Coconut Milk - Health Effects

Health Effects

coconut milk, canned
Nutritional value per serving
Serving size 100 g
Energy 824 kJ (197 kcal)
Carbohydrates 2.81 g
Fat 21.33 g
- saturated 18.915 g
- monounsaturated 0.907 g
- polyunsaturated 0.233 g
Protein 2.02 g
Water 72.88 g
Vitamin C 1 mg (1%)
Calcium 18 mg (2%)
Iron 3.30 mg (25%)
Magnesium 46 mg (13%)
Phosphorus 96 mg (14%)
Potassium 220 mg (5%)
Sodium 13 mg (1%)
Zinc 0.56 mg (6%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

One of the most prominent components of coconut milk is coconut oil, which the United States Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, International College of Nutrition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, British National Health Service, and Dietitians of Canada recommend against consuming in significant amounts due to its high levels of saturated fat.

Coconut milk contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol that is also found in significant amounts in breast milk and sebaceous gland secretions. This may create a more favourable blood cholesterol profile, though it is unclear if coconut oil may promote atherosclerosis through other pathways. Because much of the saturated fat of coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid, coconut oil may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil when solid fats are required. In addition, virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats. Early studies on the health effects of coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which creates trans fats, and not virgin coconut oil, which has a different health risk profile.

Coconut milk has a long-standing cultural association with health in the Ayurveda tradition. This natural drink is usually recommended for maintaining electrolyte balance and can also be used in case of dehydration. Some recent studies have suggested that coconut milk has hyperlipidemic balancing qualities, antimicrobial properties in the gastrointestinal tract or by topical application, and it has been used as a home remedy for healing mouth ulcers. In a study with rats, two coconut based preparations (a crude warm water extract of coconut milk and a coconut water dispersion) were studied for their protective effects on drug-induced gastric ulceration. Both substances offered protection against ulceration, with coconut milk producing a 54% reduction vs. 39% for coconut water. In addition, the saturated fat in coconut milk is mostly lauric acid, which was found to have positive effects on the cardiovascular system.

While it is important to note that there is conflicting evidence on the claimed health effects of consuming significant amounts of coconut milk, coconut is rich in medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than other saturated fats. MCFAs promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels. They work best for preventing weight gain if you’re not overweight or maintaining your new weight after a successful diet.

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