Is Instant Coffee Good or Bad for Your Health?

woman drinking cup of coffee

Although in the United States, people pay good money for high-quality brewed coffee, in other parts of the globe, instant coffee is more popular.

It makes sense that instant coffee hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur; it’s convenient and easy to make. Plus, it’s less expensive than the type of coffee that requires brewing.

However, is it as good for you as regular coffee?

If you haven’t heard by now, the consumption of regular coffee can help you live longer (1).

It is full of essential nutrients, like pantothenic acid, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium (2).

It can make you more alert and able to remember things (3).

Coffee can even lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes (4, 5, 6).

If you’re an instant-coffee drinker, are you out of luck?

Read on to find out if you can reap the benefits of coffee even if you prefer the water-soluble granules to the brewed beverage.

Instant Coffee vs Brewed Coffee infographic

Instant Coffee Infographic

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Instant Coffee Basics

While people have been drinking brewed coffee for centuries, instant coffee was not invented until 1901 (7).

Coffee beans are roasted to take on their distinctive dark-brown color. Then, they are ground into a powder. Strong coffee is brewed, and that coffee is heated until it thickens into an extract.

Water is removed from the extract through freeze-drying or spray-drying (8).

Spray-drying involves shooting the frozen granules into a stream of hot air at the top of a tower. The granules dry into a powder as they fall.

Freeze-drying involves having the extract frozen at a temperature of at least -40 degrees Celsius. This frozen coffee is then broken up into granules.

Water is extracted from these frozen granules by heating them in a vacuum that allows steam to escape but prevents the granules from turning into liquid again.

This ensures that all of the moisture is removed while keeping the aroma intact.

The result is instant coffee that is packaged as small solid granules or a powder. The granules will remain solid at room temperature and dissolve in liquid.

coffee beans roasting

How to Make Instant Coffee

There are several ways to make a beverage using instant coffee:

  • Basic Instant Coffee: Add instant coffee to a dry mug along with any sugar or spices that you will be using. Most manufacturers recommend using 1 to 2 teaspoons of coffee per cup of water. Pour in almost-boiling water and stir. Add milk or cream as desired.
  • Iced Instant Coffee: You will create an iced coffee “base” using the desired amount of instant coffee and sugar with two teaspoons of hot water. Stir this together until you achieve a thick syrupy consistency. Add cold water or cold milk to the desired strength. Pour over ice.
  • Blended Instant Coffee: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of coffee, one cup of cold milk, a handful of ice and sweetener to taste to your blender. Blend until combine.
  • Instant Coffee Latte: Create the coffee base using the desired amount of instant coffee and sugar with two teaspoons of hot water. Heat a cup of milk to almost boiling, then add it to the coffee base.

With instant coffee, you can easily adjust the strength even after the beverage has been made.

You can also travel with the instant coffee and make a cup anywhere. You don’t need a coffee maker to make instant coffee.

KEY POINT: Instant coffee is made from real coffee. The coffee is brewed first, and then the water is removed to make a water-soluble granule. You don’t need any special equipment to make a beverage from instant coffee.

Instant Coffee vs Regular Ground Brewed Coffee: Same Nutrients?

coffee latte art

Coffee contains polyphenols, molecules with antioxidant properties (9, 10, 11).

Polyphenols provide protection against chronic disease.

In fact, coffee contributes to many peoples’ total polyphenol intake even more than berries or other fruits and vegetables (12) .

Instant coffee contains higher levels of phenolic compounds (13).

Instant coffee may also contain fewer possible carcinogenic properties than regular brewed coffee (14).

This may be because the roasting process increases the number of carcinogens in brewed coffee beans. Instant coffee undergoes milder roasting conditions (15).

One study found that because instant coffee is processed differently than regular coffee, it may have more of some types of antioxidants (16).

6 oz. serving of instant coffee has 4 calories and 7.2 mg of calcium. It also contains (17):

  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 3.6 mg
  • Magnesium: 7.2 mg
  • Phosphorous: 5.4 mg
  • Potassium: 53.7 mg
  • Sodium: 7.2 mg
  • Caffeine: 46.5 mg

6 oz. of coffee brewed from grounds contains 2 calories and 3.6 mg of calcium. It also contains (18):

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  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 1.8 mg
  • Magnesium: 5.3 mg
  • Phosphorous: 5.3 mg
  • Potassium: 87.2 mg
  • Sodium: 3.6 mg
  • Caffeine: 71.2 mg

KEY POINT: Instant coffee has similar nutrients and antioxidants as brewed coffee grounds. Instant coffee may contain more of certain antioxidants than brewed coffee.

Instant Coffee Contains Less Caffeine Than Regular Coffee

man holding coffee cup

Caffeine is a stimulant drug. It is the most commonly consumed stimulant across the globe.

People usually get their caffeine from coffee (19).

Drinking coffee can result in psychoactive effects and mood changes that people like (20):

  • Improved reaction time
  • Improved memory
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Increase in alertness
  • Increase in energy

People typically drink coffee to bring about these changes in mood or behavior.

In addition, withdrawal from caffeine may bring about negative symptoms that people try to suppress by continuing to drink caffeine.

Caffeine doesn’t always produce positive results. People who consume too much caffeine may experience the following symptoms (21):

  • Anxiety
  • ​Sleep problems
  • Restlessness
  • Digestive distress
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking

Caffeine levels in different types of coffee vary (15, 17, 18):

  • Cup of instant coffee: contain 30 to 90 mg of caffeine
  • Cup of brewed coffee: contain up to 140 mg of caffeine.

People react differently to caffeine, and they have different withdrawal symptoms (22).

Those who are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine may prefer instant coffee to decaffeinated coffee.

KEY POINT: People drink caffeine because it makes them feel better in some way. However, too much caffeine may lead to unwanted symptoms.

Caffeine withdrawal can also lead to negative symptoms. Instant coffee have less caffeine than regular brewed coffee, helping people get the benefits of caffeine without the detriments.

Instant Coffee May Be Better for Pregnant Women

When pregnant women consume caffeine, the stimulant crosses the placental barrier easily (23).

pregnant woman drinking coffee in front of laptop

It takes longer for caffeine to clear out of a pregnant woman’s system than it would for a woman who is not pregnant (24).

Caffeine can also linger in the system of the fetus, because the baby has fewer enzymes to metabolize the stimulant (25).

Caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weight infants and preterm delivery (26).

In women who otherwise have no risk factors for miscarriage, high doses of caffeine can lead to spontaneous abortion (27).

Some researchers have recommended that pregnant women consume fewer than 300 mg of caffeine per day.

One study found that women who consume fewer than 200 mg of caffeine per day have a lower risk of miscarriage (27).

Women who are trying to decrease their caffeine intake may experience fewer withdrawal symptoms when drinking instant coffee compared with decaf or abstaining altogether.

KEY POINT: Research has linked high caffeine consumption with detrimental effects in pregnant women. Pregnant women may wish to switch to instant coffee as they decrease their caffeine intake.

Instant Coffee May Expose You to More Acrylamide

coffee beans

Acrylamide is a carcinogenic neurotoxin that develops when coffee is roasted.

Coffee is one of the main ways that people ingest acrylamide (28).

However, acrylamide is also found in other foods, household products and beauty products. It is even found in smoke (29).

Coffee substitutes contain the most acrylamide out of any type of coffee beverage.

Some researchers have found that instant coffee contains less acrylamide than coffee substitutes but more than natural coffee brewed from roasted beans (28).

Although unroasted coffee grounds may contain from 45 to 374 ng of acrylamide per gram, the resulting brewed beverage only contains 6 to 16 ng per mL (30).

Instant coffee crystals contain 172 to 539 ng of acrylamide per gram.

While too much acrylamide can lead to nervous system damage and cancer, the amount that you get from coffee is not likely to be detrimental to your health (31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

KEY POINT: Instant coffee contains more acrylamide than brewed coffee. Although acrylamide has been linked with health concerns, the amount you are exposed to in any kind of coffee is likely not enough to cause damage.

Instant Coffee May Have Similar Health Benefits as Regular Brewed Coffee

business woman with cup of coffee

More than half of all Americans drink at least a couple of cups of coffee on a daily basis (36, 37).

Drinking a moderate amount of coffee can help improve a person’s health in many ways.

Because instant coffee contains similar nutrients and polyphenols as its brewed counterparts, it should have similar health benefits.

Some of the health benefits of consuming instant coffee are:

  • Improved cognitive function (38).
  • Improved mood (38).
  • Enhanced physical performance and reduced perception of fatigue (38).
  • Increased metabolism (39, 40, 41).
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (26, 42, 43, 44).
  • Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (45, 46, 47).
  • Improved liver function and lowered risk of liver disease (48, 49, 50).
  • Reduced risk of suicide and depression (51, 52).
  • Increased life expectancy (53, 54, 55).

Many of these studies have not proven that coffee is a direct cause of these health benefits.

However, they have found a correlation between drinking coffee and improved health.

Most research shows that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee is most effective for experiencing health benefits (21, 56).

KEY POINT: Like regular brewed coffee, instant coffee may be associated with health benefits, like reduced risk of many diseases, improved mental and physical performance and boosted metabolism.

Bottom Line

You can make instant coffee anywhere you have access to a mug and hot water.

It stays fresh in its package, and it is less expensive than roasted coffee grounds that are designed for use in a coffee maker.

When you compare the nutrients and health benefits of instant and brewed coffee, you’ll find that they are quite similar.

Therefore, if you’re drinking coffee for its health benefits, it doesn’t really matter whether you go for instant or brewed varieties.

Ultimately, you’ll probably choose the type that tastes better to you.

Just make sure that there are no added chemicals, flavorings or sugars in any type of coffee that you drink if you’re concerned about maintaining optimal health.

What type of coffee do you like and why?  Let me know in the comments below.

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