Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Coconut milk annotated
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Coconut milk is a popular ingredient in soups, drinks, and some health foods. It is different from coconut water or coconut cream. Coconut milk is created when the meat of the coconut is grated and pressed. The fatty cream that results is sometimes blended with water to create coconut milk. Usually, it is consumed in small amounts, just a tablespoon or two.

Like dairy milk, coconut milk can be higher in fat or lower in fat depending on how it is blended. Most of the fat in the liquid is saturated fat. A typical serving of coconut milk is not a good source of carbs, protein, or any micronutrients.

Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts

One 1 tablespoon (15g) of coconut milk provides 29.6 calories, 0.3g of protein, 0.4g of carbohydrates, and 3.2g of fat. Coconut milk is not a good source of any micronutrients. This nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 30
  • Fat: 3.2g
  • Sodium: 2mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0.3g
  • Manganese: 0.12mg
  • Copper: 0.03mg
  • Iron: 0.5mg
  • Magnesium: 6.9mg

Carbs

Traditional coconut milk contains less than one gram of carbohydrate per one-tablespoon serving. There is one reported estimate of the glycemic index of coconut milk, with researchers suggesting that it is about 31, making it a low glycemic food. The glycemic load is likely to be zero since it is (usually) consumed in such small amounts.

Fats

Most of the calories in coconut milk come from fat, primarily saturated fat. You'll consume about 3.2 grams of total fat per tablespoon. About 2.8 grams is saturated fat, and there is also a minimal amount of healthier monounsaturated fat in coconut milk.

Protein

Coconut milk provides very little protein. A one-tablespoon serving provides about 0.3 grams.

Vitamins and Minerals

Because you are not likely to consume very much coconut milk in a single serving, you won't gain any significant vitamins and minerals. There is a small amount of manganese (5% of the daily value), copper (3.3% of the daily value), iron (2.7% of the daily value), and magnesium (1.6% of the daily value) in one tablespoon of coconut milk.

Calories

For the serving size, coconut milk is relatively high in calories. A tablespoon provides about 30 calories.

Summary

Coconut milk is relatively high in fat and calories, given its small serving size. It is not a good source of carbohydrates or protein and does not provide any significant vitamins or minerals (unless you consume several servings).

Health Benefits 

When consumed in typical amounts, coconut milk is not likely to provide significant nutrition. However, there is limited evidence of some health benefits.

May Improve Cholesterol Levels

Coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut oil contain high levels of lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid that may have positive effects on "good" HDL cholesterol. One study published in 2018 stated that lauric acid contributes to raising levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and "aids in reducing the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels in the bloodstream."

But a large review of research studies was not able to confirm these claims. Researchers found that coconut oil can raise total and "bad" LDL cholesterol more than plant-based oils but less than butter.

They went on to say that consuming certain coconut products did not seem to increase the chances of heart problems. But they also cautioned that their findings probably didn't apply to a typical Western diet because of our eating habits and lifestyle.

May Protect Cells from Damage

A study published in a 2020 issue of the International Journal of Food Science found that coconut milk provides phenolic compounds that help provide antioxidant protection against oxidative damage on lipids and inhibit oxidative damage of proteins and DNA.

May Improve Cognitive Function

There is some limited evidence that the fats in coconut milk may help to improve cognitive function. According to one study published in 2020, the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut are absorbed differently than other fats and have been associated with several health benefits, including improvements in cognitive function.

Specifically, they suggest that coconut could reduce the chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They say that coconut's antioxidant properties and high levels of MCFAs lead to ketone body formation, which can offset the early signs of the disease.

However, the researchers also note that large-scale studies and high-quality evidence are lacking to support this benefit. Also, the study reviewed research related to coconut and coconut fat, not coconut milk. Since coconut milk is consumed in small amounts, it is unknown if the milk can provide benefits.

Allergies

If you are allergic to other tree nuts, you may be allergic to coconut, according to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, & Immunology. However, the organization notes that coconut allergies are fairly rare.

Adverse Effects

Large health organizations like the USDA and the American Heart Association still recommend reducing saturated fat intake. Since coconut milk is very high in saturated fat, you may want to limit your intake of coconut milk.

Varieties

Coconut milk in cans is usually thick and creamy and is often used in recipes. Most brands of canned coconut milk are unsweetened. The product in the dairy aisle, to be used as an alternative to cow's milk, might be thinner and may have added sugars or other ingredients.

Coconut milk nutrition depends on the type that you buy (or make at home). Natural coconut milk has a higher fat content because it hasn't been blended with other ingredients. One cup of unsweetened coconut milk provides 445 calories, 48 grams of fat, and over 43 grams of saturated fat.

But you may not use an entire cup of this kind of coconut milk. If you use it like cream in your coffee and consume just a tablespoon, you'll only consume 30 calories and 3.2 grams of fat (as indicated on the label).

So what about the low-calorie coconut milk brands that you see in the grocery store? Those products are blended with water and other ingredients (like sugar) to make the beverage.

One cup of Silk Original Coconutmilk provides 70 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat. Pacific Organic Coconut Non-Dairy Beverage is lower in fat and calories with 60 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat per cup.

When It's Best

Coconut milk is available year-round. Most grocery stores carry coconut milk, but you'll find it in different sections of the market. You'll find some brands of coconut milk beverages in the dairy aisle next to almond milk, soy milk, and other milk alternatives. But you'll also find coconut milk in cans in the baking or canned fruit section.

Storage and Food Safety

Cartons of coconut milk should be stored in the refrigerator according to manufacturer instructions and used by the "best by" date that you see stamped on the package. You can store coconut milk in cans in the pantry. But once opened, the milk should be refrigerated and used within a few days of opening. Most manufacturers do not recommend freezing coconut milk.

How to Prepare

Coconut milk is commonly used in foods that are popular in Southeast Asia. It is often included in curry sauces; you may use it to flavor rice or seafood stews. Coconut milk is also a popular beverage and is often used in creamy drinks such as the pina colada. You might also choose to add coconut milk to your coffee instead of traditional cream or flavored creamers.

Recipes

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10 Sources
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