In tropical countries, coconut milk has always been a staple in their cuisines especially in curries, desserts, and baking, due to its fragrant taste and aroma. Gradually, certain groups of people throughout the world who cannot consume dairy milk started to replace dairy milk with coconut milk. These people are the vegans, vegetarians, lactose-intolerant and those allergic to nuts, soy, and gluten, as well as the followers of Paleo and Banting diets.
Nowadays, everyone, including coffee shops and cafes, use coconut milk as it is promoted as the trendy, healthy elixir that is full of creamy aromatic flavors which make foods and drinks taste better than using regular milk. However, is coconut milk really good for you?
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What Is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is a white opaque fluid that smells fragrant like a coconut and tastes slightly sweet. It comes from processing the copra of mature brown coconuts which have thick solid white flesh. Harvesting the coconuts too early would result in young green coconuts with little white flesh while spoiled coconuts have yellow flesh that has already turned rancid.
Coconut milk does not occur naturally as a liquid in coconuts. In fact, the white meat inside the coconut has to be processed to extract the coconut milk. This is done by finely grating the copra and soaking the grated coconut white meat in hot or simmering water but never boiling water because that high temperature would remove most nutrients.
The whole mixture is then strained through a cheesecloth to remove the grated coconut meat, leaving a white thick milky fluid which is rich and creamy — that is coconut milk. This thick coconut milk is used in cooking and baking. For drinking, the thick coconut milk can be diluted with water.
Alternatively, coconut milk can be thinned down by using the remaining grated coconut in the cheesecloth to be simmered in hot water then strained again. Repeating the procedure thus produces even thinner and lighter coconut milk each time. Such fresh coconut milk should be used immediately or refrigerated for not more than three days before it turns rancid.
Read also: Is Coconut Oil Good For You?
These days, one does not have to make one’s coconut milk from scratch as above but can purchase commercially produced coconut milk in grocery stores and supermarkets. This coconut milk usually comes in cartons or cans and can be stored unopened at room temperature for a long time. However, once opened, refrigerate and use within three days as it will also spoil quickly.
As always, one should be aware of labels and purchase the purest organic coconut milk with no added sugars and other sweeteners; no added preservatives such as sulphites which cause allergies inclusive of headaches, hives, runny nose, sneezing, tightness in the throat, and asthma attacks; no additives such as carrageenan which is a red seaweed extract that causes cancers and digestive problems; and no added colorings and flavors.
Also be sure to check for expiry dates and damage on packaging. It would be wise to choose BPA-free labelled coconut milk.
BPA is a bisphenol-A compound used to line some cans including those containing coconut milk. This chemical can leach from the can lining into the coconut milk. Bisphenol-A is a carcinogenic endocrine disruptor that causes cancer, developmental and reproductive complications, and neurobehavioral problems.
Commercially produced coconut milk usually contains the stabilizer guar gum so that the product remains smooth and creamy. Guar gum is a galactomannan that is a polysaccharide made up of a mannose backbone with a galactose side group. It comes from the endosperm of guar beans that are milled into a powder and then added to the processed coconut milk. As beans and legumes have compounds that are difficult to digest, guar gum from guar beans causes gut issues and digestive problems for people with a weak gut and bad digestive health.
For the rest of the general public, guar gum is usually well-tolerated and has no harmful effects on them although one may still choose to purchase commercially packaged coconut milk that is without guar gum as raw pure coconut milk does not contain guar gum.
Nutritional Facts Of Coconut Milk
With so many varieties of coconut milk available, we shall look at the nutritional value of a hundred grams of raw coconut milk that is produced via the first straining of the copra and water mixture, with Percent Daily Values based on a two thousand calories diet:
|NUTRITION INFORMATION||AMOUNTS||DAILY PERCENT VALUES|
|From Carbohydrate||22.6 kcal|
|From Fat||200 kcal|
|From Protein||7.9 kcal|
|Dietary Fiber||2.2 g||9%|
|Total Omega-6 fatty acids||261 mg|
|Aspartic acid||224 mg|
|Glutamic acid||524 mg|
|Vitamin C||2.8 mg||5%|
|Vitamin E (Tocopherol)||0.2 mg||1%|
|Vitamin K||0.1 mcg||0%|
|Thiamine (B1)||0.03 mg||3%|
|Niacin (B3)||0.76 mg||5%|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.18 mg||4%|
|Vitamin B6||0.03 mg||2%|
|Folate (B9)||16.0 mcg||4%|
As seen in the table above, a hundred grams of pure coconut milk has 230 calories of which the majority comes from its fat content. Thankfully, these fats are mainly good fats that are made up of healthy short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids. Of these fats, there are 21 grams of saturated fat where half of it is the beneficial lauric acid. In that hundred grams of coconut milk, 68 percent is water, 24 percent is total fat, 6 percent is carbohydrates, and 2 percent is protein.
Coconut milk is highly nutritious with its crucial minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and essential vitamins such as Vitamin C, K, E, and B’s which are usually found only in animal products.
Coconut milk is also one of the few fluids that is extremely rich in fiber. With these nutritional facts, it is no wonder coconut milk is considered a health elixir. So what are the health benefits one would gain when one uses this health elixir called coconut milk?
Health Benefits Of Coconut Milk
According to coconut milk’s nutritional facts, it brings about the following health benefits:
Coconut milk is a staple source of saturated and medium-chain fatty acids that are directly metabolized by the liver and thus easily absorbed and burned as fuel by the body to provide instant energy instead of being stored in the adipose tissue as fatty deposits that cause obesity.
In addition, these medium-chain fatty acids increase metabolism and burn fat while inducing satiety which in turn causes one to eat less by reducing appetite, preventing overeating, snacking, and food cravings. Together, these factors help one to lose weight.
After physical activities including sports and working out, the body muscles need a variety of nutrients, such as potassium and magnesium, to heal broken down tissues and nourish them to grow back stronger. These nutrients are adequately found in coconut milk to repair and build these muscles.
Enhance Physical Performance
Other than increasing energy expenditure by being an instant fuel and building muscles as described in the above two sections, both of which enhances one’s physical performance, coconut milk also enhances physical performance by preventing fatigue with its rich supply of electrolytes that is necessary to prevent exhaustion, heat strokes, muscle aches, and cramps.
In addition, the B vitamins support metabolism and provides energy to cells as well and the potassium allows communication between muscles and nerves while the magnesium supports the nerve cells functions.
Good Heart Health
Coconut milk itself contains zero cholesterol but has lauric acid which improves cholesterol levels by decreasing the receptor activity that clears good cholesterols from the blood thereby increasing healthy cholesterols which in turn lower bad cholesterols to maintain a healthy blood lipid profile which is a primary factor in lowering heart diseases.
Lauric acid is also a protective fatty acid that maintains the cleanliness, flexibility, and elasticity of blood vessels which in turn lowers the risks of atherosclerosis and other heart diseases.
Coconut milk does not contain trans fats at all but instead it consists of healthy fatty acids that are immediately used as energy by the body. This means coconut milk fats are not stored as fats and therefore do not clog arteries and blood vessels. In addition, these fatty acids also kill atherogenic organisms and bacteria that cause plaque formation and buildup in the arteries. These factors mean a lower risk of heart diseases.
Other than that, coconut milk contains the essential minerals responsible for circulating and regulating blood flow in blood vessels which in turn lower blood pressure. The magnesium in coconut milk prevents heart attacks by reducing stress and muscle tension while keeping muscles relaxed and regulating circulation and heart rhythm. Copper and vitamin C both maintain rigidity and flexibility of collagen fibers which allow a proper blood flow in the blood vessels and minimize fluctuations in blood pressure. The potassium regulates heartbeat, muscle contractions, cholesterol, and nerve impulses. It can also lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension by counteracting the sodium in their body which causes high blood pressure and water retention.
Improve Brain Health
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk do not require bile acids for digestion but go directly to the liver via the portal vein to be converted to ketones and readily used. This provides the brain with a fast source of energy.
The brain is mainly made up of fats and requires a steady stream of fats to function optimally. Coconut milk thus provides an easy and efficient source of healthy calories for the brain. In addition, the ketones are highly beneficial to brain performances and development and thus aids in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to its high fiber content, coconut milk contains the other nutrients essential for a good digestive system. Other than improving digestion by nourishing the digestive lining and preventing acid reflux, these electrolytes and healthy fats also hydrates the digestive tract to move food along the intestine thus preventing constipation and relieving Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Regular bowel movements timely remove toxins from the body which is beneficial to not only gut health but one’s overall health. Coconut milk also has protective effects on the ulcerated gastric mucus which leads to ulcers as well as reducing and preventing the ulcers themselves. This is due to its anti-ulcer and anti-bacterial properties which eliminates the bacteria-causing ulcers.
Read also: Is Coconut Water Good For You?
Regulate Blood Sugar
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk are always a preferred source of energy for the body over sugar itself. This is because these fats reduce the rate of sugar being released into the bloodstream thereby preventing insulin spikes and managing insulin levels and diabetes. The magnesium present in coconut milk improves insulin sensitivity and reduces blood sugar levels at the same time.
The human body is easily dehydrated when one is ill or via diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive alcohol consumption. Coconut milk has rehydration minerals to minimize the body from dehydrating. The potassium found in coconut milk regulates the body water level so that the body does not become dehydrated. Dehydration can also cause migraines and headaches. The magnesium present in coconut milk reduces the frequency of migraine attacks.
The fatty acids in coconut milk prevent liver diseases and directly protect the liver from damage because they are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver thereby reducing its workload and prevent fat accumulation.
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk are easy to digest and do not require the pancreatic enzymes to be broken down which in turn eases the metabolic strain on the pancreas. This keeps the pancreas healthy and is useful in treating pancreatitis.
Anemia is a condition signified by a lack of iron in the body. This deficiency causes insufficient red blood cells to be formed and results in pallor, weariness, impaired motor abilities and mental functions, and creates pregnancy complications. The iron content existing in coconut milk is sufficient to overcome this nutrient deficit. Consuming coconut milk thus creates more red blood cells and assists in oxygen transportation to the cells. Coconut milk also has vitamin K which aids in blood coagulation to prevent excessive blood loss.
Coconut milk has bone-building minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and manganese. Lauric acid also promotes bone health. Altogether, they help to maintain healthy and strong bones thus preventing osteoporosis.
The selenium, zinc, and vitamins C and E, in coconut milk serves to improve immunity. Lauric acid in coconut milk is converted to monolaurin in the body which boosts immune functions too to fight diseases, viruses, infections, and bacteria, such as vesicular stomatitis virus, herpes, influenza, HIV, yeast strain candida, and bacterial strain Staphylococcus, due to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. These properties are also found in the antimicrobial lipids, caprylic and capric acid prevalent in coconut milk.
Cancer patients have a strict diet not to consume proteins that provoke inflammatory reactions and hormones that causes growth of cancerous cells. Coconut milk deters cancer growth as it is easily digested and converted to energy that cancer cells cannot use while stimulating immunity to kill cancer growth. In addition, coconut milk has the kinetin compound which inhibits the growth of tumors and cancer cells that causes myeloma, lymphomas, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. The folate in coconut milk produces and maintains new cells while preventing changes in DNA that lead to cancer.
Prevent Inflammation & Arthritis
Coconut milk should replace refined sugar in diets of patients with autoimmune conditions like arthritis and general joints and muscles aches and pains because sugar is pro-inflammatory and worsens pain and swelling while the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk reduce inflammation which in turn reduce swelling and pain.
Coconut milk is a remedy for urinary and kidney problems because of its potassium and antioxidants which flushes and cleans the kidneys and urinary tract.
Healthy Prostate Glands
The prostate gland consists of a huge amount of zinc in its soft tissues. Consuming coconut milk ensures that the body’s zinc levels are maintained for healthy prostate glands which prevent prostate cancer.
Coconut milk contains many nutrients that are antioxidant compounds, such as vitamins C and E, which protect cells and exterminate harmful free radicals that cause aging and damage to body cells and tissues. Antioxidants can even heal previous damage by rebuilding the cells and delaying their aging.
Anti-Stress Plus Better Sex And Sleep
The magnesium in coconut milk is abundant enough to calm nerve cells and relax muscles hence reducing mental and physical stress. In addition, niacin creates sex hormones and regulates stress levels while assisting with circulation. Together, their effects aid in better overall sleep.
Coconut milk relieves sore throats and treats mouth ulcers due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacteria properties.
Ingesting coconut milk fortifies and conditions the skin as its components hydrate the skin and repair wrinkles and sagging skin. Lauric acid in coconut milk reduces NF-kB activation thus preventing acne.
Coconut milk can also be used externally as a cleanser to prevent breakouts as it has anti-bacterial properties and does not clog pores with its oils and fats while successfully removing dirt and excess sebum in pores. At the same time, coconut milk also removes dead skin cells. Its exfoliating and moisturizing properties result in soft supple and radiant skin that is healthy and glowing.
One can also apply coconut milk topically to treat irritated and dry skin conditions such as rashes, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis, as it restores moisture to dry skin and removes bacteria on irritated skin with its antiseptic properties. Using coconut milk as a face mask reduces skin aging due to its vitamin C component which maintains elasticity and flexibility of the skin and its copper component which prevents age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin, thereby improving skin health and appearance.
Bathing in coconut milk or applying a thin layer of coconut milk on the body heals sunburns with its cooling anti-inflammatory properties. The vitamin E in coconut milk nourishes the skin whether ingested or applied.
Ingesting coconut milk fortifies and conditions the hair with its high nutrients content. The fatty acids are an antiseptic to treat dandruff. Together with vitamin E, these fats moisturize and also nourish the hair to boost follicles to promote hair growth and reduce hair loss.
Application of coconut milk restores dry damaged brittle hair as well as split ends to result in soft smooth shiny hair. Its moisturizing properties also treats dry itchy and irritated scalp conditions when used externally.
Washing hair with coconut milk or using it as a conditioner adds volume to hair and reduces grease thus resulting in long thick shiny tresses. Coconut milk can also detangle hair as a leave-in conditioner and does not need to be washed off.
Coconut milk is the most identical product to breast milk. With all its nutrients, coconut milk can be used as a general health tonic to improve overall health.