Coconut milk is the 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 the new superfood -- "heaven in a glass," as Biggest Loser fitness guru Jillian Michaels claims? Can it prevent everything from Alzheimer's to goiter?
Well . . .
In a coconut shell, the stuff doesn't quite live up to the hype (sorry, Jillian). But we do agree that the blend of coconut cream and water is 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 from inside young, green coconuts that was last year's new thing -- or the thick canned milk used in Thai curries.)
To our taste buds, such 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 Milk2% Reduced-Fat Cow's
Total Fat5 g5 g
Saturated Fat5 g3 g
Cholesterol0 mg20 mg
Sodium15 mg100 mg
Potassium90 mg366 mg
Sugars6 g12 g
Protein1 g8 g
*Varies by brand
But it's the saturated fat that will keep you from pouring coconut milk on everything. Saturated fat is the one with the bad rep for clogging arteries, boosting inflammation, even contributing to depression and brain aging. That's why RealAge experts Mehmet Oz, MD, and Michael Roizen, MD, and virtually every major health organization harp on about limiting sat fats in your diet.
That said, those who tout coconut milk's health benefits 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.
Dr. Mike 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.