaten aboard the 2005 space shuttle mission by a Japanese astronaut. Back on the ground, sales of "Space Ramen" rocketed.

But with consumers becoming more aware of the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, Nissin has led the way in creating products that meet their needs while remaining inexpensive and quick to prepare.

"We already have 'Cup Noodles Light' in Japan, with the noodles layered with fibre and sprayed with minimal amounts of oil instead of being fried," Katsuhiko Kiyofuji, a spokesman for Nissin Food Holdings, told Relaxnews. "That means they have 46 percent fewer calories than regular noodles."

The product - containing 198 kilo-calories per serving, as opposed to the 364 kilo-calories that are in a regular Cup Noodle - is particularly popular with older people and women who would otherwise rarely eat instant noodles, he said.

Another healthy alternative, Kiyofuji added, is the Psyllium Noodle, which is made from the seed husk of the Indian plantago, which are rich in natural, edible fibre and beneficial to the digestive system.

As well as calling on the industry to make their products more healthy, Koki Ando used the Kuala Lumpur conference to improve environmental standards and promote corporate responsibility, such as by providing instant noodles to areas affected by natural disasters.