The Health Benefits of Coconut Milk

Touted as one of the healthiest foods on earth, coconut milk enjoys huge popularity among dieters, gym buffs and nutrition enthusiasts worldwide. Despite its high fat content, it protects against heart disease and obesity. Plus, it's lactose-free and can be used as a substitute for cow's milk. A growing number of restaurants and cafe chains, including Starbucks, are now using it as a nondairy vegan alternative.

Swap dairy for coconut milk to get more nutrients in your diet and cut out lactose. (Image: alicjane/iStock/GettyImages)

Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts

This popular beverage is made from the flesh of mature coconuts and has a creamy texture. It's naturally sweet, boasts an intense flavor and packs a hefty nutritional punch. Along with coconut oil, it's one of the best dietary sources of MCTs or medium-chain triglycerides. One cup provides:

  • 445 calories
  • 4.6 grams of protein
  • 6.4 grams of carbs
  • 48.2 grams of fat
  • 8 percent of the DV of folate
  • 7 percent of the DV of niacin
  • 4 percent of the DV of vitamin C
  • 87 percent of the DV of manganese
  • 41 percent of the DV of iron
  • 26 percent of the DV of magnesium
  • 14 percent of the DV of potassium

Coconut milk's nutritional value varies from one brand to the next. Silk Unsweetened Coconut Milk, for instance, has only 40 calories, 4 grams of fat and 1 gram of carbs per cup. McCormick's Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk contains 120 calories, 12 grams of fat and 2 grams of carbs per cup. Many brands are now offering light versions with fewer calories and less fat.

The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk and coconut oil are highly prized for their health benefits. According to a 2018 review published in PLoS One, these fats may improve exercise performance and aid in weight loss by increasing fat oxidation and metabolism. MCTs can help you burn more calories throughout the day and balance the hormones that regulate appetite. They also prevent fat accumulation, making it easier to keep the pounds off.

Boosts Your Immune System

One of the most remarkable benefits of coconut milk lies in its ability to boost immune function. Lauric acid, a medium chain saturated fatty acid in the coconut fruit, exhibits antimicrobial and anticancer properties. A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology indicates that lauric acid inhibits the growth of Clostridium difficile, a drug-resistant bacterium.

This fatty acid may also protect against cancer. According to a 2017 study featured in Cell Death Discovery, lauric acid may induce cancer cell death and suppress tumor growth.

If you're getting sick often, add coconut milk to your diet. It might be exactly what you need to boost your natural defenses and keep your immune system strong. Drink this beverage anytime throughout the day, or add it to baked goods, smoothies, coconut milkshakes and homemade desserts.

Keeps Your Brain Sharp

Struggling with brain fog and poor mental focus? Want to boost your productivity and get more done in less time? Coconut milk might be the answer to your needs.

The MCTs in this healthful beverage fuel your brain and may improve cognition, according to a 2014 review published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. Its fatty acids increase the production of ketone bodies, which serve as an energy source for the brain. They may boost memory and mental performance, restore brain function and slow cognitive decline.

Promotes Cardiovascular Health

Coconut milk provides 48.2 grams of total fat and 42.7 grams of saturated fat per cup. Surprisingly, it doesn't affect blood lipids or heart health. A 2018 clinical trial published in The BMJ assessed the effects of olive oil, coconut oil and butter on blood cholesterol, body weight, fat distribution and cardiovascular risk factors. Both coconut oil and coconut milk are rich in saturated fat.

Researchers found that coconut oil and butter affect blood lipids differently than olive oil. Subjects who consumed coconut oil experienced a significant increase in good cholesterol. Butter, on the other hand, has been shown to raise bad cholesterol levels. These findings show that saturated fat affects your body in different ways, depending on its source.

A balanced diet that includes coconut milk might actually keep your heart healthy and protect against cardiovascular problems. Lauric acid, as one of its key nutrients, has been found to reduce oxidative stress and blood pressure in hypertensive rats. This fatty acid also boasts antioxidant properties and aids in weight loss, which further enhances its cardioprotective effects.

Fights Oxidative Stress

One cup of coconut milk boasts about 87 percent of the daily recommended intake of manganese. This mineral plays a key role in bone formation, growth and development, protein synthesis and more. As a dietary supplement, it's often prescribed for the treatment of anemia, osteoarthritis, premenstrual syndrome and other conditions.

According to the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, manganese is an essential component of MnSOD (Mn superoxide dismutase). This enzyme exhibits antioxidant properties and neutralizes oxidative stress in the mitochondria, protecting against metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and other metabolic disorders. Manganese may also lower your risk of diabetes and prevent its complications.

Fuels Your Workouts

Both coconut milk and coconut water are popular in the fitness community. These beverages provide large doses of potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and other electrolytes that support athletic performance and post-workout recovery. In fact, coconut water is often referred to as nature's Gatorade.

As the National Academy of Sports Medicine notes, electrolytes increase hydration levels in the body and fuel exercise performance. Athletes and gym goers lose these minerals through sweat, so they need them in larger amounts to perform optimally.

Potassium, one of the most abundant electrolytes in coconut milk, supports nerve and muscle function, regulates heart rate and promotes cardiovascular health. Magnesium regulates over 300 biochemical processes in your body. It plays a vital role in energy production and protein synthesis, regulates blood sugar levels, supports immune function and keeps your blood pressure stable. Calcium aids in bone growth and development.

How to Use Coconut Milk

These are just a few of the many benefits of coconut milk. This beverage can be an excellent substitute for dairy and makes a healthy addition to any diet. It's vegan and lactose-free, contains no allergens and boasts a high nutritional value.

Make sure you choose a brand with no added sugars and synthetic flavors. You can even prepare coconut milk at home using water and fresh coconut meat or shredded coconut. Mix these ingredients in a blender; strain the liquid, and then pour it into a jar. Add it to protein shakes, iced coffee drinks and other beverages that require cream, yogurt or milk.

This superfood goes well in desserts and cooked meals alike. Use it as a replacement for curry paste in meat and seafood dishes; add coconut milk to homemade ice cream and pancakes; mix it with oats to give your breakfast an exotic twist. Try your hand at delicious recipes like coconut rice custard, coconut milk eggnog, coconut cheesecake bars and coconut milk waffles.

Warning

If you suffer from heart disease, consult your doctor before incorporating coconut milk into your diet. Swapping saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats may help protect against cardiovascular problems and reduce cholesterol levels.

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