Coconut milk, high in saturated fat and calories, can increase your low-density lipoprotein – “bad” cholesterol -- and expand your waistline. But some evidence suggests that coconut oil, the fat in coconut milk, may increase your “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Research about the possible heart-healthy benefits of coconut milk is limited and less than solid.
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Coconut Milk and Low-Fat Milk
Coconut milk, like all plant-based foods and beverages, contains no dietary cholesterol. But it contains 16 times the amount of saturated fat as low-fat milk and almost four times as many calories. One cup of coconut milk contains 42.7 g of saturated fat, compared to 1.8 g in 1 cup of 1 percent milk. Coconut milk contains 445 calories per 1 cup serving, and low-fat milk provides 118. Coconut milk contains 11 percent of the calcium found in low-fat milk – 41 mg compared to 349 mg. Coconut milk provides iron, niacin, phosphorus and potassium. Low-fat milk provides vitamins A and D.
One cup of coconut milk contains 2 1/2 times the amount of saturated fat you should consume in a day, according to the American Heart Association. The AHA recommends you limit saturated fat intake to 16 g of saturated fat daily. If you ate five quarter-pound hamburgers, you’d consume less saturated fat than if you added a cup of coconut milk to a smoothie. Other foods that contain less saturated fat than 1 cup of coconut milk include 28 oz. of beef sirloin, 14 oz. of pork chops and 1/4 cup of butter.
But not everyone who regularly consumes coconut milk experiences an increase in cholesterol. A.F. Feranil, a researcher at the University of San Carlos in the Phillippines, studied the health of 1,839 postmenopausal Filipino women. Coconut oil consumption – in coconut milk or other forms – correlated with improvements in heart-protective HDL cholesterol. Coconut oil did not significantly alter the women’s LDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels, according to the study published in the 2011 issue of “Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”
Feranil’s findings, though interesting, do not provide a compelling reason to add coconut milk to your diet. The study did not eliminate factors that could also explain the higher HDL levels, such as lower body weight or higher levels of exercise. The coconut oil in coconut milk, despite its high saturated fat content, is structurally different than the saturated fat found in animal products. Coconut oil is a medium-chain rather than long-chain fatty acid. But more research is needed to determine whether coconut milk makes a healthy or risky addition to your diet.