One of nature’s most amazing foods is coconut. It contains all of the ingredients needed to sustain life, including water, fat, protein and iron. One of our greatest uses for coconut is velvety smooth coconut milk. Combining that unique flavor and those healthful fats with water, coconut milk is a culinary acrobat that warms you up in savory entrées and makes you smile in cold sweet desserts.
The beauty of coconut milk is not only the creamy texture and delicious taste, but also the vast array of health benefits it offers. Each cup provides 5.5 grams of protein, 631 mg of potassium, and 4 mg of iron. But the real treasure is the unique medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that make up the majority of the fat content. Unlike other fats, MCTs don’t need to be broken down and can rapidly be used by the body as energy. Instead of being stored as fat, the calories contained in MCTs are efficiently converted into fuel for immediate use by organs and muscles.
Roughly half the MCTs in coconut milk are in the form of incredibly healthful lauric acid. When lauric acid is present in the body, some of it is converted to a monoglyceride, also called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can destroy harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Coconut milk has no trans-fats or cholesterol, and lauric acid has been shown to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels, promoting vascular health.
Vitamins C and E, as well as many B vitamins, are abundant in coconut milk, all of which supports the immune system and helps provide energy to the cells. It’s also rich in magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and iron. Magnesium is responsible for regulating the heart’s rhythm and supporting the function of nerve cells, while potassium maintains the tissues of the heart, kidneys, brain and muscles. Phosphorus keeps teeth and bones strong, and iron creates red blood cells and carries oxygen throughout your body.
It’s a gift of nature to find all of this in one food. Although coconut milk is made on a large scale and can be readily be found on grocery shelves, it’s fun and simple to make on a small scale in your own kitchen. Simply steep ground coconut meat (fresh or dried) in hot water and then strain, leaving the fibrous portion behind, while the creamy liquid captures the health-promoting MCTs, protein, potassium and iron. Just add to smoothies, curries or whatever else your culinary imagination inspires.