Is Instant Coffee Healthier Than Regular Coffee?
Choosing instant may be better for you and the environment depending on your coffee habits.
With all the morning coffee options – French press, automatic drip, pod brewing, cold brew – it’s easy to cast instant coffee as the lesser of the bunch. The truth is no matter how you brew your coffee, the cups have many the same health benefits including increased alertness, potent antioxidants (light roasts have slightly higher antioxidant content than dark roasts) and potential benefits to heart and brain health. So does it ever make sense to choose instant coffee over other forms? Let’s break it down.
Is Instant Coffee Healthy?
If you get down to the nitty gritty, instant coffee can offer some benefits other forms of coffee can’t.
First, you can control the caffeine content more easily. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, are pregnant, nursing, or have other health reasons to limit caffeine, but still love coffee, instant is the answer. (The recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for pregnant and breastfeeding moms is not to exceed 200 mg caffeine per day.)
Since the caffeine content of a cup of instant coffee generally depends on how many teaspoons of instant coffee granules you spoon into your cup, you’re in control. In contrast, coffee shop cups brewed by baristas have notoriously variable caffeine levels depending on who’s measuring the coffee grounds that go into the brewing machine that day, as well as how tall is your pour. One study found caffeine concentrations varied widely (259 to 564 mg/cup) in the same coffee beverage purchased from the same shop on six consecutive days.
Cups you hot-brew or cold-brew yourself can also vary widely. Depending on how and where a coffee is grown – country of origin, shade or no shade, and altitude all affect caffeine. Additionally, lighter roasts have more caffeine than darker roasts. It’s pretty tricky to determine the caffeine content of a brewed cup of coffee due to all these variabilities, plus differences between brewing apparatuses.
For example, an 8-ounce cup of hot brewed filter coffee can have anywhere from 80 to 300 mg of caffeine according to the government and a recent study. (The U.S. FDA recommends a limit of 400 mg of caffeine daily.) Cold brew is generally around 200 mg, but that’s usually before dilution!
A few companies list the caffeine content of their products on their websites – or you can contact their customer service line/chat and get the answer. To save you a call/time, we contacted some companies for you. Below is the amount of caffeine in 1 teaspoon of coffee granules:
- Nescafé Clasico Dark Roast – 30-40 mg
- Nescafé Taster’s Choice House Blend Instant – 30-35 mg
- Café Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee – 60-90 mg
- Madaglia D’Oro Espresso Instant Dark Roast Coffee – 60-90 mg
- Café Altura Organic Instant Coffee – 55 mg
- Starbucks VIA Instant - 140-150 mg per packet
Another big advantage in terms of health of instant coffee is you are in total control of the additions to your cup. K-cups can contain added sugars and processed cream-like ingredients. Baristas can be extra generous with pumps of those tasty, but sugary, flavors (so the calories listed on a coffee chain’s website may not match what’s actually in your cup).
And if nutrients are your concern, one study in the journal Food Chemistry did find that that some antioxidant components in instant coffee are higher than in brewed coffee.
Plus, Instant Coffee Can Be More Eco-Friendly
And lastly, it can be argued that instant is more eco-friendly. Because you can get a lot of cups of coffee from one totally recyclable glass jar of coffee, there is pretty much zero waste.
Café Altura has a proprietary process to retain the aroma compounds which can escape during the brewing and freeze-drying process; their granules can also dissolve in cooler water/milk. (Hello, no-waste iced latte!) And newcomer Chamberlain Coffee has developed a compostable bag to steep grounds like a tea bag – for another innovative instant coffee; most bags contain 80-95 mg caffeine. For super fresh cups in an instant, Cometeer invented flash-frozen coffee delivered in 100% curbside recyclable capsules; full-caff is 180 mg and half-caff has 90 mg of caffeine.
Bottom line: Don’t knock instant coffee.
Instant coffee can provide numerous health benefits and potentially even more antioxidants than other types of brews. It offers an easily customizable cup in terms of caffeine and flavor. Plus, it can be a lower-waste way to get your coffee fix every day.
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and mom of four children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and the newly released Easy Everyday Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.