Is Instant Coffee Bad for Your Health?

Instant coffee is convenient when brewing a cup isn't possible. But are you trading good health for ease of preparation? The news is good. Instant coffee isn't bad for you and may offer a number of health benefits. So stir up a serving and sip as you read why.

Instant coffee is safe to drink. (Image: Leong Thian Fu / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

Tip

Instant coffee is safe to drink, but stick to plain coffee rather than those with multiple additives, such as sugar and palm oil.

What Is Instant Coffee?

Manufacturers make instant coffee by brewing regular old coffee beans to create a concentrated version. This concentration then has the water removed to make the dehydrated, dry powder, which you stir into water for your morning cup.

This makes instant coffee quick, easy and perfect when you don't have a coffee maker. Instant coffee generally has a long shelf-life too, which makes it handy when you're traveling, camping or just super-busy and on the go.

Instant coffee can be created by:

  • Spray drying, in which the coffee extract is sprayed into hot air, which quickly drys the droplets into a fine powder.
  • Freeze-drying, which involves freezing the coffee extract and cutting it into small fragments that are dried at a low temperature

You may find instant coffee sold as coffee granules, such as Folger's Instant Coffee, or marketed as coffee sticks or sachets, like Nestle's 3 in 1. The instant coffee may be packaged for single servings, and some types contain added sugar, palm oil and other additives.

Ready-to-drink coffees can also be grouped into the instant coffee category. These drinks are available in a can or bottle and often contain added sugar and creamers. Starbuck's bottled Frappuccino drinks are an example of this type of product.

Why the Instant Coffee Concern?

The issue with instant coffee has to do with a potentially harmful chemical known as acrylamide. It can form when coffee beans are roasted and is also found in smoke, household items, personal care products and other foods.

Instant coffee may contain up to twice as much acrylamide as fresh-roasted coffee, according to research published in Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny in 2013. The researchers found the highest concentrations of acrylamide in coffee substitutes. Instant coffee had the next highest level and roasted coffee the least — about half as much as instant.

What Is Acrylamide?

Nutritional Neuroscience in February 2014 published research showing that acrylamide, described as a food contaminant, can accumulate in your system and cause neuropathy — or dysfunction of your nervous system. Overexposure to the chemical may also increase your risk of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

The European Food Safety Authority in June 2015 published a report in the EFSA Journal, noting that coffee was among the highest sources of acrylamide in food, along with fried potato products. The panel concluded, however, that the amount of acrylamide people get from their diets is not enough to pose serious health concerns.

In other words, you don't get enough acrylamide from instant coffee to make it an unhealthy product.

What Are the Possible Benefits?

Instant coffee has many of the same health benefits of brewed coffee. Researchers reviewed the antioxidant content in several types of coffee, including some instant varieties. The results, published in Food and Function in August 2014, indicate that the CQAs — or caffeoylquinic acids — measured from 6 to 188 milligrams per serving.

CQAs are polyphenols that have a desirable effect on human health. They have antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, antihistamic and other biological effects that make coffee healthy to drink — even in its instant form.

Planta Medica published a paper in November 2017 detailing the benefits of coffee. Not only does the aroma alone stimulate the central nervous system, but benefits include possible prevention of Type 2 diabetes and liver disease. Coffee drinking doesn't seem to have an impact on your risk of heart disease.

Coffee also seems to increase alertness and improve your overall sense of well-being, concentration and mood, as suggested in a paper in Practical Neurology in April 2016. The researchers noted that lifelong coffee consumption is also associated with the prevention of cognitive decline and reduced risk of stroke.

Coffee may also help reduce occurrences of depression. A regular daily intake can also potentially ward off Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

What About Flavored Coffees?

It's best to consume instant coffee that's just that: coffee. Added sugar, fats and chemicals can make instant coffee products, such as flavored 3 in 1 coffee, bad for your health. The added sugar adds calories that can cause weight gain. Note that 3 in 1 coffee has coffee-only products too; read product labels to know what you're getting.

The warning about added sugar, fats and chemicals also applies to premixed coffee drinks. If you choose instant coffee, go for the coffee and skip the additives. A splash of milk or cream is just fine.

Less Caffeine in Instant Coffee

While you can get health benefits and convenience from instant coffee, you also get less caffeine compared to fresh-brewed types. The International Food Information Council Foundation reports that an average cup of instant coffee contains 65 to 85 milligrams of caffeine per serving, while brewed coffee offers 75 to 165 milligrams per serving.

If you're looking for coffee to support your all-nighter or to wake you up the morning after a late night, get your hands on some fresh-brewed for a maximum caffeine boost.

Warning

Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake from coffee and all other sources to 150 to 300 milligrams per day, advises the American Pregnancy Association. Avoid caffeine as much as possible during breastfeeding too. The caffeine you drink passes through your placenta and affects your baby; caffeine can be passed into breast milk too.

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