Coconut milk is a liquid made from blending the white coconut flesh inside a coconut with water, and then straining it. It is not the same thing at all as coconut water which is the milky white substance that leaks out when you break open a coconut. Coconut milk has a rich creamy taste, due to its high oil content and can be used for sweet dishes and puddings as well as in curries and soups.Fresh coconut milk is not easily available (it goes sour very quickly) and coconut milk is usually bought in cans.
Coconut milk is highly nutritious and rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is lactose free so it can be used as a milk substitute for anyone with a lactose intolerance. It is a popular choice with vegans and makes a good base for milkshakes and smoothies, as well as being a good dairy alternative in baking.
Coconut milk is very high in calories – 100 grams of it contains 240 calories, which means it is not a good choice for anyone trying to lose weight. However, 50 percent of the fat in coconuts is lauric acid, which has antibacterial and antiviral qualities. Coconut milk is one of the best sources of this protective type of fatty acid which has been linked with improved cholesterol levels and heart health. However, because of coconut milk’s high content of saturated fat (which comes from the coconut oil), most health authorities do not recommend that we eat too much of it. Both the World Health Organisation and the NHS recommend against consuming it in significant amounts i.e. more than two cans a week.
In its favour, there is evidence that coconut milk can improve digestion and help constipation. Coconut milk nourishes the digestive lining due to its electrolytes and healthy fats, and has been shown to improve general gut health and prevent conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Coconuts have also been proven to help prevent ulcers. In a study, rats with ulcers were given coconut milk, and it was found that the size of their ulcers reduced by about 56%. Coconut milk can also lower inflammation which is associated with painful conditions like arthritis.
Some people are concerned about Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is a chemical that may leach from the lining of certain canned foods into the contents of the can. BPA leaches into canned foods that are acidic, salty or fatty and these include coconut milk. If you want to avoid BPA then you could consider making your own coconut milk – which is pretty easy to do. Shredded coconut or coconut flakes are easily available and then you can follow the instructions on the packet for combining it with water to make your own coconut milk.
“Light” coconut milks are strained to remove some of the fat, which creates a thinner, lower-calorie milk. This may be good option for those worried about the high fat content.
As with many things, coconut milk is good for us – in moderation. Making it yourself or buying a lower-fat version might be a good alternative for those who are still unsure about its risks versus its benefits.