© Nataliya Arzamasova | Dreamstime
With more people opting to reduce or quit their dairy intake, there’s been a growing number of options when it comes to milk alternatives. Soy was the most popular alternative for a number of years, but lately, almond, cashew, and other “milks’ have seen an increase in sales due a concern about soy’s possible link to breast cancer. Among those newer alternatives is a milk made from coconuts. But is coconut milk healthy?
First, let’s look at the facts. Coconut milk is made when the flesh of a coconut is soaked in hot water. The milk is then skimmed of fat and then strained. The more the straining process is repeated, the thinner and lower in fat the liquid becomes. According to the USDA, one cup of coconut milk (the lower-fat variety that’s normally found in or near the dairy aisle) contains 74 calories, 5 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of sugar. Depending on the brand or variety purchased, one cup of coconut milk can contain 0.5 grams of protein or less. Many brands are fortified with calcium and vitamins A, B, and D.
So, is coconut milk healthy? And how does it stack up against cow’s milk or other “alterna-milks?” Well, it depends on what your diet goals are. If you’re looking for a beverage that’s lower in calories, fat, and carbs, then coconut milk is a great alternative to whole milk. Coconut milk is also creamier and sweeter tasting that other milk alternatives, making it a preferred choice for pouring in coffee and on cereal. Full-fat coconut milk, which is mostly found in cans, is used often in cooking and baking because of its thicker consistency.
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Benefits of Coconut
Whole coconuts are well known for treating and preventing numerous medical conditions because of their significant source of lauric acid, a medium chain saturated fatty acid that has antiviral and antibacterial properties known for protecting the body against the flu, measles, hepatitis C, ulcers, gum disease, and throat infections.
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Protect against osteoporosis
- Relieve constipation and other digestive issues
- Reduce symptoms of pancreatitis
- Treat and prevent dehydration
When it comes to protein content, however, coconut milk doesn’t stack up to dairy or other milk alternatives. While cow and soy milk each contain 8 grams of protein per serving, coconut, almond, cashew rice, and flax milk contain very little, if any, protein. Most milk alternatives also lack in calcium and other minerals and vitamins, unless you choose a fortified variety.
Coconut milk is also higher in fat than most alternative milks, including soy, almond, and rice milks.
3 Tips When Choosing Coconut Milk
Before reaching for coconut milk, keep these three things in mind to make sure you’re getting all of its delicious health benefits:
- Read the ingredients. When shopping for coconut milk, look for varieties that are organic, fortified with calcium, and free of added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. And while pasteurized milks might be considered safer, they can also destroy some of the milk’s nutrients. Some manufacturers add natural thickeners, such as guar gum, to stabilize the milk’s texture, but other thickeners, such as carrageenan, have been linked to digestive issues, so read the label carefully.
- Shake it before you drink it. When drinking fortified coconut milk—or any milk alternative for that matter—don’t forget to shake it before you pour. The added calcium can settle at the bottom of the carton.
- Drink in moderation. If you’re drinking the lower-fat variety of coconut milk, it’s a bit easier to fit it into a healthy, balanced diet, but the higher-fat canned variety should be consumed in moderation because if its high saturated fat content. Save it for the occasional stir fry, curry or dessert.
Is Coconut Milk Healthy If I Make It at Home?
Making your own coconut milk at home is not only healthier for you because you can control what goes in it, but it’s also super simple.
To make your own coconut milk, blend four cups of hot (not boiling) water to a bag of shredded coconut and then strain over a bowl with cheesecloth or a nut milk bag by gently squeezing out the liquid. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to three months. Don’t forget to shake the container before serving. For step-by-step instructions on how to make your own coconut milk, click here.
- 1 high quality chocolate bar with the highest cocoa content you can find (approximately 3.5 ounces). For a lower sugar content, use unsweetened baking chocolate and add stevia or xylitol to suit your taste.
- 3 tablespoons organic coconut oil
- ¼ cups organic coconut milk at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon organic almond extract (vanilla works too!)
- Cocoa, shredded coconut, or finely chopped nuts for coatings
- Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave. Melt the coconut oil separately.
- Combine the chocolate and coconut.
- While the mixture is warm, mix in the coconut milk and almond extract.
- Freeze the mix for 2 to 4 hours, then let thaw for 5 minutes.
- Scoop out about a tablespoon of the mixture and form into a ball. You can use a melon baller, too.
- Pour your coating onto a plate and roll the ball until it is covered.
Adapted from Ancestral Chef