Between coconut water and coconut
oil, coconut is one superfood trend that won't give up. And another way to get
a taste of the tropics is with coconut milk, available both in a can and as a
ready-to-drink beverage (à la almond milk) in a box. Now that people are
whirling it into smoothies, pouring it into their coffees, and more, you might
wonder: Should I make it my first non-dairy milk choice?
I hate to bust the buzz, but coconut
milk isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “I wouldn’t consider coconut milk a health
food,” says plant-based dietitian Julieanna
Hever, RD, author of The Vegiterranean Diet. “When
compared to soy or almond milk, coconut isn’t as healthy."
But there are two ways to
incorporate coconut milk into your diet. The first is the ready-to-drink
coconut milk beverage, which is basically made with two ingredients: water and
coconut cream (plus some added thickeners, natural flavour, and vitamins). The second
is canned coconut milk. Made from coconut and water, it’s a thicker, more
fat-packed version usually used in cooking – think: for making curry, not for
Coconut milk nutrition
Here’s what’s in one cup of an unsweetened coconut milk beverage (specifically, Califia Farms Go Coconuts):
- Calories: 45
- Fat: 4 g (3.5 saturated)
- Protein: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 1 g
- Sugar: 1 g
- Calcium: 41 mg (4 percent of daily value*)
- Sodium: 180 mg
*Some coconut milk beverages are
fortified, and thus are a good source of the mineral. Read the nutrition facts
label to know where yours stands.
Next up: a cup of unsweetened canned coconut milk. The biggest
difference is that, as a richer source of fat, it contains three times the
calories as the beverage.
- Calories: 149
- Fat: 12 g (10 g saturated)
- Protein: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 3 g
- Sugar: 1 g
- Calcium: 0 g
- Sodium: 15 mg
Compare that to what’s in each cup
of two percent dairy milk:
- Calories: 123
- Fat: 4 g
- Protein: 8 g
- Carbohydrates: 11.8 g
- Sugar: 12.4 g
- Calcium: 295 g (29% of daily value)
Benefits of coconut milk
One (potentially) good thing about
coconut milk: It’s higher in fat than other non-dairy milks and contains just
one carb. If you’re doing a super low-cab, high-fat diet like keto, you may
want to incorporate coconut milk in order to meet your fat needs. And, of
course, it's a non-dairy alternative for anyone who is can't drink cow's milk.
You might also argue that a coconut
milk beverage doesn’t contain that many calories (about 50 per cup). However,
“calories aren’t everything. They don’t tell the whole picture. It’s the
content of those calories that matter,” says Hever.
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Good For You
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Is Coconut Water
Good For You?
That’s where we get to the real
issue: Coconut milk is high in saturated fat. The coconut milk beverage
contains 4g of saturated fat. (Canned coconut milk has 12g of
saturated fat per cup.) That means nearly all of the fat in coconut milk is the
saturated type – and most of coconut milk’s calories come from saturated fat.
But…wait. You may have heard that
coconut milk’s saturated fat is a special, healthier type. Coconut is, in part,
made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are said to be readily
metabolised by the body for energy. However, “the science isn’t there yet to
say that coconut is a good saturated fat. While it may be better than the type
in animal products, we’re not sure yet,” says Hever. What experts do know is
that excess saturated fat intake promotes cardiovascular disease, and the
recommendations still stand to limit the amount you eat – this hasn’t changed
just because coconut is trending.
The American Heart Association
recommends capping saturated fat intake to 5 to 6% of
your daily calories. Everyone’s body requires a different number of calories,
but for the sake of easy math, if you’re consuming 2 000 calories daily, that’s
13g of saturated fat as your limit. One cup of coconut milk beverage is
about one-third of that. If you’re also eating animal products, it’s easy to go
over the edge. Saturated fat even adds up on a strictly vegan diet, says Hever.
So it's important to be mindful, regardless of your eating habits.
article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.
Image credit: iStock