Coconut milk has become increasingly popular over the past few years, so much so its packaging has evolved from the can to the carton.
Now, yogurt, creamer, and even kefir are also readily available in the markets.
Even though the public's knowledge of the milk alternative has grown exponentially, there is still a lot of confusion when distinguishing it from its sister products like coconut water, juice, and cream.
Coconut milk is not coconut water.
Here's a simple way to remember the difference. Coconut water is straight from the fruit. It requires no processing; just crack open the coconut and insert your straw.
Coconut milk takes a bit more effort. This beverage is made from blending the meat with water, and extracting the liquid from that mixture.
Making coconut cream calls for the same process, except there is a higher ratio of meat to water.
There are also nutritional differences between the cream and milk. For example, the calorie and fat contents vary by type.
Generally canned coconut cream contains approximately 550 calories per cup, while milk packaged in a carton (& unsweetened) has 50 calories per cup.
This milk is also high in saturated fats, which has caused some alarm for researchers. Since we've introduced the saturated fats, let's dig into that topic.
Fat Science: Are All Saturated Fats Created Equal?
Simple answer: No
Nerd Talk: Saturated fats consist of triglycerides, each containing three fatty acid chains. These chains can be anywhere from 2-22 carbon atoms long.
Coconut milk contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which can be 6-10 carbon atoms long. These chains are metabolized more quickly than long chain fatty acids (12+ carbon atoms), that are found mostly in meat and dairy products.
LCFAs are more likely to end up fat deposits in the body.
In 2003, McGill University published a study in the International Journal of Obesity that proved that MCFAs significantly increase metabolic rate, but this fact does not necessarily lead to weight loss.
In a similar study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2008), 40 men and women participated in a 16 week weight loss program that showed those that consumed mostly MCFA oils loss 6.6lbs, while those that consumed LCFA oils lost only 3.3lbs.
Even though research has shown MCFAs positively affect metabolic rate and weight loss (in comparison to LCFAs), there is little proof that MCFAs are healthier for the heart.
In 2004, the American Journal of Nutrition published a study showing that people that consumed mostly MCFAs had 11% higher total cholesterol and 12% higher LDL ("bad cholesterol") levels than those that consumed sunflower oil, which is rich in unsaturated fat.
Happy Heart:The MCFAs found in this milk kills three major types of atherogenic organisms (bacteria that causes the formation of plaque in the arteries, which may lead to heart disease). Antibiotics STILL cannot do that.
Coconut Milk & Weight Loss
Researchers have concluded the addition of healthier fats may actually promote weight loss.
Consuming these "healthier fats" leads to eating considerably less, studies show.
The decrease in consumption is due to the fact that healthy fats make the body feel full, and actually satiates the brain receptors that control appetite.
Trick your body into losing weight!
Immune System Booster
Coconut milk contains lauric acid, an acid also found in breast milk. Lauric acid is converted to monolaurin in the body, which has been shown to fight the viruses and bacteria that cause such illnesses as herpes, influenza, & HIV.
Before you break out the blender or head to the store, there are some things you should know.
Those that suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) may want to avoid this milk. It is considered a FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-Saccharides and Polyols)
Treatment of both, IBS & IBD, involve avoiding FODMAPs; and even though coconut milk has very little sugar (fructose), it is still considered a FODMAP. Make the right decision for your body.