There are many health benefits of coconut milk, but before we dive into it, let’s start with the history and hows it’s made. Coconuts have been a staple in subtropic cuisines around the world since ancient times. It’s made from the flesh of mature coconuts, and has a thick, creamy texture. Whereas coconut water comes directly from inside coconuts, coconut milk is made by mixing about 1 part coconut flesh with 1 part water. You may have heard about the benefits of coconut oil. All the nourishing and medicinal nutritional properties in coconut oil are also present in coconut milk. In fact, every cup of coconut milk contains about ¼ cup of coconut oil, which is quite a bit!
Coconut milk has gained recent popularity as a dairy alternative, but there’s been some controversy on the health impact of coconut milk because of its high fat content. In this article, we’ll look at the evidence from medical research on the real effects of coconut milk and list the health benefits this traditional food can provide.
Many people with high cholesterol are advised against consuming coconut products like coconut milk, because of their high fat content. However, research has revealed that the type of fat in coconut milk actually has a cholesterol-lowering effect. Coconut milk raises levels of HDL cholesterol, which is the “good” type responsible for keeping the bad cholesterol in check. It’s been proven in a study on 60 healthy participants to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels within just 8 weeks . This is more than what can be said about animal-sourced milk, which is a direct source of cholesterol. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, you might consider replacing regular milk with coconut milk.
Besides lowering cholesterol, coconut milk also offers other benefits for your heart. It helps lower blood pressure and keep your blood vessels soft. It prevents the buildup of calcified plaque linked to atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attack. As a good source of iron, coconut milk can help prevent iron deficiency. Since iron helps build your blood, iron deficiency causes your blood to work harder to pump blood around your body. Over time, this can cause heart arrythmias.
Fat is burned when the mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses inside each cell, metabolize fat for energy. The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut milk are easily absorbed into the mitochondria of cells and burned as fuel. This not only can increase energy expenditure, but also improve your energy levels whether you’re exercising or just performing daily tasks. By restoring levels of electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, it can prevent muscle cramping and fatigue when you exercise. These nutrients also help in the process of muscle building during exercise recovery.
Just like the MCT fatty acids in coconut milk fuel your cells during physical performance, they also fuel brain cells for mental performance and stamina. MCTs increase the body’s output of ketone bodies, which are an energy source for the brain. When your brain is running low on glucose, this is its go-to energy source. By giving your brain this energy, it can reap the benefits of using both glucose and ketone bodies for energy. This could speed up communication in the brain, enhance memory function and provide sustained focus .
Your body relies on a healthy digestive tract to assimilate nutrients in an effective and timely manner. This isn’t possible when there’s damage to the mucosal lining of your digestive tract. Whereas a healthy mucus lining absorbs nutrients and keeps bacteria and toxins from leaking into the bloodstream, a poor mucus lining causes all sorts of digestive ailments. A thinned or porous gut lining (leaky gut) has been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, heartburn, gastric ulcers and more.
While coconut milk may not directly heal leaky gut, it greatly aids in your effort. The caprylic, capric and lauric acids present in coconut milk’s fat kills off harmful bacteria and yeast that exacerbate leaky gut. In studies, it’s been shown to improve stomach ulcers, working as effectively as anti-ulcer drugs . The key cause of ulcers includes harmful bacteria, especially a strain known as h.pylori. Coconut milk has a significant impact in removing these through its antimicrobial effects.
The healthy fats in coconut milk are also helpful for absorbing fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, from food.
Your gallbladder is a storehouse for bile, which is a digestive fluid responsible for breaking down fats and assimilating their nutrients. High cholesterol levels and other health risks can cause you to have gallstones, which reduce your gallbladder’s production and supply of bile. Coconut milk is shown to help prevent and dissolve gallstones due to its capric acid and caprylic acid content. are primarily responsible for this action. This keeps your gallbladder, and your entire digestive system by extension, in good shape, and it can avert gallbladder removal.
The healthy fats in coconut milk can slow the release of glucose from food into the bloodstream, helping to control insulin levels. This makes coconut milk a great ingredient in desserts, smoothies and recipes like curries and soups. The MCTs and ketone bodies in coconut milk provide a source of energy for the body and brain other than glucose, which can help diabetics and anyone else who experiences sugar “highs” and crashes. It could also help prevent diabetes from developing neuropathy, by fueling the brain and nervous system without glucose.
Two of the beneficial compounds found in coconut milk, including lauric acid and palmitic acid, have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer-causing cells in the colon. Even if cancer is already present in the colon, lauric acid can cause apoptosis in cancer cells, or “programmed” cell death, to stop the growth of cancer .
With just one cup of coconut milk, you can get 87 percent of your daily manganese requirement. Manganese is an essential mineral that helps with bone formation, protein synthesis and other vital functions in the body. Manganese is often prescribed as a dietary supplement to help treat anemia, osteoarthritis, premenstrual syndrome and other conditions. Adding coconut milk to your diet can help prevent manganese deficiency, which is associated with metabolic diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome .
In addition to having an anti-inflammatory action, the antioxidants in coconut milk also neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that result from metabolic waste, sun exposure and environmental toxins like pollution. They build up in the body and cause damage to cells and DNA when they’re not kept in check by antioxidants. In animal studies, a coconut-enriched diet is shown to increase antioxidant status and reduce free radical damage .
Your body is able to synthesize its own antioxidants, too, but not without sufficient levels of manganese. By supplying you an excellent source of manganese, coconut milk supports the synthesis of superoxide dismutase, which is your body’s own defense molecule that neutralizes free radicals.
Coconut oil has been studied as a topical treatment for skin damage repair, and research shows it has an anti-inflammatory effect on conditions like psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis . The active medicinal compounds in coconut oil and coconut milk modulate pathways in the immune system and bring down inflammation in the body. Chronic, low-grade inflammation is a widespread condition that increases the risk for most major diseases. Coconut milk is a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet, especially when used to replace dairy products, which have an inflammatory effect.
You generally wouldn’t consider a liquid food like coconut milk to contain much fiber. Surprisingly, just one cup of coconut milk gives you 18 percent of your daily fiber requirement, or about 5 grams. Adequate fiber intake keeps your digestive tract flowing smoothly and improves the absorption of nutrients from food. It also keeps stools regular, preventing diarrhea and constipation.
What makes coconut fiber such a high-quality fiber, however, is that it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, and it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Good bacteria feed on coconut fibers and help break them down, causing their populations to rise and keep bad bacteria levels in check.
Plus, by providing a balance of both soluble and insoluble fiber, coconut milk helps prevent bowel problems. Soluble fiber mixes with water in the intestinal tract to add bulk and moisture to stool so that it can travel through the intestines faster and prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber is the “roughage” that cleans out your intestines as it travels through, picking up toxins and waste along the way. When soluble and insoluble fiber levels become imbalanced, the result is typically constipation or diarrhea, as well as poor nutrient assimilation.
Coconut milk is a nutritional powerhouse with a high micronutrient content, plus antioxidants and medicinal compounds that help prevent diseases. Coconut milk is a great source of minerals, such as manganese, zinc and selenium. It also contains vitamins A, E, C, K and B vitamins. If you believe that food should be your medicine, then be sure to add coconut milk to your diet. It will help you get essential nutrients without the need for synthetic supplements. It adds a rich, creamy texture to recipes, which can rarely be said about foods that are as healthy as coconut milk.