Although it's more common for people to have trouble losing weight than gaining weight, packing on pounds to maintain a healthy weight can be a struggle. Whether coconut milk can help with this will depend on the type of coconut milk you choose -- one kind is meant as a low-calorie beverage, which won't significantly help with weight gain -- and the other is quite high in calories to help you gain.
Calories in Coconut Milk
The number of calories in coconut milk can vary greatly, based on the type of you select. For example, the canned coconut milk is very high in calories, with 445 calories per cup, along with more than 48 grams of fat. The other type of coconut milk -- packaged in a carton and found in the dairy case as a dairy milk alternative -- is much lower in fat and calories. The sweetened version has about 74 calories and 5 grams of fat per cup, and the unsweetened has about 50 calories and the same amount of fat.
To gain a pound, you need to get an extra 3,500 calories beyond what you burn for your daily activities -- or an extra 250 to 500 calories daily to gain a pound a week. Because of its high calorie content, canned coconut milk could help with weight gain.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides and Weight Loss
Coconut-based products, such as coconut milk, are among the main sources of medium-chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fat. Some research has pointed to a potential weight-loss benefit from these fats. For example, a weight-loss diet that got most of its fat from medium-chain triglycerides was better for weight loss than a similar diet in which the fat came from olive oil, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008.
Medium-chain triglycerides may be better for weight loss than long-chain triglycerides, which can be either saturated or unsaturated fats. Diets high in medium-chain triglycerides resulted in greater overall fat loss as well as more reduction of abdominal fat than diets higher in long-chain triglycerides, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2015. This research doesn't prove that coconut milk cannot help with weight gain, however, as gaining weight is still a matter of consuming more calories than you actually use.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides and Health
Saturated fat is usually considered one of the worst types of fat to consume, along with trans fats, as both have been associated with an increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Recent research, however, shows that the type of saturated makes a difference in its potential health effects. Medium-chain triglycerides -- the main type of saturated fat in coconut -- have potential health benefits. While other types of saturated fat may increase heart disease risk, this may not be the case with medium-chain triglycerides. People who consume medium-chain triglycerides didn't experience any greater adverse effects on their blood sugar, cholesterol or blood pressure than those who got their fat mainly from olive oil, in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2008.
Including Coconut Milk in Your Diet
You can use a coconut milk beverage in place of dairy milk, although some people find that it is a bit too watery to be used in tea or coffee. The thicker type of canned coconut milk, which is more likely to be helpful for weight gain, is used mainly in cooking. You can add it to sweet or savory dishes to boost calories. For example, you can refrigerate a can of coconut milk and then whip the thick, creamy part to substitute for whipped cream, or you can use coconut milk to make Thai dishes such as curries or soups. Blend it into your favorite smoothie recipe to raise the number of calories or cook jasmine rice in a mix of coconut milk and water to make coconut rice. Pour 1/4 cup of canned coconut milk on your morning oatmeal for an extra 110 calories or add a tablespoon to your coffee, for 30 additional calories.
Other Foods for Weight Gain
It isn't a good idea to try to gain weight using sweets or junk foods, as these could increase your risk for some of the same health problems that being overweight does, including diabetes and heart disease. When trying to gain weight in a healthy way, it's best to eat a variety of nutritious foods that are higher in calories, such as nuts, avocado, olive oil, hummus, dried fruits and whole grains. Eating more often and replacing calorie-free beverages with those that provide both calories and nutrition, such as whole milk or smoothies, can also help with weight gain.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beverages, Coconut Milk, Sweetened, Fortified With Calcium, Vitamins A, B12, D2
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nuts, Coconut Milk, Canned (Liquid Expressed From Grated Meat and Water)
- FamilyDoctor.org: Healthy Ways to Gain Weight If You’re Underweight
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Weight-Loss Diet That Includes Consumption of Medium-Chain Triacylglycerol Oil Leads to a Greater Rate of Weight and Fat Mass Loss Than Does Olive Oil
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil Consumption as Part of a Weight Loss Diet Does Not Lead to an Adverse Metabolic Profile When Compared to Olive Oil
- American Council on Exercise: Which Milk Should You Choose?