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Is Coconut Milk Good For You?

The impact of coconut milk and flaked coconut on cardiovascular disease risk

October 9, 2009 |
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Transcript

What about coconut milk, though, which is rich in MCFA’s. Harmful anyway? Harmless? Helpful?
Some may remember those studies from 2007 that showed that an egg McMuffin was McDeath on our arteries, olive oil didn’t do anything, and walnuts showed an immediate benefit? Well that experiment was repeated, but this time with coconut milk, and the arterial reaction to coconut milk was as bad as the McDonalds.
What about the whole food, though? Flaked coconut, which is just whole dried coconut. Research on defatted coconut flakes, shows a cholesterol lowering effect. That’s no surprise—all whole plant foods have fiber, and fiber lowers our cholesterol. But this was for coconut flakes with the fat taken out, which isn’t available commercially. What about just regular flaked coconut?
The fat part is bad, but the nonfat part of coconuts is good. Put them both together and does the fat win out, making it harmful, do they cancel each other out, or does the fiber win out making both flaked and whole coconuts helpful?
I’ll give you a hint: she, thinks flaked coconut’s just yummy.
And the answer is Harmless, based on studies of coconut eating Malaysians.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the prequel, "Is Coconut Oil Good For You?" Also, there are 1,449 other subjectscovered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog post, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the prequel, “Is Coconut Oil Good For You?” Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • aussiesimon

      Should olives be a regular part of my diet?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lisa21012/ Lisa21012

    I’m not sure how to apply some of the advise I’m learning from you to my athletic teens.
    Coconut water doesn’t have the fat so is that Ok? My children play rigorous sports practicing about 2 – 2.5 hours per day. In competition they may play 3 to 4 one hour games each day. The sport drink companies have made us believe that replenishing electrolytes is important. I guess they mean salts and minerals that are lost during activity. Do we need to replace “electrolytes”? Is coconut water a good healthy and natural source instead of a sports drink which is loaded with sugar?
    I’ve also heard chocolate milk is one of the best post game recovery drinks. I guess chocolate soy milk would be better than chocolate cow’s milk despite the added sugar. Is sugar bad if you are a young healthy, in-shape athlete? If you are playing multiple games in a day with little break time in between, many athletes need fuel and hydration but they can’t have anything heavy on their stomachs to prevent cramping. That’s why I believe chocolate milk has been recommended as satisfying that criteria.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      coconut water is amazing for you, coconut milk is NOT. They are 2 different substances

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/jennifer-c/ Jennifer C.

      These are great questions, Lisa. I will try to address each one at a time.
      First, you are right about coconut water. This is the clear juice in the cavity of the coconut. This differs from coconut milk, which is made from pressed coconut meat. Coconut water contains almost none of the saturated fat found in coconut milk.
      Now, here’s the scoop on electrolytes. It is true that we lose these minerals when we exercise, but this is not a concern since they are easily replaced when we eat our next meal. However, in activities lasting ninety minutes or more, replacing both electrolytes and fluids is crucial. In fact, in sports lasting longer than three hours, replenishing electrolytes can prevent dangerous conditions such as hyponatremia. So, although they are loaded with sugar, sports drinks can be a smart option during intense athletic events (such as competitions) when glucose, electrolyte, and fluid replacement is essential.
      Still, sports drinks are loaded with empty calories that provide little nutritional value. There are healthier alternatives, as you mentioned. Coconut water and soy milk are both great options. Coconut milk is almost 95% water and is loaded with electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, and therefore is a good natural alternative to a sports drink. As for recovery, chocolate soy milk has virtually the same ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein (see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/milk-protein-vs-soy-protein/ as chocolate cow’s milk, but unlike dairy, it is naturally cholesterol- and lactose-free, and low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of calcium, vitamin A, D, and B12, and loaded with antioxidants (see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/antioxidant-power-of-plant-foods-versus-animal-foods/, with none of the unhealthy hormones found in cow’s milk (http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/dairy-acne-2/).

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/becochic/ becochic

    Wow, what a bummer. And here I’ve been buying coconut milk, ice cream and creamer.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/becochic/ becochic

    Was the Nasi lemak used in the study with the coconut milk ONLY rice and coconut milk and no other fat added?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Looking at coconut meat itself, a 2x2x1/2 inch square of coconut meat has a whopping 14 grams of saturated fat. This is already 75% of the daily value of saturated fat intake (which is too high as is). Coconut milk is made of the concentrated coconut meat, so pressing and processing a high fat food will still create a high fat product. A much better alternative would be almond milk or hemp milk.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/good-great-bad-killer-fats/

    • barbarabrussels

      In general nasi lemak seems to be served with eggs, meat, fish. I think more proof is needed to show that coconut milk is bad for us. But, I don’t see any reason for me to consume it in the mean time, better safe than sorry. There are so many wonderful plant-based foods that taste wonderful and are good for us.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mike-quinoa/ Mike Quinoa

    Hi Dr. Greger,

    I just bought a 200g bag of unsweetened shredded coconut (which I love), but upon looking at the nurition label I noticed that a 100g serving (which is a pretty hefty serving) contains a whopping 65g of fat, 57g of which is saturated. This took me aback somewhat, but I really enjoy flaked coconut with my nuts and seeds mixture. What are the main differences health-effects-wise between plant and animal sat fats? Or more to the point can you overdose on plant sat fats?
    Thanks.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

    Saturated fat in plants and animals are all similar in that they have no “double” bonds but have different numbers of carbons ranging from 4 to 18. For all practical purposes you should avoid them as much as possible especially animal sources and processed plant oils like coconut and palm kernel oil. All oils have some saturated fat… yes even olive oil. Consuming whole plant sources as coconut flakes in the study mentioned in this video seems to be okay. The whole plant food comes with fiber, water(except for dried products, antioxidants among other substances. However the studies keep rolling in so keep tuned.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/vegetaliana/ vegetaliana

    What is the effect of the use of virgin coconut oil/milk on a wholefoods vegan diet?
    Granted all extracted oil is nutritionally inferior or even detrimental(heat/chemically extracted oils or those high in omega 6) to its intact plant form – making the notion that one should consume such foods in hopes of improving their health somewhat nonsensical- nonetheless the question remains if the mild use of virgin coconut milk/oil in a wholefoods vegan diet renders the ill effects of coconut’s saturated fat innocuous?
    In an Indian or Thai vegetable curry would the nutritionally loaded vegetables counteract the effects of coconut oil/milk, producing results akin to the whole coconut flake?
    Could this be the link in the often discrepant studies done on indigenous cultures using coconut; i.e. can those with diets primarily based on typical whole foods vegan fare withstand the use of coconut whereas those whose diets include a greater percentage of animal products cannot?
    Comments appreciated :)

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Coconut oil is essentially liquid fat, that being 91% saturated fat. Whole foods vegan diet means no processed foods, INCLUDING oil. If one includes oil in their diet they are no longer heart attack proof. Coconut milk is also another high fat food, and the same applies. It is best to avoid these foods. We should all try to keep our saturated fat intake to around 5 grams or less, and this fat would be coming from whole plant foods such as nuts and oats. In reference to the different fats in oils

      “All 3 fats were associated with a significant increase in new atherosclerosis lesions. Most importantly, the growth of these lesions did not stop when polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats were substituted for saturated fats. Only by decreasing all fat intake including the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats did the lesions stop growing.”

      http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/263/12/1646.abstract?sid=47d1d016-3c15-43f4-a013-0d10144ef8e3

      Check out Dr. Greger’s link on the “fats” in details.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/good-great-bad-killer-fats/

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/becochic/ becochic

    No one has cleared up for me why my breast milk is so high in saturated fat, yet saturated fat is apparently bad for humans.

    Is it good for babies and young children up to a certain age? If so, what age?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      This is merely an assumption, but perhaps since babies are born with 0 fat on their body, the saturated fat is a good tool to bulk up the fat reserves of the baby for insulation. This is why babies appear so chubby. This is of course just my guess.

    • DrDons

       I’m not aware of any studies on how long to breast feed infants. It seems reasonable to transition to a whole plant based diet and introduce new foods as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians… of course their recommendations to add dairy, meat and eggs should be ignored. A good guide, Nutrition in Kids, is available for free download on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) website. I wouldn’t be concerned about the saturated fat in human milk as it is the best available product. Of course nursing mothers need to be careful of their diet so as to minimize chemicals in their breast milk… see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/industrial-pollutants-in-vegans/.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/rickkartes/ rickkartes

    Your site is GREAT. Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D.in “The coconut oil miracle”, Johny Bowen, Ph.D. in “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and Dr Oz (uses coconut oil as his bread spread) all believe that coconut oil is extremely healthy. You believe coconut oil is bad because of its affect on cholesterol. Would you comment on this.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Don’t buy into the marketing BS of coconut oil. It is 91% saturated fat (butter is 68% saturated fat). The companies will then brag that their saturated fat is made up of mostly the least damaging kind. Indeed this is true, but 28% of the total saturated fat content in the coconut oil is the worst kind, so they give a half truth. Our body has no dietary need for saturated fat and an abundance of evidence supports the theory that saturated fat causes endothelium impairment leading to heart disease.

      This 2 year study looked at coronary artery lesions of the heart after consuming different types of fat. Polyunsaturated fat (omega 3 type of fat) Monounsaturated fat (75% of which makes up olive oil) and Saturated fat (the kind found in mostly animal products and coconut oil). They looked at angiograms a year apart after intervening with increasing one type of fat in each group. All 3 fats were associated with a significant increase in new atherosclerosis lesions. Most importantly, the growth of these lesions did not stop when polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats were substituted for saturated fats. Only by decreasing all fat intake including the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats did the lesions stop growing.
      http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/263/12/1646.abstract?sid=47d1d016-3c15-43f4-a013-0d10144ef8e3

      The burden of proof is upon the companies to provide scientific evidence that coconut oil is healthful.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/rickkartes/ rickkartes

        Thanks for the reply. I have to admit I am still on the fence on coconut oil. Bruce Fife, cn., n.d. makes a good argument for it being a very healthy food. Also the Pacific Islanders who ate more coconut based food than anyone, had almost no heart disease.

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

          Present some studies to prove its benefits. Doctors, like Atkins, can talk about certain food to make it sound great for you when its indeed quite harmful.

      • laken

        No offense but your information is highly wrong (my opinion) because back then during patheolic era humans lived off meats and animals and even hunted and killed many back then and they continued to live longer then we live now because of all this government bullshit about wheat, grains, and legumes etc..did the cave man ever have bread NOOO they didn’t they had unprossed food INCLUDING COCONUTS that they would just eat raw so tell me if the cavemen lived longer and healthier over the years and not have any chemicals or disease including cancer which humans today somehow created..plus humans were meant to live off fat not carbohydrates.

  • http://poxacuatl.wordpress.com/ Strix

    Yay! I’m glad fresh coconut meat is harmless :^)  I enjoy the water and the whole-food meat of coconuts.

    • Toxins

       Be weary Strix, it is extremely high in saturated fat. A 2″ x 2″ X 1/2″ thick piece of coconut meat has 16 grams of saturated fat and we should strive to keep saturated fat intake as low as possible.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/trans-fat-saturated-fat-and-cholesterol-tolerable-upper-intake-of-zero/

      • Liz

        Doesnt the body produce less saturated fat when it is ingested? So that if you are just eating coconuts every now and then, its irrelevant?

        • Toxins

          Eating coconuts every now and then is perfectly fine. Once every few weeks I am sure would not hurt as it is indeed a whole plant food. I cannot say the same for coconut oil. In regards to saturated fat though, any intake above 0 can increase our risk for heart disease so we should stay as close to 0 as possible. Although nuts and coconuts do have more significant quantities of saturated fat, these foods should not be the bulk of the diet, and if your saturated fat intake is 5% or less of your total caloric intake there is no need for concern. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/trans-fat-saturated-fat-and-cholesterol-tolerable-upper-intake-of-zero/

  • Jonathan Sandusky

    I was curious about something new I’ve seen called coconut butter.  It seems to be a whole food contain proteins, carbs, and fats…I didn’t check the fiber.  Also is coconut oil okay if you have low cholesterol?

  • Steve Sherlock

    I’ve been eating a raw vegan desert that has coconut cream in it. I asked the owner what coconut cream was and his reply “Coconut
    Cream is the meat from the Organic Mature Coconuts..we scoop the meat
    out and juice it..so its creamy…and its naturally rich. Coconut Oil
    is made from Coconut Cream!” What do you think Doc?

  • titi

    we use coconut in all our daily meals…coconut milk in our curries…do U think i should not add coconut milk in my food i have high cholestrerol. thank U.

  • Nathan Daniel Roeseler

    I don’t buy it.. Coconuts have had a bad rep for YEARS.. decades even.. BUT..
    ..only in areas where they are not a common thing.

    The fats in coconuts are GOOD fats, like the fat in fish.
    Coconuts are a staple food source in the areas they are produced for a reason. RAW coconut milk is nothing more than the coconut meat itself thrown in a blender with WATER and then squeezed.. coconut MEAT is good for.. water is good for you… tell me where the bad part is?

    • Nathan Daniel Roeseler

      A big one to show how OFF many scientists were… many simply compared it to a regular tree nut and simply attributed the health properties of tree nuts to coconuts without research… a coconut is more closely related to cherries and peaches than they are to a walnut/almond… hence why most who have nut allergies are NOT allergic to coconuts. Those with latex allergies are more likely to have a reaction with coconuts than those with nut allergies.

      Look at the REAL science behind a coconut.. they are an AMAZING food!

    • Toxins

      Coconut fat is actually very high in saturated fat, which is not the good kind of fat.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/saturated-fat/

      Coconut meat can be healthful as it is a whole plant food, but it should not contribute to the majority of the calories in ones diet.

      The reason that the milk may not be healthful is that it is an extremely concentrated source of saturated fat, and a cup of coconut milk has a whopping 57 grams of saturated fat.
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3113/2

      Whereas a 2″ X 2″ X 1/2″ piece of coconut meat contains 13 grams of saturated fat. Still quite high for the small amount, but not as dramatic as the cup of liquified coconut meat.
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3106/2

      • Nathan Daniel Roeseler

        There is more than one type of saturated fat..

        Animal saturated fat AND plant saturated fat
        and even still different types with those..

        Multiple studies on Pacific Island populations, who get 30-60% of their total caloric intact from fully saturated coconuts, have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease.

        Back in the 1930′s, a dentist named Dr. Weston Price traveled throughout the South Pacific, examining traditional diets and their effect on dental and overall health. He found that those eating diets high in coconut products were healthy and trim, despite the high fat concentration in their diet, and that heart disease was virtually non-existent.

        Similarly, in 1981, researchers studied populations of two Polynesian atolls. Coconut was the chief source of caloric energy in both groups. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demonstrated that both populations exhibited positive vascular health.

        Look up Lauric acid.. that is the saturated fat in coconut.. some consider it a wonder drug! Because of its unique chemical structure, coconut oil is more readily
        metabolized and used for energy in your body than other saturated fats.

        Coconut oil is about 2/3 medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These types of fatty acids produce a whole host of health benefits. Coconut oil is nature’s richest source of these healthy MCFAs.

        By contrast, most common vegetable or seed oils comprise long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides or LCTs.

        Many animal and human research studies have demonstrated that replacing
        LCFAs with MCFAs results in both decreased body weight and reduced fat
        deposition.

        Your body sends medium-chain fatty acids directly to your liver to use as energy. This makes coconut oil a powerful source of instant energy to your body, a function usually served in the diet by simple carbohydrates. But although coconut oil and simple carbohydrates share the ability to deliver quick energy to your body, they differ in one crucial respect. Coconut oil does not produce an insulin spike in your bloodstream.

        You read that correctly: coconut oil acts on your body like a carbohydrate, without any of the harmful insulin-related effects associated with long-term high carbohydrate consumption!

        Diabetics and those with pre-diabetes conditions benefit off a fast-acting energy source that doesn’t produce an insulin spike in your body. In fact, coconut oil added to the diets of diabetics and pre-diabetics has actually been shown to help stabilize weight gain, which can dramatically decrease your likelihood of getting adult onset type-2 diabetes.

        ….I could go on and on about this..
        again… look at the research done ON COCONUTS… don’t just see it has saturated fat and attribute all you read about every saturated fat!

        • Toxins

          Do you have any studies that actually show that coconut oil is healthful?

          Coconuts and coconut oil are 2 different substances, one of them is a whole plant food, the other one is pure fat.

          Coconuts do not only have medium chain saturated fatty acids, they have long chain as well. 30% of the fat is long chain. I have not seen conclusive evidence that medium chain saturated fatty acids are negligible.

          • SayBlade

            But when you talk about the oil do you mean refined or unrefined? There is much removed in the refining process.

          • Toxins

            It makes no difference, the barren nutritional value is still present, as is the saturated fat. Although an extreme example, the comparison is similar to organic cigarettes vs regular, really there is no difference, both can lead to poor health.

          • SayBlade

            But we are not talking huge gobs of it, are we? Just maybe a tablespoon a day? What about its antibacterial/antifungal properties? Is that not why is is used along with bentonite to fight yeast infection?

          • Toxins

            Antibacterial properties exist among many foods, including alcohol. The in vivo effects of coconut oil have not been proven to be antibacterial. A tablespoon contains 12 grams of saturated fat, which is quite a copious amount. I can see it being used occasionally but a daily tablespoon may not be wise.

  • cpgraettinger

    If the goal is whole food, one could make coconut milk from dehydrated coconut meat and water. It’s easily made by starting with a product called Creamed Coconut which is dehydrated coconut meat ground into a paste. Any thoughts?

  • Joel Adams

    Old topic I know, but I am a bit confused. I just checked my Coconut milk (the kind that you drink) and it says 5g of sat fat per cup. I checked my canned, full fat stuff (for cooking) and it’s 24g per cup. I know that’s a lot but usually that’s in a meal for 3-5 people, so spread out it’s not too much. Now I’m not cooking with caned coconut milk everyday, I was having coconut milk a lot in tea, smoothies, cereal etc but switched to soy milk for smoothies and and cereal and just use coconut milk for my tea. I also have a cup of dark chocolate coconut milk now and then (maybe every 2-3 days). Is this too much? Am I at risk? I make about 85-90% of the food I eat. I do use oil in my cooking, but not an excessive amount. Thanks!

  • Ella

    What about young coconut yougurt?
    I like to make my own coconut yougurt from the flesh of a young coconut and the coconut water. I hope it’s safe since it is a whole food …

  • Terri

    I suffer from severe depression and once I began incorporating coconut milk, which I make at home, fresh, every week, the benefits have been awesome……

  • SayBlade

    No talk of coconut oil in the video? What’s the difference between refined and unrefined besides flavour?