Why Coconut Milk ? Its Health Benefits Around Immunity, Heart Health, And Weight Loss
Updated: Mar 15
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.
This article takes a detailed look at coconut milk.
What is coconut Milk ?
It 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.
The 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. Instead, solid coconut flesh is mixed with water to make coconut milk, which is about 50% water.
By contrast, coconut water is about 94% water. It contains much less fat and far fewer nutrients than milk.
How is it 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 milk.
Thin: After making thick 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 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 milk at home, adjusting the thickness to your liking.
Coconut milk is a high-calorie food.
About 93% 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:
Fat: 57 grams
Protein: 5 grams
Carbs: 13 grams
Fiber: 5 grams
Vitamin C: 11% of the RDI
Folate: 10% of the RDI
Iron: 22% of the RDI
Magnesium: 22% of the RDI
Potassium: 18% of the RDI
Copper: 32% of the RDI
Manganese: 110% of the RDI
Selenium: 21% of the RDI
In addition, some experts believe milk contains unique proteins that may provide health benefits. However, more research is needed
Effects on Weight and Metabolism
There’s some evidence that the MCT fats in milk may benefit weight loss, body composition and metabolism.
Lauric acid makes up about 50% of coconut oil. It can be classified as both a long-chain fatty acid or a medium-chain, as its chain length and metabolic effects are intermediate between the two.
But coconut oil also contains 12% true medium-chain fatty acids — capric acid and caprylic acid.
Unlike longer-chain fats, MCTs go from the digestive tract directly to your liver, where they’re used for energy or ketone production. They are less likely to be stored as fat (4).
Research also suggests that MCTs may help reduce appetite and decrease calorie intake compared to other fats.
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.
What’s more, MCTs can boost calorie expenditure and fat burning — at least temporarily.
However, the small amounts of MCTs found in coconut milk are unlikely to have any significant effects on body weight or metabolism.
A few controlled studies in obese individuals and people with heart disease suggest that eating coconut oil reduced waist circumference. But coconut oil had no effects on body weight .
No studies have directly examined how coconut milk affects weight and metabolism. Further studies are needed before any claims can be made.
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
Decrease stomach ulcer size: In one study, coconut milk reduced stomach ulcer size in rats by 54% — a result comparable to the effect of an anti-ulcer drug
Fight viruses and bacteria: Test-tube studies suggest that lauric acid may reduce the levels of viruses and bacteria that cause infections. This includes those that reside in your mouth.
Keep in mind that not all studies were on the effects of coconut milk specifically.
Potential Side 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.
However, some digestive disorder experts recommend that people who have a FODMAP intolerance limit coconut milk to 1/2 cup (120 ml) 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 .
Notably, some brands use BPA-free packaging, which is recommended if you choose to consume canned coconut milk.
How to Use It
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 It to Your Diet
Include a couple of tablespoons (30–60 ml) in your coffee.
Add half a cup (120 ml) to a smoothie or protein shake.
Pour a small amount over berries or sliced papaya.
Add a few tablespoons (30–60 ml) to oatmeal or other cooked cereal.
How to Select the Best Coconut Milk
Here are a few tips for selecting the best coconut milk:
Read the label: Whenever possible, choose a product that contains only coconut and water.
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.
Go light: For a lower-calorie option, select light canned coconut milk. It’s thinner and contains about 125 calories per 1/2 cup (120 ml) (36).
Make your own: For the freshest, healthiest coconut milk, make your own by blending 1.5–2 cups (355–470 ml) of unsweetened shredded coconut with 4 cups of hot water, then strain through a cheesecloth.
The Bottom Line
Coconut milk is a tasty, nutritious and versatile food that is widely available. It can also be made easily at home.
It’s full of important nutrients like manganese and copper. Including moderate amounts in your diet may boost your heart health and provide other benefits as well.
To experience this tasty milk alternative, try using coconut milk today.