Everybody’s nuts for dairy milk alternatives. Why not put a nutty tropical twist on the trend with some coconut milk? In this article, we’ll talk about the health benefits of coconut milk, along with some fun recipe ideas.
What is coconut milk?
Coconut milk is the opaque, off-white liquid you can extract from grated coconut. It’s high in fat and oil, and this is what gives its thick appearance and rich flavor.
You can find this milky liquid in many tropical cuisines, all the way from Southeast Asia to India to East Africa.
It’s easy to confuse coconut milk with coconut water. While the former is a man-made liquid, coconut water is the naturally occurring liquid inside green coconuts that haven’t yet ripened.
Coconut milk may be more than 50% water and has more nutrients than coconut water. Coconut milk has a very high water content of about 94%.
How it is made?
While there are a couple of varieties of coconut milk, both are made from grated coconut flesh.
You can make your own grated coconut flesh without any dedicated tools. Just pry the solid flesh off the coconut with a knife, then grate it using an ordinary food grater. It’s that simple.
Depending on how you make it, there are two types: thick coconut milk and thin coconut milk.
- Making thick coconut milk: boil or simmer your grated coconut. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth to get your thick coconut milk.
- Making thin coconut milk: after making thick coconut milk, take the grated coconut in the cheesecloth and simmer it again. Strain this mixture again, and you’ll have some homemade thin coconut milk.
Nutrients and calories in coconut milk
Coconuts are loved all over the world for a reason — they’re absolutely packed with nutritious goodness!
Here’s a look under the hood at the nutrients and calories in raw coconut milk: (1)
- Portion: 1 cup (240 g)
- Water: 162 g
- Energy: 552 kcal
- Protein: 5.5 g
- Total fat content: 57.1 g
- Ash: 1.73 g
- Carbohydrate (by difference): 13.3 g
- Total dietary fiber: 5.28 g
- Calcium: 38.4 mg
- Iron: 3.94 mg
- Magnesium: 88.8 mg
- Phosphorous: 240 mg
- Potassium: 631 mg
- Sodium: 36 mg
- Zinc: 1.61 mg
What’s most noteworthy here is the impressive fat content: almost 24% by weight. If you’re on a fat-burning diet, coconut milk might be the thirst quencher for you.
As an aside, have you ever seen “ash” being mentioned in a nutrition list? If you haven’t, you might be wondering why there’s ash in your food.
This isn’t the ash you get from a fire. When it comes to food, ash is a broad term used to refer to inorganic matter like minerals. So now you know what is!
Having understood the nutrients and calories in coconut milk, let’s now talk about some health benefits.
Health benefits of coconut milk
Even though coconut milk has been used in food for many centuries, scientific evidence on its health benefits is scarce.
However, using a related food product, we can identify some likely health benefits — in this case, coconut oil. Seeing as it is one of the main components, we’ll incorporate findings on coconut oil into the discussion.
1. May help you lose weight
Coconut oil does many wonderfully good things to your body. These effects range from skin protection to diabetes management. But did you know it may aid with weight loss as well?
At first, this seems counterintuitive. Coconut oil, by virtue of being an oil, isn’t something most people associate with cutting down on the pounds.
But as you will see, research has shown time and again that coconut oil is a healthy fat.
Coconut oil (and other coconut products) contain a specific type of fats known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
MCTs have numerous benefits over fats found in other products like olive oil.
For starters, MCTs are absorbed and used by your body in a way that’s different from long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).
95% of MCTs are absorbed into your bloodstream straight away. Your body then uses the absorbed MCTs for energy right away (2).
2. May help manage cholesterol
An eight-week study in 60 men (5) found that porridge infused with coconut milk lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol more than soy milk porridge.
Coconut milk porridge also raised “good” HDL cholesterol by 18%. When you compare this to the 3% for soy, you can see that coconut oil really is something special.
Other coconut products may help with cholesterol, too. For example, coconut flakes and coconut oil have also been studied in this respect. The results are promising. Both good and bad cholesterol levels were shown to be improved in studies involving the two (6, 7, 8).
3. Prevents heart disease
Coconut milk raises HDL cholesterol levels in the body. Scientific research has shown that consuming small amounts of coconut milk can help lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels in the body. HDL cholesterol has anti-inflammatory properties that protect the endothelium or blood vessels. LDL cholesterol, on the other hand, promotes the formation of vascular plaques. Heart attack can occur when the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle become narrow.
4. It contains antioxidants
Coconut milk is rich in vitamins C and E which are well-known for antioxidant properties. During the metabolic process, our body tissues produce free oxygen radicals. They are harmful to cellular components and contribute to aging and the development of cancer. The antioxidants in coconut milk help to neutralize this harmful substance.
5. Electrolyte balance
Coconut milk is rich in electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Potassium is important for maintaining a normal heart rhythm. It is also very important for healthy muscle function. Magnesium is essential for a healthy immune system as well as for maintaining nerve and muscle function. Phosphorus is an important structural component of bone and teeth. By adding coconut milk to diet, you will have enough phosphorus to meet these needs.
6. Strengthens the immune system
Coconut milk contains lauric acid, which is known for its antiseptic properties. It helps the body fight infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. A study in the Philippines found that children with pneumonia respond faster to treatment with antibiotics and coconut milk compared to those who were treated with antibiotics alone.
7. Prevention of anemia
Coconut milk contains a significant amount of iron. Iron is very important in formation of red blood cells. Incorporating coconut milk into your diet can help prevent iron deficiency anemia that often results from inadequate iron intake.
8. May reduce inflammation .
Some animal studies found that coconut extracts may help reduce inflammation and swelling caused by injuries.(10)
9. May curb stomach ulcers.
In another animal study, coconut milk was shown to reduce the size of stomach ulcers in rats. This reduction was about 54%, which is comparable to anti-ulcer drugs.(11)
10. May help your body’s natural defenses.
One of the MCTs in this milk is lauric acid. This substance may reduce the levels of viruses and bacteria in your gastrointestinal system, including your mouth.(12)
May help you eat less
If you remember our nutrition chart, you’ll know that the milk of coconut is very high in fat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Research has found that the fatty food in your meals may go a long way in keeping you full (9). You’ll feel much fuller when you eat food with coconut oil, for example, than when you eat a light salad.
This is great because you can get away with eating less food. You’ll feel satisfied sooner. At the end of the day, you’ll have eaten fewer calories.
Some health considerations
Coconut milk just isn’t as well-researched as other foods. And when there’s a lack of data, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Some people are allergic to coconut. While this is very rare, a coconut allergy is just as serious as any other allergy and proper precautions must be taken.
Lauric acid (which we’ve mentioned before) has somewhat of a troubled past. Most experts classify lauric acid as an MCT. However, it behaves like an LCT in terms of absorption and metabolism (13).
This is because only about 25-30% of lauric acid is directly absorbed into your bloodstream through the portal vein. Other MCTs boast an absorption rate as high as 95% (14).
When you consider adding coconut milk to your diet, do weigh the amazing health benefits with these potential risks.
Recipe ideas with coconut milk
With an ingredient this healthy, you can’t help but want to add it to your meals.
Here are some ingenious recipes you can prepare right at home:
(Nutrition information shown per serving.)
Tomato and chickpea curry
Tomato & chickpea curry on white rice. Courtesy of BBC Good Food.
- Energy: 369 kcal
- Carbs: 28 g
- Protein: 9 g
- Fat: 23 g
Have some unused cans in the pantry? Put them to good use with this vegetarian recipe. It’s both simple and positively scrumptious!
Learn how to make tomato and chickpea curry here.
Coconut rice. Courtesy of BBC Good Food.
- Energy: 538 kcal
- Carbs: 80 g
- Protein: 9 g
- Fat: 17 g
Bring a splash of Indian cuisine to the dinner table with the simple rice dish. You can make it ahead of time, no hassle required.
Learn how to make coconut rice here.
Coconut and vanilla milk bottle cocktail
White Christmas cocktail. Courtesy BBC Good Food.
- Energy: 311 kcal
- Carbs: 5 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Fat: 17 g
Need to spice up a Christmas party? This is the way to go. Warm yourself up with this bracing cocktail of coconut milk, vodka, and nutmeg.
Learn how to make coconut and vanilla cocktails here.
Spicy coconut noodle soup
Spicy coconut noodle soup. Courtesy of BBC Good Food.
- Energy: 226 kcal
- Carbs: 15 g
- Protein: 4 g
- Fat: 17 g
Time to bring the heat! This Asian-style recipe is as simple as they come. But don’t let that fool you — it’s called “spicy” for a reason. This one is not for the faint of heart.
Learn how to make spicy coconut noodle soup here.
Grainy coconut ice cream
Grainy coconut ice cream. Courtesy of BBC Good Food.
- Energy: 401
- Carbs: 12 g
- Protein: 4 g
- Fat: 37 g
Need something to cool the heat from the previous recipe? You can make your own ice cream with coconut milk! You don’t even need an ice cream maker, it’s that easy.
Learn how to make grainy coconut ice cream here.
All these recipes courtesy of BBC Good Food. Check them out for recipes that are out of this world!
There’s a reason we called this article Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Milk. Even though it’s high in fat, coconut milk may actually help with weight loss and cholesterol management!
Be sure to carefully consider these benefits and compare them with the potential risks. You should be able to cook up some delicious and filling meals. Happy coconutty cooking!