Coconuts are among the most important nut crops in the tropics, and their dispersal throughout the world is intertwined with human history, so much so that patterns of genetic diversity in coconuts mirror maps of early trade routes. Coconut milk -- the liquid expelled from grated coconut meat -- can be used to make smoothies, soups, curries or stews. While it has some drawbacks compared to dairy milk, coconut also has several nutritional advantages and serves as a superior source of several essential nutrients.
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Coconut milk serves as a much richer source of niacin, also called vitamin B-3, than regular milk. It contains 1.8 milligrams per cup -- 13 percent of the recommended daily intake for women and 11 percent for men -- compared to just 0.23 milligrams found in a serving of dairy milk. Niacin, along with other B-complex vitamins -- helps you metabolize the nutrients in your food so that you're able to use them for energy. It also helps you produce sex hormones essential for reproductive health, as well as stress hormones.
Reach for coconut milk over regular milk, and you'll also consume more iron. Each 1-cup serving of coconut milk provides you with an impressive 3.9 milligrams of iron, which makes up almost half the recommended daily intake for men and 22 percent for women. Iron directly supports your metabolism by aiding in energy production. It also indirectly supports your cellular metabolism by helping transport essential oxygen to your tissues. Without this oxygen, your cells would not be able to perform the chemical reactions they need to make energy and support day-to-day functioning.
Coconut milk offers another nutritional advantage over regular milk because it provides more copper. The copper in your diet complements iron's function because it also aids in energy production. Copper keeps your immune system strong and helps you make collagen required for resilient connective tissues. Each serving of coconut milk boosts your copper intake by 638 micrograms -- 71 percent of the recommended daily intake -- while an equivalent serving of dairy milk offers just 24 micrograms.
Coconut milk has a few disadvantages compared to dairy milk. Most notably, it's much higher in calories and fat -- 1 cup of regular coconut milk has a whopping 552 calories and 57 grams of fat, compared to 102 calories and 2.4 grams of fat in dairy milk. Because most of the fat in coconut milk is harmful saturated fat, you should consume it in moderation. Coconut milk is also lower in calcium than regular milk. It offers just 38 milligrams per serving -- a tiny percentage of the 1,000 milligrams you need daily -- compared to 305 milligrams in dairy milk. As a result, coconut milk does not offer the same benefits for bones and teeth as dairy milk.