The first glance at coconut milk’s nutrition label may make you want to avoid it altogether, but look again. Coconut milk is high in calories, as well as saturated fat, but the health benefits of using it in moderation may offset the associated risks.
What is Coconut Milk?As the name suggests, coconut milk comes from the seeds of the coconut tree, also known as coconuts. Three types of liquid are extracted from coconuts: coconut water, coconut cream and coconut milk. Coconut water is the liquid found in the center of a ripe coconut. Coconut cream is made by squeezing the liquid from grated coconut meat. Coconut milk is made from soaking the squeezed coconut meat in water and then squeezing it again. Each has its own fat content and calorie count, with coconut cream having the highest, coconut water the lowest, and coconut milk somewhere in between.
How is Coconut Milk Used?Coconut milk is often used in making desserts and in many styles of Indian, Asian and Pacific Island cooking. Curry dishes often contain coconut milk. Either replacing the liquid in a cake mix or soaking a dry cake in coconut milk adds both moisture and rich flavor to the dessert.
Coconut milk is also used in for skin and hair care, such as conditioner, soap and bubble bath.
Is Coconut Milk Healthy?With calories in coconut milk being over 500 per cup, you might wonder how it could be healthy. The truth is that in addition to high amounts of saturated fat, coconut milk contains protein and carbohydrates, as well as significant amounts of calcium and magnesium. Other nutrients found in coconut milk include vitamins C, E, and B1, niacin, folate, potassium, phosphorus, pantothenic acid, sodium, selenium and iron.
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In spite of its sweet taste, which comes from its sugar content, coconut milk is relatively low in carbohydrates. In addition, the carbohydrate count includes the added bonus of fiber.
Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth, and magnesium can lower blood pressure and reduce the possibility of a heart attack. Coconut milk also contains lauric acid, not to be confused with lactic acid found in cow’s milk, which aids in brain and bone growth, as well as artery blockage prevention.
Coconut milk has a positive effect on digestion and has been used to treat ulcers and acid reflux. The high iron content has made it useful in the treatment of anemia. Coconut milk contains several antioxidants as well, so yes, in small amounts, maybe as little as a teaspoon, coconut milk is healthy.
Coconut Milk and FatHowever, coconut milk has a high fat content, and most of that fat is saturated. Saturated fat has been linked to heart disease and other health issues.
Most saturated fat comes from animal sources and that may be the difference. Unlike animal fat, the human body metabolizes coconut milk quickly, so that the saturated fat it contains usually isn’t in the body long enough to be stored. In addition, coconut milk also contains heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
For someone consuming coconut milk in moderation, and otherwise maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the fat in coconut milk should not be a major concern.