9 Coconut Milk Nutritional Benefits and Recipe
With its creamy texture and slight natural sweetness, coconut milk might taste like something that should be bad for you, yet it’s anything but. Coconut milk is often considered a “miracle liquid” since coconut milk nutrition offers great ability to build up the body’s immune defenses and prevent disease. Coconut milk, along with it’s relatives coconut oil and coconut water are among the world’s healthiest foods.
What exactly is coconut milk, and how is it made? Coconut milk isn’t actually “milk” at all (in the sense that you normally think of it) — it’s a liquid naturally found inside of mature coconuts, stored within coconut “meat.” When you crack open a fresh coconut, the milky white substance that leaks out is natural coconut water, but when you blend coconut meat and then strain it, the result in a thicker coconut “milk.”
Health Benefits of Coconut Milk
1. Improves Heart Health by Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Coconuts are one of the best sources of lauric acid — 50 percent of the fat in coconuts is lauric acid, which has antibacterial and antiviral activities. According to many studies, lauric acid is a protective type of fatty acid linked with improved cholesterol levels and heart health.
For example, when 60 healthy volunteers were given coconut milk porridge (CMP) for five days a week for eight weeks, researchers found that their low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels decreased while their “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels rose significantly. They concluded that “coconut fat in the form of coconut milk does not cause a detrimental effect on the lipid profile in the general population, and in fact is beneficial due to the decrease in LDL and rise in HDL cholesterol.”
Because coconuts contain minerals important for circulation and controlling blood flow, coconut milk is also useful for lowering blood pressure and keeping blood vessels flexible, elastic and free from plaque buildup. For example, magnesium may help combat stress and muscle tension while aiding in circulation and keeping muscles relaxed, important for preventing heart attacks.
2. Builds Muscle and Helps Lose Fat
Studies find that medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) fatty acids found in coconut milk increase energy expenditure and help enhance physical performance. Following exercise, muscles also need plenty of nutrients — including electrolytes like magnesium and potassium that are found in coconut milk — to repair broken down tissue and grow back even stronger.
Because coconut milk is high in healthy fats, it also helps fill you up and prevent overeating or snacking throughout the day, which derail your efforts to improve your body composition.
3. Provides Electrolytes and Prevents Fatigue
Although coconut water is a higher source of electrolytes, coconut milk also provides important minerals needed to maintain blood volume, regulate heart health, and prevent dehydration or diarrhea. Especially in very hot weather, following exercise or after being sick, electrolytes help prevent exhaustion, heat strokes, heart problems, muscle aches or cramps, and low immunity.
Coconut milk also contains the types of MCTs that are easily used by your brain for energy, without even needing to be processed through your digestive tract with bile acids like some other fats. Coconut milk’s calories provide a quick and efficient source of healthy calories for the brain, which is actually primarily made up of fat and relies on a steady stream of it to function.
4. Helps Lose Weight
According to a study done by the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University,
consumption of a diet rich in MCTs results in greater loss of fat (adipose tissue) compared with long-chain fatty acids, perhaps due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation observed with MCT intake. MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss.
As a food high in MCTs, coconut milk is a very filling, fat-burning food. Fats provide the feeling of being full and satisfied and can help prevent overeating, snacking, food cravings and potentially weight gain.
Of course, portion control is important considering the calorie count of coconut milk, but as a part of a healthy diet it provides necessary fatty acids in addition to other minerals that support weight loss and detoxification. Coconut milk is also hydrating and helps the digestive organs, like the liver and kidneys, function properly, which helps metabolize fat and remove waste from the body.
5. Improves Digestion and Relieves Constipation
A well-hydrated digestive tract is important for preventing or treating constipation. Coconut milk nourishes the digestive lining due to its electrolytes and healthy fats, improving gut health and preventing conditions like IBS.
6. Manages Blood Sugar and Controls Diabetes
The fat content of coconut milk can help slow the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream, better controlling insulin levels and preventing a “sugar high” or worse, conditions like diabetes. This is one reason why coconut milk is especially good to add to sweetened recipes, like desserts. Coconut milk’s MCTs are also a preferred source of energy for the body rather than sugar.
7. Helps Prevent Anemia
Although the iron content of coconut milk isn’t very high, it still provides a good source of plant-based iron that can contribute to a diet sufficient at preventing anemia.
8. Prevents Joint Inflammation and Arthritis
Coconut milk’s MCTs can help lower inflammation, which is associated with painful conditions like arthritis and general joint or muscle aches and pains. Coconut milk in place of refined sugar especially is helpful for people with arthritis (or other autoimmune conditions) because sugar is a pro-inflammatory and linked to low immunity, worsened pain and swelling.
9. Prevents Ulcers
Another benefit of coconut milk nutrition that may surprise you? Researchers found that coconut milk can help reduce the occurrence of ulcers even better than coconut water. When rats with ulcers were given coconut milk, they experienced a reduction in the size of ulcers of about 56 percent. The study found that coconut milk had protective effects on the ulcerated gastric mucus that can lead to painful ulcers.
How to Make Homemade Coconut Milk
Many people feel that canned or boxed coconut milk can’t compare to the homemade kind. Luckily, you can easily make your own coconut milk at home by purchasing fresh, young coconuts. Look for fresh, mature coconuts in the refrigerated section of health food stores, or try using coconut meat that’s been removed from the shell already. Just make sure to find coconuts or coconut meat that’s still fresh and is either vacuum-sealed or opened within the past three to five days. The fresher the coconut is, the longer the coconut milk lasts.
Here’s how to make your own fresh coconut milk that you can be sure is free from any artificial ingredients or preservatives:
1. First look for fresh coconuts and give them a good shake, making sure you can hear and feel some liquid moving around inside. That tells you they’re fresh.
2. You need a sturdy cleaver to crack open a coconut, but you can also use any heavy knife or a hammer you may have at home.
3. Bang the cleaver on the top of the coconut until you hear a crack. Then strain the coconut water out, and keep it for smoothies and other refreshing drinks. You’re left with two–three coconut pieces that have the white flesh/meat inside attached to the inedible shell. Remove the flesh either by cutting it out with a paring knife or continue to hit the back of the coconut until the meat falls off from the shell.
4. Rinse the coconut meat well, and chop it into small pieces. Then add your coconut meat to a blender or food processor along with about two cups of water.
5. Blend it into a thick liquid, and then strain it using a metal strainer or cheesecloth so you can separate the coconut pulp/meat from the coconut milk. Squeeze the coconut pulp well with your hands to get the most coconut milk to strain out.
That’s it! Now use the coconut milk in some of the ways below, while keeping the meat for homemade coconut flour, coconut scrubs, to make dried coconut flakes or to add to smoothies.
Some surprising things you can do with coconut milk? It can be added to omelettes to add creaminess without needing dairy milk or cheese, combined with nuts to make spicy “satay sauce,” whipped into coconut whipped cream, used to make coconut ice cream and many other ways too, such as adding it to homemade facial masks and hair conditioners.
Coconut Milk Coffee Creamer Recipe
Total Time: 2 minutes Serves: 4–8
1 can coconut milk
1–2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
Raw honey or vanilla stevia to taste
Sea salt to taste, optional
Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until well combined. Use in coffee as desired.
Are There Any Concerns with Drinking Coconut Milk ?
Coconuts are low-allergen foods, especially compared to dairy products, soy and nuts. This makes coconut milk a good choice for many people who can’t tolerate other types of milks or creamers. One thing to be mindful of with coconut milk is how much you consume, considering it has a high calorie and fat content. While the fat is definitely a healthy type, portion control is important, especially if you’re working toward reducing your weight.
Some of the minerals found in coconut milk could potentially interact with certain health conditions. For example, people with kidney disease need to be careful about how much potassium they obtain from foods. However, because coconut milk isn’t a very high source of potassium, it’s not much of a risk drinking it.