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 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 coffee beans to create a concentrated version. The water is then removed to make the dehydrated, dry powder, which you stir into boiling 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 busy and on the go.
Instant coffee is made by either:
- Spray drying, in which the
coffee extract is sprayed into hot air — this quickly drys the droplets into a fine
- 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, such as Starbucks bottled Frappuccino drinks.
What About Flavored Coffees?
It's best to drink 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 to instant coffee that can cause weight gain. Note that 3-in-1 coffee has coffee-only products too, so 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.
What Is Acrylamide in Instant Coffee, and Is It Bad?
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 it's 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 2013 research published in Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny. 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.
Acrylamide, described as a food contaminant, can accumulate in your system and cause neuropathy (nerve damage or dysfunction), according to a February 2014 study in Nutritional Neuroscience. Overexposure to the chemical is linked to an increased 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 of Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee has many of the same health benefits as brewed coffee.
1. It Contains Antioxidants
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, a type of antioxidant — measured from 6 to 188 milligrams per serving.
Not only does the aroma alone stimulate the central nervous system, but it's also linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes and liver disease, per a November 2017 Planta Medica study. Coffee drinking doesn't seem to have an effect on your heart disease risk.
Coffee also seems to increase alertness and improve your overall sense of wellbeing, 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.
3. Instant Coffee Has Less Caffeine
While you can get health benefits and convenience, you also get less caffeine from instant coffee compared to fresh-brewed types.
An average cup of instant coffee contains 60 to 85 milligrams of caffeine per serving, while brewed coffee offers 75 to 165 milligrams per serving, per the International Food Information Council Foundation.
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.
Pregnant people should limit their caffeine intake from coffee and all other sources to less than 150 to 300 milligrams per day, advises the American Pregnancy Association. Avoid caffeine as much as possible if you're breastfeeding too. The caffeine you drink passes through your placenta and affects your baby; caffeine can be passed into breast milk, too.
- Food and Function: "Variations in Caffeine and Chlorogenic Acid Contents of Coffees: What Are We Drinking?"
- Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny: "Studies of Acrylamide Level in Coffee and Coffee Substitutes: Influence of Raw Material and Manufacturing Conditions"
- Nutritional Neuroscience: "Acrylamide Neurotoxicity"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Neuropathy"
- American Cancer Society: "Acrylamide and Cancer Risk"
- European Food Safety Authority: "Scientific Opinion on Acrylamide in Food"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Absorption and Isomerization of Caffeoylquinic Acids From Different Foods Using Ileostomist Volunteers"
- Planta Medica: "The Impact of Coffee on Health"
- Practical Neurology: "Effects of Coffee/Caffeine on Brain Health and Disease: What Should I Tell My Patients?"
- American Pregnancy Association: "Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy"
- International Food Information Council Foundation: "Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine"
- NESCAFÉ: "NESCAFÉ 3in1 Original"