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Uncovering Coconut Milk Calories: The 7 Health Benefits and 3 Reasons for Caution

Coconut milk holds a special place in the heart of Southeast Asian cuisine. Khao Poon, Khao Soi, Red Curry, Rice Cakes, Nam Van, and many more delicious and loved recipes use it. It adds creamy richness and unique tropical flavor to countless dishes. But what about the calories, the fat, and its nutritional contents? Have you ever wondered about the calorie content in coconut milk and how it fits into your diet?

Types of Coconut Milk

Freshly Squeezed

In the heart of traditional kitchens, freshly squeezed coconut milk reigns supreme. The process involves grating the white flesh of a mature coconut and then squeezing it to extract the luscious liquid and straining it from the pulp. 

This method retains the pure, unprocessed essence of coconut and offers a rich, authentic taste but takes some work. It is thicker and more nutritionally packed and probably the least practiced in the states. 

Canned

For many cooks, canned coconut milk is just as rich and also a convenient and readily available option. The coconut milk is extracted the same way as fresh, but it is heat treated to make it shelf-stable to be stored and used another day. Just as thick as the freshly squeezed coconut milk and just as nutritionally packed. 

However, advancements in packaging have made it possible for traditional canned coconut milk to be offered in boxed forms. But, this new type of packaging may often be confused with the boxed coconut milk beverage.

Boxed Beverage

Hence the biggest difference is if you’re looking for a lower calorie, reduced fat version, and still have a plant-based milk alternative, then that would be the boxed beverage coconut milk. Boxed beverage coconut milk is diluted with more water to make it a thinner consistency. It provides a lighter version of coconut milk while retaining the distinct coconut flavor. Most brands have additional ingredients and are fortified with calcium.

Among these variations of coconut milk, canned coconut milk is the one commonly used in Southeast Asian recipes.

types of coconut milk calories

Coconut Milk Calories 

Many would argue that calories don’t matter and that it’s the quality and type consumed matter more. While that is true to a certain extent, the truth is that keeping an eye on how much you eat still matters. Consuming more calories than your body needs can lead to weight gain while eating fewer calories can help with weight loss. 

So, even though the quality of your food is important, the quantity you consume still plays a significant role in your overall health and weight management.  

The Fat Content

Additionally, in a one-cup portion of canned coconut milk, you’ll discover 57 grams of total fat, with 51 grams of that being saturated fat.

While the high saturated fat content in coconut milk has raised concerns, the saturated fat in coconut milk consists mainly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).  

Medium-Chain Triglycerides

Though our bodies require some saturated fat for various functions, excessive consumption can be a health concern. In general, a high intake of saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease as it can raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

The Carbohydrates and Fiber

Furthermore, 1 cup of canned coconut milk also contains about 13 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber, with a total net of 8 grams of carbs. Making it a carb-friendly option, however, it’s important to note it’s high in fat and calories and is not a calorie-free food.

Consuming excess amounts of coconut milk or calories in general can easily lead to a surplus of calories, which may result in weight gain and potential insulin resistance over time.

coconut milk calories

The Vitamins and Minerals

In addition, coconut milk is packed with various nutrients. They are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. These nutrients are vital for our overall health, aiding everything from blood formation to bone strength and immune function.

Iron

With 3.94 milligrams per cup, coconut milk is a noteworthy source of iron, an essential mineral crucial for the formation of hemoglobin in our blood. 

Magnesium

Offering about 89 milligrams per cup, magnesium in coconut milk supports over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It aids in muscle and nerve function, regulates blood sugar levels, and supports a healthy immune system. 

Phosphorus

At approximately 240 milligrams per cup, phosphorus contributes to the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth. Also involved in many of the body’s production of protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.

Potassium

This is a standout nutrient in coconut milk, with about 631 milligrams per cup. Potassium is key for maintaining a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. It also helps balance fluids in our body and ensures that our nerves and muscles function properly.

Zinc

Though present in smaller amounts (1.6 milligrams per cup), zinc is crucial for a healthy immune system, wound healing, and DNA synthesis. It also supports growth and development during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.

Vitamin B-Complex

Though also present in smaller amounts, plays crucial roles in energy metabolism and maintaining optimal health.

  • Thiamine (B1): Vital for converting nutrients into energy, it plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve signal transmission.
  •  Niacin (B3): This helps in the functioning of the skin and the nervous system, and in converting food to energy.
  •  Pantothenic Acid (B5): Essential for synthesizing and metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
  • Pyridoxine (B6): Important for brain development and keeping the nervous and immune systems healthy.
  •  Folate (B9): Crucial for cell division and the production of DNA. For pregnant women, adequate folate intake is essential for reducing the risk of birth defects.

The 7 Health Benefits of Coconut Milk

  • There’s been much debate about the saturated fats in coconut milk. The good news is that these fats are primarily medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats. MCTs are absorbed directly by the liver and can be used as a quick energy source (4).
  • Some studies suggest that MCTs may support heart health by reducing cholesterol levels, though moderation is key due to the high-calorie content. 
coconut milk calories health

2. Weight Management:

  • MCTs in coconut milk may also play a role in weight management. They’ve shown to increase satiety and boost metabolism, potentially aiding in weight loss. However, remember that coconut milk is calorie-dense, so portion control is essential.

3. Digestive Health:

  • Coconut milk can be a soothing choice for those with digestive issues. It’s lactose-free, making it a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant or have dairy sensitivities. The MCTs may also have mild anti-inflammatory effects, which can benefit gut health.

4. Immune Support:

  • Coconut milk contains lauric acid, a type of MCT known for its antimicrobial properties. Lauric acid can help fight harmful microorganisms, potentially boosting your immune system. This makes coconut milk a delicious way to support your body’s natural defenses (5).

5. Bone Health:

  • While coconut milk isn’t naturally high in calcium, it offers other minerals beneficial for bone health. Notably, it contains phosphorus, a mineral that plays a crucial role in bone formation and maintenance.
  • Along with magnesium, phosphorus helps in the formation of bone tissue and maintains bone density, making coconut milk a supportive, indirect player in maintaining strong bones.

6. Skin and Hair Benefits:

  • Coconut milk isn’t just good for what’s inside us; it’s also wonderful for our external well-being! Rich in fatty acids and vitamins, it can be a nourishing treat for your skin and hair. The high-fat content of coconut milk provides natural moisturizing properties, helping to keep skin hydrated and smooth. 
  • It can also be beneficial for hair, offering hydration and shine, and even promoting scalp health. Incorporating coconut milk into your beauty routine or diet can contribute to a radiant complexion and lustrous locks.

7. Coconut Milk for Calorie-Dense Nutrition

  • For those needing to gain weight or increase their calorie intake, coconut milk is a valuable addition to the diet. Its rich, creamy texture provides a substantial calorie boost.
  • This makes it ideal for nutritious, calorie-dense smoothies, soups, and curries. It’s not just calorie-rich but also packs essential nutrients, offering a wholesome way to meet higher energy needs.

3 Reasons to avoid or limit Coconut Milk

  1. Weight Management Considerations:
    • For those keeping an eye on their weight, it’s important to be mindful of coconut milk’s high calorie and fat content. While it can be a nutritious part of your diet, too much could contribute to weight gain. Moderation is key, especially if you’re following a calorie-controlled diet.
  2. Kidney Health and Potassium Levels:
    • Individuals with kidney issues, particularly those undergoing dialysis, should exercise caution with coconut milk due to its high potassium content. Potassium is a vital nutrient, but in cases of compromised kidney function, managing its intake is crucial as excessive levels can affect heart rhythm and overall health (3).
    • If you have kidney-related health concerns, it’s advisable to consult with your healthcare provider for guidance on potassium intake.
  3. Heart Health and Saturated Fat:
    • When it comes to heart health, the high saturated fat content in coconut milk often raises questions. Most of the fat in coconut milk is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats (2). 
    • Research shows that MCTs are more heart-friendly compared to other types of saturated fats (4). However, due to its rich fat content, it’s wise to enjoy coconut milk in moderation as part of a balanced diet. This approach ensures that you can reap its benefits without overdoing the saturated fats.

Portion Control Makes a Difference

When using coconut milk, how much you use matters a lot. For example, 2 tablespoons of coconut milk have around 60 calories, a much smaller amount compared to the 552 calories in a full cup.

Also, the same goes for potassium and fat: 2 tablespoons contain about 66 milligrams of potassium and 6 grams of fat, whereas a cup has much more, around 631 milligrams of potassium and 57 grams of fat. 

coconut milk calories

This shows how using a smaller amount, like a couple of tablespoons, can help you enjoy the flavor of coconut milk without adding too many calories, potassium, or fat to your diet. It’s a great way to balance taste and health!

Conclusion: The Simple Joy of Coconut Milk

This tasty ingredient from Southeast Asian cuisine is more than just a flavor enhancer. Whether it’s freshly squeezed, canned, or in a boxed beverage form, each type has its own charm.

Canned coconut milk is popular for its convenience and rich taste but remember, it’s high in calories and fat. The good news is that the fats, mainly MCTs, can be good for your health, helping with things like heart health and providing quick energy.

But, as with all things, balance is important. Using a little bit, like 2 tablespoons, can give you the coconut flavor without too many calories or fat. And for those watching their weight or needing to limit potassium for health reasons, this is especially important.

Coconut milk is not just tasty, it’s also full of nutrients like iron, magnesium, and potassium, which are great for your health, bones, and even your skin and hair.

In short, coconut milk is a wonderful part of Southeast Asian cooking that can be healthy, too. Just use it in moderation, and enjoy the creamy taste it adds to your food!

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