Can Coconut Milk Increase Cholesterol?

Coconut milk is a commonly consumed nutrient-rich plant-based milk. It also contains a lot of fat, much of which is saturated. Saturated fat is considered to be bad for your health as it can increase your cholesterol and risk of heart disease. However, whether or not the saturated fat from coconut is bad for you is highly debated.

Coconut milk products sold in supermarkets can have substantial differences in nutrition. (Image: MAIKA 777/Moment Open/GettyImages)

Tip

Coconut milk has saturated fat, which has the potential to increase cholesterol. However, according to The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera L.) — Research and Development Perspectives, published online in February 2019, many "research results" suggest that coconut's fats are heart healthy.

Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts

Many supermarkets stock different types of coconut milk. Canned, long-life products tend to have larger amounts of coconut and may even resemble coconut cream. Beverages sold in cartons are likely to be more similar to skim milk in consistency but typically have low amounts (about 5 percent) of coconut milk.

  • 25 percent of the daily value (DV) for copper
  • 18 percent of the DV for iron
  • 11 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 33 percent of the DV for manganese
  • 8 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 5 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 5 percent of the DV for zinc

Coconut milk also contains small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent) of other nutrients like calcium, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and choline. You can obtain 2 grams of protein, 2.8 grams of carbohydrates and 21.3 grams of fat in every 100 grams of coconut milk. Most of this fat (18.9 grams) is saturated.

Sweetened, Fortified Coconut Milk

Many coconut milk products you'll find in the refrigerated section are fortified with nutrients like calcium and vitamins A, B12 and D. They also contain less fat. However, these products typically contain a lot of added sugar and tend to have very small amounts of coconut.

One hundred grams of a sweetened, fortified coconut milk beverage typically supply 2.1 grams of fat, 0.2 gram of protein, 2.9 grams of carbohydrates and 2.5 grams of sugar. Such coconut milk beverages have few of the same nutrients compared to natural coconut milk. Instead, they contain vitamins and minerals like:

  • 14 percent of the DV for calcium
  • 7 percent of the DV for vitamin A
  • 52 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin D

Given how different coconut milk products can be, you should be careful about the product you select. You're likely to get more of coconut milk's benefits if you opt for a natural, unsweetened product.

Drinking Coconut Milk

Drinking coconut milk is typically considered a healthy choice. However, whether or not coconut milk has benefits is based on the product you select. You'll obviously get limited nutritional benefits from a beverage that only contains 5 percent coconut. However, the main downside to most commercial coconut milk products are their added sugars.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends that no more than 10 percent of the calories in your diet come from added sugars. Fortunately, coconut is a naturally sweet fruit, which means that added sugars in these beverages may be fairly low.

Natural coconut milk, in contrast, has no added sugars and a variety of beneficial nutrients. However, it has a much higher fat content. Many people, besides those on low-carbohydrate diets, would find the high-fat content of coconut milk to be unhealthy.

Coconut Milk’s Fat Content

Most people following a standard 2,000-calorie diet should only consume 65 grams of fat each day. No more than 20 grams should come from saturated fat. This means that a third of your DV for fat could come from a single 100-gram serving of coconut milk. The high saturated fat content of coconut milk means that you've basically met your daily limit of this type of fat as well.

The American Heart Association recommends that people avoid saturated fats because they can increase your cholesterol, which can affect the health of your heart. Saturated fats are typically associated with animal fats like butter and lard but are present in many tropical vegetables too. These fats are usually considered to be equivalent, regardless of whether or not they come from plant-based sources.

However, according to The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera L.) — Research and Development Perspectives, a variety of studies disagree and find coconut's fat content to be neutral for your health, including a 2016 study in the European Journal of Nutrition that showed it didn't affect triglycerides, cholesterol or other cardiometabolic risk markers. In fact, consumption of coconut products is often shown to improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Coconut Milk and Saturated Fat

The reason why coconut's fat content causes so much dispute comes down to the type of saturated fats it contains. Coconut has a mixture of long-chain and short-chain saturated fatty acids, but most are medium-chain fatty acids. Unlike other saturated fats, medium-chain fatty acids can be beneficial for your heart, but studies on this are often contradictory.

A lot of the dispute regarding whether coconut can increase your cholesterol is based on dietary choices. Coconut is commonly consumed in a variety of forms around the world, and many of the people who eat this food have reduced risks of heart disease. However, these people don't consume a Western diet and generally avoid processed and refined foods.

Coconut Milk and Cholesterol

Because there is so much disagreement on whether the fats in coconut can increase your cholesterol, the best thing to do is consume coconut products in moderation. If you want to drink large amounts of coconut milk, you should make sure that the rest of your diet contains primarily polyunsaturated fats, which are good for your heart.

If you are concerned about coconut milk and cholesterol but still want to drink this beverage, you can always purchase fortified products that have lower amounts of coconut. While these are not nutritionally comparable to the more natural products, they are certainly lower in fat. Just make sure you only select unsweetened options.

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