Is Coconut Milk Really Good for You?

Dish of Coconut Milk with a Split Fresh Coconut

Medically reviewed in February 2020

Updated on November 22, 2022

Coconut milk is still the relative new kid in the dairy case these days, turning up as a vegan alternative to cow's milk, creamer, yogurt, ice cream, even "butter." But is it really a superfood? Can it prevent everything from Alzheimer's to goiter, as many proponents have claimed?

The answer is less than clear-cut. 

In a (coco)nut shell, the stuff doesn't quite live up to the hype. But certain coconut milk products can be a tasty alternative to moo juice. (Don't confuse the new-generation coconut milk products in the dairy case with coconut water—the clear liquid inside young, green coconuts—or the thick canned milk used in foods like Thai curries.)

To many aficionados, beverages as Silk Pure Coconut, Coconut Dream, or Soy Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage are more milk-like than watery almond milk, and they don't have the aftertaste of soy milk. Instead, they have a mild coconut flavor and a rich, smooth feel.

The only drawback is the saturated fat. A glass of coconut milk has about a third of your daily max. On the upside, depending on the brand, coconut milk can boast as much or more calcium and vitamin D as cow's milk. Here's how an 8-ounce cup of unsweetened coconut milk stacks up to 2 percent cow's milk:

Unsweetened Coconut Milk

  • Calories 80
  • Total Fat 5g
  • Saturated Fat 5 g
  • Cholesterol 0mg
  • Sodium 15mg
  • Potassium 90mg
  • Sugars 6g
  • Protein 1g
  • Calcium10 to 45%
  • Vitamin D 25 to 30%

2% Reduced-Fat Cow's
Milk

  • Calories 122
  • Total Fat 5g
  • Saturated Fat 3g
  • Cholesterol 20mg
  • Sodium 100mg
  • Potassium 366mg
  • Sugars 12g
  • Protein 8g
  • Calcium 29%*
  • Vitamin D 26%*

*Varies by brand

But it's the saturated fat that will keep you from pouring coconut milk on everything. Saturated fat is the type of fat with the bad rep for clogging arteries, boosting inflammation, and even contributing to depression and brain aging. Most health experts recommend limiting saturated fats in your diet as much as possible.

That said, those who tout coconut milk's health benefits often veer into fuzzy science when it comes to saturated fat content. They say coconut milk's fat is mostly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which, according to theory, are quickly used for energy and not stored to clog arteries.

Michael Roizen, MD, Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic and chair of its Wellness Institute, disagrees. "There's no data that MCFAs act on your genes differently than longer chain saturated fatty acids, and that's what ages you."

If you're avoiding cow's milk or you simply like the coconut taste, here's how to enjoy any of the coconut milk products: Watch the saturated-fat grams and don't go over 7 percent of your day's calories (less is even better). That's 16 grams of saturated fat if you eat about 2,000 calories a day.

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