Coconut milk is a white, milky substance extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts. It can benefit health in several ways, such as by stimulating weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
As a result, coconut milk has gained popularity in the healthcare community and as an alternative to dairy milk.
In this article, we describe what coconut milk is, how manufacturers make it, and its health benefits.
How is coconut milk made?
Coconut milk is made from the white flesh inside the coconut.
Coconut water is the liquid inside a coconut, while coconut milk comes from the fruit’s white flesh.
Coconut milk can be thick or thin. When making thick milk, manufacturers grate the flesh of mature coconuts, then squeeze it through cheesecloth to extract the liquid. Thick milk retains more fat than thin milk.
Thin coconut milk comes from the squeezed coconut flesh left inside the cheesecloth. Manufacturers mix it with warm water then strain it through cheesecloth a second time. The resulting liquid is much thinner.
Health benefits of coconut milk
Research suggests that coconut milk has three main health benefits. Below, we describe the effects on weight loss, heart health, and the immune system.
1. Weight loss
Coconut milk contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is linked is weight loss. MCTs, stimulate energy through a process called thermogenesis, or heat production.
Some studies indicate that MCTs work to reduce body weight and waist size. They may also balance out unstable gut microbiota. A lack of stability may play a role in developing obesity.
A 2015 study in overweight men found that consuming MCTs at breakfast led to reduced food intake later in the day.
Findings of a 2018 study suggest that MCTs increase insulin sensitivity, and many researchers believe that this sensitivity promotes weight loss. Insulin is an essential hormone that breaks down glucose and controls blood sugar levels.
Research has linked diets rich in saturated fat with high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.
Some people may not consider coconut milk to be heart-healthy, because of its high fat content.
However, different sources of saturated fats may affect the body in different ways. Also, genetics play a role in how a person metabolizes saturated fats and the extent to which these fats impact health.
Scant research has investigated the effects of coconut milk on cholesterol levels. However, a substantial body of research has explored the effects of coconut oil.
One study found that coconut oil did not significantly increase levels of “bad cholesterol,” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, but that it did increase levels of “good cholesterol,” or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL).
It is important to note that the study period was short, only 4 weeks, and that the research was lacking in controls.
HDL cholesterol protects the heart and removes LDL cholesterol from the blood. It carries LDL cholesterol to the liver, which breaks it down, and the body eventually eliminates it.
While coconut oil may not raise levels of LDL cholesterol, coconut-based products are high in fat and calories. People should only consume them in moderation.
Keep in mind that coconut oil has substantially more fat per serving than coconut milk, which will have less dramatic effects on cholesterol levels.
Boosts immune system
Coconuts milk contains a lipid called lauric acid, and many lauric acids can support the immune system.
Some findings indicate that lauric acid has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
In a study of the antimicrobial effects of lauric acid from coconuts, the researchers isolated various bacterial strains and exposed them to lauric acid in Petri dishes.
Coconut milk contains lauric acid triggers apoptosis, cell death, in breast and endometrial cancer cells. The findings suggest that this acid inhibits cancer cell growth by stimulating certain receptor proteins that regulate the growth of cells.
Nutrition in coconut milk
Coconut milk from a can is suitable for cooking.
Coconut milk contains high levels of saturated fat, making it a very calorie-rich food.
The milk is also rich with vitamins and minerals, but the nutritional contents vary by product. Coconut milk drinks, for example, have a different nutritional profile from canned coconut milk.
The nutritional profile per cup of raw, canned coconut milk is:
- calories: 445
- water: 164.71 grams (g)
- protein: 4.57 g
- fat: 48.21 g
- carbohydrates: 6.35 g
- calcium: 41 milligrams (mg)
- potassium: 497 mg
- magnesium: 104 mg
- iron: 7.46 mg
- vitamin C: 2.30 mg
The nutritional profile per cup of sweetened coconut milk beverage is:
- calories: 74
- water: 226.97 g
- protein: 0.50 g
- fat: 4.99 g
- carbohydrates: 7.01 g
- calcium: 451 mg
- potassium: 46 mg