Perfect for dishes both savory and sweet, coconut is as delicious as it is healthy. In Stephanie Pedersen’s new book Coconut (Sterling Publishing, 2015), learn how this nutritional powerhouse offers myriad health benefits and can be used in a number of tasty recipes. This excerpt from“Coconut: The Everyday Powerhouse,” details the health benefits of coconut milk.
Coconut milk is a delicious, milky beverage that is created when mature coconut meat (either dried or not) is ground together with water and then allowed to sit for a bit to develop its flavor. Afterward, the solids are strained away. Coconut milk is an essential ingredient in Pacific Island and Southeast Asian cooking. In the Western world, coconut milk was relegated to a dessert ingredient until the last five or six years. Now, it’s commonly used as a dairy-free milk for people who need to remove dairy products from their diet, and for children who are on the autistic spectrum and who are thought to react to the casein in dairy milk.
Canned coconut milk is still the most popular option around. But there are other excellent options, including frozen coconut milk, coconut milk beverage boxes and cartons (these are typically thinned with water and treated with various emulsifiers, flavorings and stabilizers) and dried coconut milk that can be mixed with water. According to research presented at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, coconut milk accounts for 30 percent of coconut products sold worldwide.
Coconut Milk Recipes
Coconut Milk Nutrients
Nutrition profile per serving (1/4 cup)
Medium Chain Fatty Acids: Unlike long chain fatty acids, mcfas are easily and quickly metabolized into energy in the liver. It is believed that because mcfas are used more quickly by the body than other types of fatty acids, they are less likely to be stored as fat.
Lauric Acid: Antiviral and antibacterial, lauric acid destroys a wide variety of disease-causing organisms. It may also reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which lowers heart disease and risk of stroke.
Fiber: One serving of coconut milk provides 1.6 grams of fiber to help keep your digestive tract healthy.
Protein: Protein is considered a macronutrient, which means that your body needs it in large amounts every day to perform everything from nutrient transport to cell repair. Coconut milk provides just under 2 grams per serving.
Iron: The mineral iron is a part of all cells and does many things in our bodies such as delivering oxygen to our blood. One serving of coconut milk provides 1.875 mg of iron.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, the compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. A quarter-cup serving of coconut milk provides 2 percent of the daily requirement.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that also acts as an antioxidant, helping protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
Niacin: A serving of coconut milk provides 0.456 mg of vitamin B3, also known as niacin. Niacin helps reduce atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. For people who have already had a heart attack, niacin seems to lower the risk of a second one. It also helps lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis and type 1 diabetes.
Folate: Folate is a B vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. (In case you ever wondered, folate and folic acid are forms of the same b vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin.) The body needs folate to make DNA and other genetic material. Folate is also needed for the body’s cells to divide. A serving of coconut milk provides 8 percent of the daily requirement.
Selenium: You’ll get 3.72 mcg of selenium in each serving of coconut milk. This nutrient plays critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection.
Potassium: You’ll get 158 mg of potassium in one serving of coconut milk. This essential mineral is a major electrolyte found in the human body. In addition, it plays an important role in electrolyte regulation, nerve function, muscle control, and blood pressure.
Phosphorus: Phosphorus is responsible for creating some of the energy that you use every day. It also assists your body in synthesizing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and regulates the fluid levels in your body. You’ll get 60 mg with each serving of coconut milk.
Magnesium: One serving of coconut milk delivers about 25 mg of magnesium, a mineral responsible for many biochemical functions in the body, including regulating the heart’s rhythm and supporting the function of nerve cells.
Health Benefits of Coconut Milk
Revs Up Your Metabolism: Two small studies, one conducted in Italy with eight men, and one in Switzerland with 12 men, showed that individuals who ate meals that contained about 30 grams of medium chain fatty acids had a roughly 5 percent higher metabolic rate compared to those who ate long chain fatty acids. One cup of coconut milk has around 34 g of MFCAs.
Burns More Calories: Researchers from McGill University in Canada published the results of their MCFA study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999. Twelve women were fed meals enriched with either MFCAs from butter and coconut oil or LCFAs from beef fat. After fourteen days, the women who ate the MFCA-rich food were burning about 33 more calories per minute than the women who had eaten the LCFA meals.
Speeds Weight Loss: In a sixteen-week study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, researchers fed forty men and women meals that contained the same number of calories, but contained either long chain fatty acids or medium chain fatty acids, the type of fat found in coconut. Those who ate the MFCA-rich meals lost an average of 6.6 pounds, whereas those who ate the LCFA-laden meals lost 3.3 pounds.
Choosing, Using and Keeping Coconut Milk
Be careful to check the “use by” date, and look for any damage—dents, for example—in cans of coconut milk. Once opened, transfer the contents to a re-sealable container and refrigerate. Use the milk within a few days. The high oil content in coconut milk can make it turn rancid if it is not stored under proper conditions.
Caution: if you are concerned with bisphenol a (BPA)—a chemical used in the lining of certain canned foods—you may want to look for coconut milk in BPA-free cans or aseptic boxes. BPA can leach into foods that are acidic (such as tomato products) or fatty (such as coconut milk). BPA has been linked to cancer, asthma, diabetes, and impaired neurological development. It has also been shown to impact the body’s natural response to estrogen, leading to a wide variety of hormonal imbalances.
Coconut Milk in Recipes
In recipes where coconut milk is called for, I use canned regular coconut milk (not “lite”), and preferably without a stabilizer such as guar gum. (Of “lite” is all you can find, go ahead and use it.) Coconut milk in boxes and cartons has added water, thickeners, colorants, preservatives, emulsifiers, and other ingredients that aren’t good for you, and that can change the character of the recipe. There are a few recipes in the book, however, where it is fine to use coconut milk from a box or carton. (these are all clearly marked.)
Stephanie’s Favorite Way To Use Coconut Milk: I use coconut milk daily as a replacement for dairy milk. I can’t think of a way that i don’t use it!
Reprinted with permission from Coconut: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Superfood ©2015 by Stephanie Pedersen, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photograph by Bill Milne.