Coffee has a range of health benefits. Several readers have also asked if that’s true of instant coffee. Studies that have included instant coffee, as well as the few that have focused on it exclusively, suggest that it, too, is good for you.
Coffee’s health benefits are thought to come largely from its antioxidants, and instant coffees seem to be loaded with them, despite the additional heat treatment and drying they undergo.
According to a 2012 paper in Food Chemistry, the way instant coffee is produced concentrates some antioxidant compounds, including phenols and flavonoids, resulting in an even “higher content of these substances when compared to other types of coffee.” And a lab study published in the same journal in 2013 found that instant coffees differed little from fresh coffee in levels of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that may have cardiovascular benefits, though the levels varied widely across the samples. Among three instant coffees analyzed in the study, the one that contained some green (that is, unroasted) coffee beans had the highest levels of chlorogenic acid.
A small trial published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research in 2010 found that healthy people who drank instant coffee (extracted from both green and roasted beans) for five days had significant reductions in certain biomarkers of oxidative stress. This suggests that the coffee may offer some protection against chronic diseases linked with oxidation, such as heart disease.
Some (but not all) studies have also found that instant coffee, like regular coffee, has blood sugar benefits. For instance, in a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2012, overweight men with mild-to-moderate elevation of blood sugar who drank five cups of instant coffee a day (regular or decaf) for four months had modest improvements in blood sugar levels. And a 2006 study in Diabetes Care that linked coffee to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes found that the results held true for instant coffee as well—not surprising, the researchers noted, since the composition of instant coffee is similar to that of drip coffee. A previous study did not find an association between instant coffee and diabetes, but that may have been because there were too few people drinking instant coffee to detect one.
Bottoms up: Coffee contains a complex array of substances, and more research is needed to better determine how instant versions compare to regular in terms of health benefits. In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage to drinking instant coffee, caffeinated or decaffeinated. Some companies now sell instant coffees made with green coffee beans.