We all have things in life that we love to consume. And coffee, being mildly addictive as well as delicious and energizing, is a big one for many. So much so that I find many people don’t even want to educate themselves as to whether coffee, instant or not, is unhealthy to consume. But my dietary issues forced me to inform myself about anything that I absorbed, and I was thrilled to find that coffee is not that bad.
I also want to point out that in this article, when I refer to “instant coffee” I am talking about 100% soluble coffee. Not coffee substitutes that contain things like chicory.
Health benefits of Coffee in General
We still don’t know everything there is to know about the hundreds of compounds in coffee and how they affect the human body. However, there are many health benefits that we do know of. And moderate consumption has been linked to lowering the likelihood of many health issues, such as Type 2 Diabetes, liver cancer, prostate and endometrial cancers, heart disease and Parkinsons.
Here are some of the pros to drinking coffee:
- Magnesium and potassium found in coffee assist in insulin usage and so helps the body maintain more steady blood sugar levels.
- Insulin sensitivity lowered, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Helps the body break down fat and use it more efficiently for fuel.
- Boosts the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, helping to improve your mood.
- Increases adrenaline levels, which will boost both physical and mental performance.
- Full of antioxidants that help protect the body against a wide variety of harmful molecules.
But it is important to remember that coffee, and caffeine in particular, is a psychoactive substance. And when we are talking about things like adrenaline and neurotransmitters moderation is key! Anything from 1 – 4 cups per day is ok, provided your body is ok with it. So if you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks or any adrenaline related problems, then monitor your intake. The moment you feel “rushy”, you have had too much. I find that no matter how many times I test it, the moment I have a third cup of coffee in a day, I start to panic at random and can’t sit still to type so much as one sentence. So two cups it is for me.
How Instant Coffee is Made
Before further researching, I was convinced that instant coffee was unhealthy and had dodgy ingredients and/or production methods. I mean come on, it’s in pretty packaging, lasts forever, tastes yummy and is easy to make. Never mind that “soluble coffee” sounds like just the name a non-transparent ingredient would have. Because often, the food industry will simply add an adjective in order to “classify” something differently.
But soluble coffee seems to be exactly that. The first steps are the same as any coffee. Naturally green coffee beans are roasted, usually in rotating cylinders with hot combustions gases, bringing out the aromas and flavours. Once cool these roasted beans are ground up. Then, to make instant coffee the soluble contents of the ground up beans is extracted with pressurized and heated water. And finally freeze dryed or spray dryed to get it back to a dehydrated form.
So basically, instant coffee is ground coffee beans, brewed and then dehydrated to make a powder.
Why Instant Coffee Could be Unhealthy
Once you understand what soluble coffee is, it’s a little easier to understand the potential downsides to it.
Firstly, there is not as much caffeine in instant coffee as there is in ground beans. Depending on the bean, instant coffee could have anything between 30 mg and 90 mg per cup, where regular coffee could contain between 70 mg and 140 mg. So what could end up happening here is that you increase your coffee intake, to get more of that caffeine feel, but at the same time you could be increasing your additive consumption, such as milk and sweetner. You could also be unnecesarily increasing your acrylamide intake.
Secondly, it has been proven that instant coffee could have up to double the amount of acrylamide compared to ground beans. Acrylamide is formed when certain amino acids and sugars work together during roasting. It has the potential to cause nervous system damage and increase the risk of cancer. Although there is definitely more research needed before we can be sure of the effects of this chemical in the human body. So far, studies show that the amount of acrylamide in instant coffee is still below what is considered harmful.
All coffee has some level of acrylamide. Natural roasted coffee contains about 179mcg per kg, where instant coffee has about 358 mcg per kg. And substitute coffees using grains and chicory contain over 800 mcg per kg. The only way to avoid this potentially harmful substance is through brewing your coffee using unroasted, green coffee beans.
I’m still shocked to say it, but yes, soluble coffee is not too bad. However, I am a sucker for that delicious flavour and aroma that comes with a freshly ground, roasted bean. Between that and the fact that I can get more caffeine and less acrylamide out of it, I think I’ll stick to my beans. Although I am quite excited to try some green coffee beans soon!