Coconut milk 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. It’s very popular in Hawaii, India and certain South American and Caribbean countries.
Coconut milk is mixed with water and it contains more fat and nutrients than coconut water.
How Is Coconut Milk 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 coconut milk.
Thin: After making thick coconut 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 coconut 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 coconut milk at home, adjusting the thickness to your liking.
Nutrients in Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is a high-calorie food.
About 93% of its calories come from fat, including saturated fatty acids known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). The milk is also a good source of several vitamins and minerals. One cup (240 grams) contains (1):
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.
Effects on Weight and Metabolism
There’s some evidence the medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) fats in coconut milk may benefit weight loss, body composition and metabolism. About half the fat in coconuts comes from an MCT called lauric acid. Coconuts also contain small amounts of other MCTs, including capric acid and caprylic acid.
Unlike longer-chain fats, these MCTs go from the digestive tract directly to the liver, where they’re used for energy or ketone production. They are therefore less likely to be stored as fat (3).
Research also suggests MCTs may help reduce appetite and decrease calorie intake, compared to other fats
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.
Effects on Cholesterol and Heart Health
Because coconut milk is so high in saturated fat, people may wonder if it’s a heart-healthy choice. Very little research examines coconut milk specifically, but one study suggests it may benefit people with normal or high cholesterol levels.
This 8-week study of 60 men found that coconut milk porridge lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol more than soy milk porridge. Coconut milk porridge also raised HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 18%, compared to only 3% for the soy.
Most studies of coconut oil or flakes also found improvements in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels. Although in some studies LDL cholesterol levels increased in response to coconut fat, HDL also increased. Triglycerides decreased, compared to other fats.
Other Potential Health Benefits
Reduce inflammation: Animal studies found that coconut extract and coconut oil reduced inflammation and swelling in injured rats and mice.
Decrease 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: The MCTs in coconuts, especially lauric acid, reduce the levels of viruses and bacteria that cause infections. This includes those that reside in your mouth.
How to Add Coconut Milk to Your Diet:
-Include a couple of tablespoons in your coffee.
-Add half a cup to a smoothie or protein shake.
-Pour a small amount over berries or sliced papaya.
-Add a few tablespoons to oatmeal or other cooked cereal.
Coconut Milk Recipes
Healthy recipes featuring coconut milk:
-Easy Coconut Shrimp Curry.
-Clean Eating Chicken Masala.
-Braised Coconut Spinach and Chickpeas with Lemon.
-Tropical Green Smoothie.
-Coconut Milk Chocolate Mousse.
Conclusion, Coconut milk is a tasty, nutritious and versatile food that is widely available. It can also be made easily at home.