Quantcast

The Many Health Benefits of Coconut Milk

Popular

By Franziska Spritzler

Coconut milk has recently become very popular.

It's a tasty alternative to cow's milk that may also provide a number of health benefits.

Coconut milk comes from the white flesh of mature brown coconuts, which are the fruit of the coconut tree.iStock

This article takes a detailed look at coconut milk.

What Is Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk comes from the white flesh of mature brown coconuts, which are the fruit of the coconut tree.

The milk has a thick consistency and a rich, creamy texture.

Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines commonly include this milk. It's also popular in Hawaii, India and certain South American and Caribbean countries.

Coconut milk should not be confused with coconut water, which is found naturally in immature green coconuts.

Unlike coconut water, the milk does not occur naturally in liquid form. The solid flesh is mixed with water to make coconut milk, which is about 50 percent water.

By contrast, coconut water is about 94 percent water. It contains much less fat and fewer nutrients than coconut milk.

Bottom Line: Coconut milk comes from the flesh of mature brown coconuts. It is used in many traditional cuisines around the world.

How Is Coconut Milk Made?

Coconut milk is classified as either thick or thin, based on consistency and how much it's processed.

  • Thick: Solid coconut flesh is finely grated and either boiled or simmered in water. The mixture is then strained through cheesecloth to produce thick coconut milk.
  • Thin: After making thick coconut milk, the grated coconut remaining in the cheesecloth is simmered in water. The straining process is then repeated to produce thin milk.

In traditional cuisines, thick coconut milk is used in desserts and thick sauces. Thin milk is used in soups and thin sauces.

Most canned coconut milk contains a combination of thin and thick milk. It's also very easy to make your own coconut milk at home, adjusting the thickness to your liking.

Bottom Line: Coconut milk is made by grating flesh from a brown coconut, soaking it in water and then straining it to produce a milk-like consistency.

Nutrients in Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a high-calorie food.

About 93 percent of its calories come from fat, including saturated fats known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

The milk is also a good source of several vitamins and minerals. One cup (240 grams) contains (1):

  • Calories: 552.
  • Fat: 57 grams.
  • Protein: 5 grams.
  • Carbs: 13 grams.
  • Fiber: 5 grams.
  • Vitamin C: 11 percent of the RDI.
  • Folate: 10 percent of the RDI.
  • Iron: 22 percent of the RDI.
  • Magnesium: 22 percent of the RDI.
  • Potassium: 18 percent of the RDI.
  • Copper: 32 percent of the RDI.
  • Manganese: 110 percent of the RDI.
  • Selenium: 21 percent of the RDI.

In addition, some experts believe coconut milk contains unique proteins that may provide health benefits. However, more research is needed on this (2).

Bottom Line: Coconut milk is high in calories and saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides. It also contains many other nutrients.

Effects on Weight and Metabolism

There's some evidence that the medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) fats in coconut milk may benefit weight loss, body composition and metabolism.

About half the fat in coconuts comes from a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid.

Coconuts also contain small amounts of other medium-chain fatty acids, including capric acid and caprylic acid.

Unlike longer-chain fats, MCTs go from the digestive tract directly to the liver, where they're used for energy or ketone production. They are therefore less likely to be stored as fat (3).

Research also suggests MCTs may help reduce appetite and decrease calorie intake, compared to other fats (4, 5, 6, 7).

In a small study, overweight men who consumed 20 grams of MCT oil at breakfast ate 272 fewer calories at lunch than those consuming corn oil (7).

What's more, the MCTs in coconuts can boost calorie expenditure and fat burning, at least temporarily (8, 9, 10).

A few controlled studies in obese individuals and people with heart disease showed that eating coconut oil reduced body weight and belly fat. Heart health markers also improved (11, 12, 13).

Although no studies have directly tested how coconut milk affects weight and metabolism, several studies show impressive effects from coconut oil and MCTs.

The same should apply to coconut milk, because it has the same fatty acids.

Bottom Line: The MCTs in coconut milk may reduce appetite, increase metabolism and help you lose belly fat.

Effects on Cholesterol and Heart Health

Because coconut milk is so high in saturated fat, people may wonder if it's a heart-healthy choice.

Very little research examines coconut milk specifically, but one study suggests it may benefit people with normal or high cholesterol levels.

This 8-week study of 60 men found that coconut milk porridge lowered LDL ("bad") cholesterol more than soy milk porridge. Coconut milk porridge also raised HDL ("good") cholesterol by 18 percent, compared to only 3 percent for the soy (14).

Most studies of coconut oil or flakes also found improvements in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels (11, 12, 13, 15, 16).

Although in some studies LDL cholesterol levels increased in response to coconut fat, HDL also increased. Triglycerides decreased compared to other fats (17, 18).

Lauric acid, the main fatty acid in coconut fat, may raise LDL cholesterol by decreasing the activity of the receptors that clear LDL from the blood (19).

Results of two studies on similar populations suggest that the cholesterol response to lauric acid may vary by individual. It may also depend on the amount in the diet.

In one study of healthy women, replacing 14 percent of monounsaturated fats with lauric acid raised LDL cholesterol by about 16 percent. In another study, replacing 4 percent of monounsaturated fat with lauric acid had very little effect on cholesterol (19, 20).

Bottom Line: Overall, cholesterol and triglyceride levels improve with coconut intake. In cases where LDL cholesterol increases, HDL typically increases as well.

Other Potential Health Benefits

Coconut milk may also:

  • Reduce inflammation: Animal studies found that coconut extract and coconut oil reduced inflammation and swelling in injured rats and mice (21, 22, 23).
  • Decrease ulcer size: In one study, coconut milk reduced stomach ulcer size in rats by 54 percent—a result comparable to the effect of an anti-ulcer drug (24).
  • Fight viruses and bacteria: The MCTs in coconuts, especially lauric acid, reduce the levels of viruses and bacteria that cause infections. This includes those that reside in your mouth (25, 26, 27).

Bottom Line: Coconut milk may reduce inflammation, decrease ulcer size and fight the viruses and bacteria that cause infections.

Adverse Effects

Unless you're allergic to coconuts, the milk is unlikely to have adverse effects. Compared to tree nut and peanut allergies, coconut allergies are relatively rare (28).

However, some digestive disorder experts recommend that people who have a FODMAP intolerance limit coconut milk to one half-cup portion at a time.

Many canned varieties also contain bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that can leach from can linings into food. BPA has been linked to reproductive problems and cancer in animal and human studies (29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).

Fortunately, some brands use BPA-free packaging, which is recommended if you choose to consume canned coconut milk.

Bottom Line: Coconut milk is likely safe for most people who are not allergic to coconuts. It is best to choose BPA-free cans.

How to Use Coconut Milk

Although coconut milk is nutritious, it's also high in calories. Keep this in mind when adding it to foods or using it in recipes.

Ideas for Adding Coconut Milk to Your Diet

  • Include a couple of tablespoons in your coffee.
  • Pour a small amount over berries or sliced papaya.
  • Add a few tablespoons to oatmeal or other cooked cereal.

Coconut Milk Recipes

Here are a few healthy recipes featuring coconut milk:

How to Select the Best Coconut Milk

Here are a few tips for selecting the best coconut milk:

  • Read the label: When possible, choose a product that contains only coconut and water. Avoid questionable ingredients such as carrageenan.
  • Choose BPA-free cans: Purchase coconut milk from companies that use BPA-free cans, such as Native Forest and Natural Value.
  • Use cartons: Unsweetened coconut milk in cartons usually contains less fat and fewer calories than canned options. Look for brands without carageenan, such as So Delicious and Silk.
  • Go light: For a lower-calorie option, select light canned coconut milk. It's thinner and contains about 125 calories per half cup (120 grams) (35).
  • Make your own: For the freshest, healthiest coconut milk, make your own with this simple recipe using shredded coconut: Homemade Coconut Milk.

Bottom Line: Coconut milk can be used in a variety of recipes. Avoid types that contain questionable ingredients, or make your own at home.

Take Home Message

Coconut milk is a tasty, nutritious and versatile food that is widely available. It can also be made easily at home.

Including moderate amounts of coconut milk in your diet may pay off in better health.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A dead sea lion on the beach at Border Field State Park, near the international border wall between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Sherry Smith / iStock / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less
People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Protesters hold a banner and a placard while blocking off the road during a protest against Air pollution in London. Ryan Ashcroft / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less