Instant Foods: Are They Good for You?

We love instant foods for the convenience factor — but are they good for you? Find out.

In this fast-paced world, we want things quick and easy. Food manufacturers have responded to these needs and over the years have developed foods that are ready in an instant. However, these foods are not healthy for you — or are they? Find out.

Instant noodles isolated on white background

Instant noodles isolated on white background

Instant noodles isolated on white background

Ramen Noodles

These cups of noodles were popular when I was in college back in the 1990s, but aren’t losing any steam. Many folks stack up on them for a quick and easy snack or meal, but in reality these noodle cups are basically salt and fried noodles.

Verdict: Eat sparingly.

White steamed rice

Photo by: Maya Morenko

Maya Morenko

Instant Rice

Here is a comparison of the nutrients in 2/3 cup of instant versus regular brown rice:

  • Instant: 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 34 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, 2 percent of the recommended daily value of iron and 0 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium.
  • Regular: 143 calories, 1 gram of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, 5 percent of the recommended daily value for iron and 2 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium.

Instant rice is parboiled and then packaged so you can prepare it in about 5 minutes. Parboiled (aka converted) rice is treated when the rice is harvested and still in the hull. It is soaked, steamed and then dried. The result is a transparent-looking grain that is less sticky. Instant does have a few more calories and a touch less fiber than regular brown rice.

Verdict: If plain, instant brown rice is a reasonable substitute for regular brown rice. (It will also save you time.) Just make sure it doesn’t have any flavor or sodium added.

Selective focus of cacao powder on white background



Hot Cocoa

The first ingredient in most instant cocoa mixtures is sugar. These instant mixes are also filled with a laundry list of preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. Some food companies fortify their cocoa mixes with calcium, about 30 percent of the recommended daily value per serving. However, one glass of cow’s milk also contains about 30 percent of the daily value for calcium, which is all your body can really absorb in one sitting.

Verdict: Skip it.

Quick-Cooking Oatmeal

Instant oats are more processed than old-fashioned and steel-cut oats. They are precooked, dried, and then rolled and pressed thinner than rolled oats. They cook quicker than old-fashioned (or rolled) oats and steel-cut (or Irish) oats. Instant oats are the most processed of all the three types of oats and don’t have as much texture as the other two. Some folks complain that instant oats taste mushy.

The problem arises when instant oats are mixed with flavors and sugar in breakfast cups. You’re better off choosing a plain variety and topping it with fruits for sweetness.

Verdict: Choose old-fashioned and steel-cut oats more often, but instant oats can be part of a healthy eating plan and are better than many other breakfast options.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

Next Up

Our Best Recipes for Instant Pot Comfort Food

Feed the whole family. Don't mess up the whole kitchen.

How to Cook Frozen Food in Your Instant Pot

These do’s and don’ts will get your dinner from the freezer to the table stat!

The Best Instant Pots, According to Food Network Kitchen

Whether you're looking for the best Instant Pot for families, one with an air fryer or a basic model, there's an Instant Pot to meet your needs.

5 Best Instant Ramens, According to Food Network Staffers

Here’s what Food Network staffers reach for when they’re pressed for time, or craving a late night snack.

These 6 “Instant” Foods Are Better for the Environment

Think: powdered nut milk or ketchup that you reconstitute like instant ramen.

8 Best Instant Coffee Brands, Tested by Food Network Kitchen

Even coffee snobs will love these instant coffee picks.

Is Instant Oatmeal Healthy?

A bowl of classic oatmeal packs a hearty dose of vitamins, protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. So, what about the packets? We've got the facts on this convenience food.

What Is an Instant Pot?

Here's a primer on the electric multicooker that's found a home in many people's kitchens over the past few years.

The Best Instant Pot Creamy Pastas

Imagine comfort food in minutes.