Is Coconut Milk Really That Bad For You?

Coconut milk isn’t necessarily bad for you at all. People who claim coconut milk is an unhealthy choice are under the mistaken impression that the type of fat prevalent in the coconut is an inherently “bad fat”. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The fat found in coconuts is over 50 percent composed of a type of fat known as lauric acid, a 12-carbon medium-chain saturated fat found primarily in mother’s milk. Because it is one of the demonized saturated fatty acids, many have assumed it is dangerous as it causes heart disease. However, Mary G. Enig, PhD, top fat researcher and author of the book Know Your Fats claims that this fat should be considered one of the essential fatty acids along with Omega 3 and 6.

Says Enig, “The body needs lauric acid to make antimicrobial monoglycerides used for fighting pathogenic viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Thus, lauric acid is a conditionally essential saturated fatty acid”. Enig goes on to state that lauric acid enhances the immune system and protects against viruses, yeasts, parasites and other pathogens in the gut.

But what about heart disease? Coconut oil fed to patients recovering from heart attacks in one study had greater improvement than those treated with no fat. Further, Polynesians whose diet has coconut oil making up 89 percent of their fat intake, had lower blood pressure than those whose intake of coconut oil only made up 7percent of their total fat intake. Sri Lankans, who will often eat as much as one coconut per day, had a heart disease rate of 0.001 percent in 1978. One wonders if the rate would be the same today given the continued influx of Western restaurants and food products in the developing world.

While conditionally essential lauric acid is produced in the mammary glands, the only place one can find it in the diet once weened from breast milk is coconut oil, palm kernel oil and to a lesser extent butter and bovine milk.

The adverse hype around coconut oil has all come from the food processing industry who would rather use cheap hydrogenated oils as a shortening than the more expensive but natural and healthy coconut oil. Unfortunately, delicious and nutritious coconut milk was dragged down in tandem, getting the label of “unhealthy” in the popular press and labeling potentially healthy traditional cuisines of Thailand and Sri Lanka with an undeserving bad rap.

But don’t take my word for it. According to Sally Fallon, “Research has shown that coconut oil, like butter, promotes normal brain development, is less likely to cause weight gain than polyunsaturated oils, contributes to strong bones and has anti-carcinogenic and antimicrobial effects.”

I use coconut milk in curries all the time, and you can bet I’m not buying the “lite” stuff. Full fat coconut milk contains more of the essential lauric acid and, as a bonus, it’s richer and creamier. You can also use it in smoothies, soups and sauces. I once pureed mango and coconut milk and gently heated it to make a sauce to lightly accent pan-seared halibut. Talk about a meal of healthy fats!

I always make sure that the coconut milk and coconut oil I’m using contain no additional ingredients and are certified organic. As good as coconut milk and oil are, over-processing and additives can still turn them into a food detrimental to your health.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.

Editor’s Review:

My wife and I make coconut oil and coconut butter every week or two, and we use it for our cooking and for a spread. If you live anywhere you can get a lot of coconuts, it’s fun and delicious. There’s no smell more inspiring than cooking with your own coconut oil.

How to make your own coconut oil: Using a rice maker, I make brown rice, coconut milk, a tablespoon of coconut cream and either tuna, salmon or chicken ~ and boy does my mouth water waiting for it to be ready to eat ~ the whole house smells delicious!! Add in whatever you like, sometimes a little curry or some red pepper flakes!! endless and I alone can eat off that all day long!!