Is instant coffee bad or good for you?

Here’s what you need to know about instant coffee versus ground coffee, including how much caffeine is in instant coffee and what exactly it is.

Instant coffee 101

If the best part of your day is your hot cup of coffee in the morning, then waiting forever for it to brew is probably one of the worst — or at least longest — parts of your day.

That’s why some people turn to a convenient and quick cup of instant coffee instead.

But does opting for instant coffee out of convenience do more harm than good?

“Instant coffee is a convenient way to make a quick cup of coffee on busy mornings, while traveling, or on the go,” says Malina Malkani, RDN, a registered dietitian and author.

In moderation, it definitely fits into a healthy diet and contains many health-promoting agents, she says.

We spoke to nutritionists and took a look at the research on everything you need to know about instant coffee and its health effects.

Here’s the rundown of instant coffee, including what it is, whether it’s good for you, and how it compares to the regular ground stuff.

Thanachat Chantaramanee/Getty Images

What is instant coffee?

Instant coffee is simply the crystals that form after dehydrating brewed coffee, explains Malkani.

The process involves brewing ground coffee beans just like regular coffee. Then the water is removed from the extract to create a concentrated dry powder or crystals.

“The dehydrated crystals can then be reconstituted with boiling water to produce a cup of instant coffee,” says Malkani.

Stores sell instant coffee in granules or as single-serving sticks or sachets. If you opt for the grains, add a teaspoon of powder to a cup of hot water and voila, you have instant coffee.

Megan Meyer, director of science communication at the International Food Information Council Foundation, notes that instant coffee powder has a longer shelf life than coffee beans and is cheaper.

How do you make instant coffee?

There are two ways to make instant coffee: spray drying or freeze drying.

In the spray drying method, coffee extract is sprayed into hot hair, so that the drops dry into a powder.

Freeze drying starts with small, cut pieces of frozen extract. They are then dried at a low temperature.

(Here’s why French press coffee is bad for you.)

Instant coffee vs ground coffee

Caffeine

Instant coffee and regular coffee have nearly identical nutritional profiles, according to Meyer.

“The differences are so small that it’s probably negligible in terms of health for everyone, except for the caffeine content,” says Malkani.

The main distinction is in their caffeine content: An 8-ounce cup of instant coffee has about 62 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 96 milligrams, per Meyer.

Ground coffee contains more caffeine than instant coffee because of the increased processing required to make instant coffee, which loses more caffeine, Malkani said.

“For some, the difference can be significant when you consider that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day seems safe for most healthy adults,” says Malkani.

According to Meyer, it is safe for most people to consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. That’s about four cups of brewed coffee or 6 cups of instant coffee.

Remember that too much caffeine can lead to restlessness, anxiety, stomach aches and more. So it is wise to keep your caffeine consumption under control.

If you are sensitive to caffeine or anxiety or have a heart condition, you may want to switch to regular or instant coffee.

Acrylamide

Instant coffee contains slightly more acrylamide, according to Malkani. This potentially harmful chemical forms in some foods during high-temperature cooking processes, such as frying, roasting and baking, according to the FDA. So it can form after roasting coffee beans.

Research in the Annals of the National Institute of Hygiene looked at acrylamide levels in 42 commercial samples of roast and instant coffee and in coffee substitutes.

They found the highest mean acrylamide concentrations in coffee substitutes, followed by instant coffee and then roast coffee. But roasted coffee contained about half as much acrylamide as instant coffee, according to the report.

A study in ​Nutritional Neurosciencefound that the accumulation of acrylamide in your system causes neuropathy, or nerve damage. And the American Cancer Society also notes that overexposure to acrylamide is linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Still, the European Food Safety Authority panel and Malkani support that the amount of acrylamide people get from their diets (or in their coffee) is not enough to cause serious health problems.

Taste

Another way instant coffee can differ from brewed coffee is the taste. Since taste is very subjective – what you like isn’t necessarily what I like – you’ll probably have to try instant coffee to see if it works for you.

That said, instant coffee generally gets lower ratings for taste, and is often said to be more bitter and lacking in flavor compared to brewed coffee.

Of course, the quality of the beans used to make instant coffee can make a difference. Some brands have focused on improving the taste of instant coffee, including Waka and Swift Cup.

Other things to remember about coffee and food

“What has a greater impact on whether coffee promotes or detracts from overall health is what we add,” says Malkani.

That includes sweeteners, creams, and milk. Plus, both dairy and plant-based creamers add unnecessary calories. And the same goes for sweeteners and sugar.

Opting for low-calorie sweeteners like monk fruit or stevia are alternatives to consider.

Next, check out some other ways to make your coffee habit healthier.

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