Everyone is obsessed with the health benefits of coffee, but is instant coffee as healthy as freshly ground?
Anyone who’s ever ordered an almond milk vanilla cappuccino with extra foam has experienced the wrath of judgement from people in the queue behind them. But nothing quite gets coffee snobs as worked up as the stuff we make in our own home. Instant coffee has a reputation for tasting as cheap and bitter as it is convenient.
But park taste and process to one side for a minute. Given the continuous drip of studies that are proving coffee to be a health drink, we want to know whether instant is as good for our insides as the freshly ground stuff.
First up, a quick lesson on the difference. Instant coffee is made from roasting then brewing coffee beans, after which, the water is evaporated to create the dry granules or powder you find in your coffee tin.
“The main differences between instant and ground coffee is in its water and caffeine content,” explains Dr J. W. Langer from Coffee and Health, the Institute of Scientific Information on Coffee. He says that as instant coffee is made from ground coffee that’s had its water content removed, it’s a less hydrating drink. By that same process, however, it also tends to contain less caffeine. But are there any other health differences between the instant and the fresh stuff?
Antioxidant levels of instant coffee
Many studies show that coffee is one of the biggest providers of antioxidants in our diets, you probably don’t want to opt for a drink that might contain lower levels. Mercifully, a 2012 study found that instant coffee had the highest levels of antioxidants than other types of coffee tested, including espresso and filter coffee.
“Both ground and instant coffee contain several antioxidants, including hydrocinnamic acids, effective at neutralising free radicals and preventing oxidative stress, and polyphenols, that may help to reduce the risk of a number of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Langer.
Just like decaf, instant coffee is often thought of as containing potentially harmful chemicals. The process of roasting coffee beans does produce a chemical called acrylamide, which is thought to be cancerous in large quantities, and a 2013 study also found that instant coffee contains about double the amount of acrylamide than fresh roasted coffee, with 358 micrograms per kg.
However, dangerous levels of acrylamide are thought to be at least 1,000 times the amount we can be exposed to in our diets, and the amount instant coffee contains is way below maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority. In fact, coffee has actually been associated with anti-cancer properties – a large 2017 study found that coffee consumption was related to a reduced risk of head, neck, liver, breast and colorectum cancer mortality rates.
Other health benefits of coffee include its impact on the gut. In a Spanish study, researchers looked into how much fibre makes it from bean to cup, and found that freeze-dried coffee contained the most fibre of any coffee type at 0.75mg per 100ml of drink. That adds around five grams of fibre to your day if you’re drinking the average of three mugs.
And in a study by Zoe, the app backed by leading dietitian Tim Spector, researchers found that drinking four cups of coffee a day was associated with a more diverse microbiome – and instant counts, too.
Most importantly, a groundbreaking study of over 521,330 people in 10 European countries found that drinking coffee of any kind (including instant, decaf and with milk) was associated with a reduced risk of death, including by cancer and cardiovascular disease.
So if your budget, taste buds or time scale dictate that instant coffee is the best choice for you, rest assured it isn’t impacting your health. Take that coffee snobs.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).