The creamy deliciousness of coconut milk is undeniable. But is it necessarily healthy? Coconut is one of those foods that has some people split, when it comes to nutritional value. Like coconut oil, coconut milk can be healthy on the one hand, but at the same time, it sometimes gets a bad rap because it contains a significant amount of saturated fat.
It’s time to answer the burning question: is coconut milk good for you? Let’s dive into coconut milk’s nutrition to see if adding this tasty ingredient to your diet makes sense.
How canned coconut milk gets made
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of coconuts. Unlike coconut water, which is less thick and comes naturally inside the coconut, the milk requires a lot more processing to produce.
Although it’s fun to imagine cracking open a coconut to find a bounty of creamy coconut milk inside, the reality of making it is a lot more labor intensive. Indeed, most of the canned coconut milk you find in the supermarket is mass produced.
Traditionally, coconut milk is made by grating the coconut flesh from coconuts and mixing it with a small amount of water to separate the fat and create a thick liquid. The liquid is then strained with cheesecloth and is further diluted with water depending on the desired level of thickness.
Fresh coconut milk is a staple in countries with a tropical climate, and should you happen to live a considerable distance from the tropics, you’ll probably have to get the canned variety if you want to use it for soups, curries or smoothies. Be sure to check the ingredients to ensure that there are no preservatives, thickeners or other additives used.
If you’re looking for a non-dairy milk substitute, you can now buy coconut milk beverages that mimic dairy milk, but manufacturers tend to produce those with a lot of other ingredients. If that’s the type of coconut milk you’re on the market for, be sure to check the packaging to make sure it’s free from sugar and other additives.
Coconut milk nutrition
Instead of labeling coconut milk as a hero or villain, let’s take a moment to weigh out the pros and cons of this creamy drink.
Depending on how you look at it, coconut milk is either a nutritional standout or a high-fat calorie bomb, that’s why some debate whether coconut milk is good for you or not.
This product contains medium-chain fatty acids which the body employs differently than other types of fat, possibly contributing to weight loss and feelings of satiety. The body absorbs this type of fat more efficiently than long-chain fatty acids, making it especially popular among fans of the ketogenic diet and other high-fat, low-carb eating approaches.
One of the medium-chain fatty acids that’s abundant in coconut milk is lauric acid. The benefits of this is:
It's antimicrobial and antiviral, making it ideal for preventing and fighting off infections.
Doesn’t contribute to higher cholesterol levels the way the fats in hydrogenated vegetable oil do.
Can aid in clearing up skin conditions such as acne.
May support the immune system.
So, if you want a healthy dose of lauric acid, coconuts are your friend. Believe it or not, nearly half of the fat in coconut consists of lauric acid! That’s just one more reason to love this tropical treat.
Coconut is also brimming with vitamins and minerals, however, the exact amount vary -- as mentioned before, many coconut milk beverages are thinned with water and other ingredients possibly added during production.
The flesh of coconut has a significant amount of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, Vitamin E, and minerals like iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and phosphorous, but the amounts vary by brand. Unless you drink freshly made milk, it’s harder to say if your choice of coconut milk is good for you or not. That’s why it’s always important to check the labels!
Canned coconut milk is a high-calorie, high-fat food that we recommend eating in moderation. Just one cup (240 grams) of it contains 552 calories and 57 grams of fat. For those looking to lose weight, this amount of calorie intake may be too high, so we suggest using a small amount if you choose to add it to your food.
Chances are, you won’t even need that much coconut milk when you’re cooking. Even just a tablespoon can give your dish a creamy coconut flavor and its health benefits without throwing your weight loss goals off track.
The verdict: Is coconut milk good for you?
Just because it’s calorie-dense doesn’t mean you should treat it as a bad guy. Instead, think of it as a health-promoting ingredient that's best in small doses. So is coconut milk good for you? Yes, but in moderation, and when it’s all-natural and additive-free.
Here are some of our tips for getting the most out of coconut milk:
Avoid the low-calorie coconut milk options and make your own lighter version. Low-calorie varieties cost around the same as the regular coconut milk, yet you get less actual coconut milk. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you water down the full-fat variety on your own by mixing a little bit of full-fat coconut cream with equal parts (or more) of water and substitute it in recipes that require coconut milk. You’ll still have a creamy coconut flavor, but a lot less calories!
Add a dash of coconut milk to your morning oats for some tropical vibes to start your day off right.
Make your own healthy veggie curry by cooking up some vegetables, your choice of protein, a dash of curry paste or curry powder, plus two to three tablespoons of coconut milk.
Always check the labels to make sure the coconut milk you buy is as natural as possible.
If you’re using canned coconut milk, make sure to look out for cans that are free of bisphenol A (BPA). This harmful plastic compound can leach into canned foods and can lead to adverse effects.