coconut milk

Is coconut milk good for you

One of the main arguments put forward by those who support coconut oil (coconut milk) is that the saturated fat in coconut oil behaves differently to typical saturated fats, preventing any negative effects on health. The evidence states it’s not that simple. In fact, a recent report from the American Heart Association 1, based on a recent review of clinical trials, advises against using coconut oil due to its high saturated fat content. Saturated fats tend to increase your LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol in the blood and should be eaten sparingly to minimize your risk of developing heart disease.

Coconut milk is particularly high in one type of saturated fatty acid (the building blocks of fats) called lauric acid. This type of fatty acid tends to mimic healthy unsaturated fats by boosting HDL (good) cholesterol. This may make it less concerning than other saturated fats. However, studies show that with the consumption of coconut oil, whilst healthy HDL cholesterol levels appear to rise, so too does total cholesterol and unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the blood 2.

Overall, the current evidence shows that coconut oil simply does not stack up against healthy unsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil or canola oil) that lower the bad stuff whilst increasing the good stuff too.

It is also important to remember that you need to look at the whole diet for the prevention of disease. Your body’s systems are complex and require a range of different nutrients for optimal health. Your time is better spent enjoying a varied and full diet of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes, grain-based foods, nuts, lean meats, fish and reduced-fat dairy, rather than focusing on a select set of so called ‘superfoods’ to boost your health. Remember, no one food provides all the nutrients you need.

What is coconut milk

Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the grated meat of a mature coconut. The opacity and rich taste of coconut milk are attributed to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat (see Tables 1, 2 and 3 below). Coconut milk is a common ingredient in many tropical and Asian cuisines for curries or other seasonings, meats, vegetables, garnishes, or desserts. Coconut rice is a rice cooked in coconut milk consumed in Southeastern Asia and the Caribbean. Nasi lemak is a Malaysian version of coconut rice, while the same dish is called nasi uduk in Indonesia. Coconut milk is also used throughout Asia for making traditional serabi, an Asian style pancake.

In Southeast Asia, coconut milk is used to make many traditional drinks. Cendol is a popular iced drink from this region containing chilled coconut milk and green jellies made of rice flour. Coconut milk is also used in hot drinks, such as bandrek and bajiguar, two popular drinks from Indonesia. Sweetened coconut milk and coconut milk diluted with water are two popular coconut beverages in southern China and Taiwan. In Brazil, coconut milk is mixed with sugar and cachaça to make a cocktail called batida de côco. Puerto Rico is also popular for tropical drinks containing coconut, such as the piña colada, which typically contains coconut milk or coconut cream.

Coconut milk is traditionally made by grating the white inner flesh of a brown coconut and mixing the shredded coconut meat with a small amount of water in order to suspend the fat present in the grated meat. The grating process can be carried out manually or by comminution, a process that uses a more modern grating machine to facilitate the grating. Coconut milk exists in two grades: thick and thin. Thick coconut milk contains 20-22% fat while thin coconut milk contains 5-7% fat. Thick milk is prepared by directly squeezing grated coconut meat through cheesecloth. Thin milk is produced by soaking the squeezed coconut meat in water and further squeezing the meat until a thinner liquid forms. Thick milk contains soluble, suspended solids, which makes it a good ingredient for desserts and rich and dry sauces. Because thin milk does not contain these soluble solids, it is mainly used in general cooking. The distinction between thick and thin milk is not usually made in Western nations due to the fact that fresh coconut milk is uncommon in these countries and most consumers buy coconut milk in cartons or cans.

Coconut milk has a fat content of 24%, depending on the fat level of the coconut meat and the quantity of added water. When refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate out from the milk. To avoid this in commercial coconut milk, an emulsifier and a stabilizer have to be used.

Canned coconut milk

Manufacturers of canned coconut milk typically combine diluted and comminuted milk with the addition of water as a filler. Depending on the brand and age of the milk itself, a thicker, more paste-like consistency floats to the top of the can and is sometimes separated and used in recipes that require coconut cream rather than coconut milk. Some brands sold in Western countries add thickening agents or emulsifiers to prevent the milk from separating inside the can.

Figure 1. Coconut milk

coconut milk

Is coconut milk healthy

The simple answer is NO due to its high levels of saturated fat. One of the most prominent components of coconut milk is coconut oil. Excessive coconut milk consumption can also raise your blood levels of cholesterol due to the amount of lauric acid, a saturated fat that contributes to higher blood cholesterol. Saturated fat can raise the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood — which, in turn, can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.

There is currently not enough evidence to recommend you choose coconut oil over healthy fats such as olive or canola oils. Making the switch to coconut oil is likely to lead to less favorable blood fat profiles and potentially increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the levels of cholesterol in your blood. Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, which includes heart attack and narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis). Because of this reason, many health organizations, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration 3, World Health Organization 4, International College of Nutrition 5, the United States Department of Health and Human Services 6, American Dietetic Association 7, American Heart Association 8, British National Health Service 9 and Dietitians of Canada 10, discourage people from consuming in significant amounts .

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 6 recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fat by replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while staying within recommended limits for calories and total dietary fat.

Table 1. Maximum Daily Amounts of Saturated Fat To Consume To Keep Saturated Fat Below 10 Percent of Total Calorie Intake

Total Calorie IntakeLimit on Saturated Fat Intake
1,60018 g or less
2,000*20 g or less
2,20024 g or less
2,500*25 g or less
2,80031 g or less

*Percent Daily Values on Nutrition Facts Labels are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Values for 2,000 and 2,500 calories are rounded to the nearest 5 grams to be consistent with the Nutrition Facts Label.

[Source 6]
  • Aim to consume less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat. For people who need to lower their cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total daily calories 11.

Your body needs small amounts of fat to help it work normally. However, some types of fat are healthier than others. There are two main types of fats in food:

  • saturated fat
  • unsaturated fat

It’s a good idea to eat less saturated fat, or swap foods high in saturated fat for small amounts of foods containing unsaturated fats, to reduce the health risks linked with high cholesterol levels.

Which foods contain saturated fat ?

Foods that are high in saturated fat include:

  • butter, lard and ghee (oil made from butter)
  • fatty meats and meat products, such as sausages and pies
  • full-fat milk
  • cream, sour cream, crème fraîche and ice cream
  • cheese, particularly hard cheese
  • some savory snacks, such as pork scratchings
  • coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil
  • biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • chocolates and some sweets

Eating less saturated fat

If you eat lots of foods high in saturated fat, it’s a good idea to eat them less often or have smaller amounts of them.

Below are some tips to help you include less fat and less fatty foods in your diet:

  • Choose lean meat or skinless poultry instead of fatty meat or meat products
  • Trim the visible fat off meat before you cook it
  • Grill meat or cook it slowly in the oven instead of frying it
  • Choose lower-fat dairy products such as 1% fat or skimmed milk, low-fat plain yoghurt or reduced-fat cheese
  • Measure oil with a teaspoon to control the amount you use, or use an oil spray.
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat that are lower in fat, like turkey breast and reduced fat mince.
  • Make your meat stews and curries go further by adding veg and beans.
  • Try reduced fat spreads, such as those based on olive or sunflower oils.

You can also compare nutrition labels to help you choose foods that are lower in saturated fat.

Coconut milk nutrition

In a 100 milliliter (100 g) portion, coconut milk contains 230 Calories and is 68% water, 24% total fat, 6% carbohydrates, and 2% protein (see Table 1). The fat composition includes 21 grams of saturated fat, half of which is lauric acid.

Coconut milk is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of manganese (44% DV) and an adequate source (10-19% DV) of phosphorus, iron, and magnesium, with no other nutrients in significant content.

Table 1. Coconut milk, raw (liquid expressed from grated meat and water) 

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g23.84
Carbohydrate, by differenceg5.54
Fiber, total dietaryg2.2
Sugars, totalg3.34
Calcium, Camg16
Iron, Femg1.64
Magnesium, Mgmg37
Phosphorus, Pmg100
Potassium, Kmg263
Sodium, Namg15
Zinc, Znmg0.67
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg2.8
Vitamin B-6mg0.033
Folate, DFEµg16
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg0.15
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg0.1
Fatty acids, total saturatedg21.14
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg1.014
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg0.261
[Source 12]

Table 2. Coconut milk, canned (liquid expressed from grated meat and water)

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g21.33
Carbohydrate, by differenceg2.81
Calcium, Camg18
Iron, Femg3.3
Magnesium, Mgmg46
Phosphorus, Pmg96
Potassium, Kmg220
Sodium, Namg13
Zinc, Znmg0.56
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg1
Vitamin B-6mg0.028
Folate, DFEµg14
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Fatty acids, total saturatedg18.915
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg0.907
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg0.233
[Source 12]

Table 3. Coconut milk, frozen (liquid expressed from grated meat and water)

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g20.8
Carbohydrate, by differenceg5.58
Calcium, Camg4
Iron, Femg0.81
Magnesium, Mgmg32
Phosphorus, Pmg59
Potassium, Kmg232
Sodium, Namg12
Zinc, Znmg0.59
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg1.1
Vitamin B-6mg0.03
Folate, DFEµg14
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Fatty acids, total saturatedg18.445
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg0.885
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg0.228
[Source 12]
  1. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association.[]
  3. Saturated Fat.[]
  5. Recommendations for the prevention of coronary artery disease in Asians: a scientific statement of the International College of Nutrition. J Cardiovasc Risk. 1996 Dec;3(6):489-94. []
  6. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.[][][]
  10. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 May;77(5):1146-55.[]
  11. American Heart Association. The Skinny on Fats.[]
  12. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.[][][]
Health Jade Team

The author Health Jade Team

Health Jade