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

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

Selective focus of cacao powder on white background

Photo by: OGNYAN CHOBANOV

OGNYAN CHOBANOV

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.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Katie’s Healthy Bites: Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart

Beans might get a bad rap, but they’re extremely good for you! An excellent source of complex carbs, protein and fiber, they’re also chock full of vitamins and minerals (calcium, potassium, B6 and folate to name a few). Here are some good summer recipes featuring white beans.

Safety Tip: Packing Foods for Your Cookout

Don't let spoiled food spoil the fun at your barbecue. Here are tips for keeping your meats and prepared dishes separated and at the right temperatures while you enjoy the summer sun.

Cookbooks for Every Food Lover on Your List

It was a great year for cookbooks, with a wide variety of new titles that’ll appeal to serious cooks, newbies and those who simply enjoy displaying gorgeous food photography on their coffee tables.

DIY Food Gifts for Everyone on Your List

You don’t have to be a professional baker or an expert crafter to knock it out of the park with these edible presents.

7 Foods to Grill for Your Health-Nut Dad

Show fathers the love with one of these healthy recipes, each of which comes in at under 500 calories.

5 Lighter Finger Foods for Your Holiday Soiree — Fall Fest

Save room for dinner (and dessert) by serving these light and tasty finger foods at your holiday party.

Fall-Off-the-Bone Goodness: The Top 5 Ribs in the Nation — Vote for Your Favorite

Find out which barbecue ribs from across the nation made the list on Top 5 Restaurants.

7 Gifts for Your Thanksgiving Host, As Chosen by Food Network Staffers

Find out how Food Network staffers plan to say "thanks" to their Thanksgiving hosts at this year's feast.

The Secret to Packing Food for Family Road Trips Without Losing Your Mind

A lesson in avoiding the colossal mess that is a car seat covered in crumbs.

Torturously Hot But Temptingly Good: The Top 5 Hot and Spicy Dishes in the Nation — Vote for Your Favorite

Find out which hot and spicy dishes from across the nation made the list on Top 5 Restaurants.