Tropical countries all around the world frequently use coconut milk, or santan as its more popularly known in Malaysia, in everything from a key ingredient in Asian recipes to a natural, organic preventer of diseases. It’s used in both food and drinks alike, and a must-have component in local favourite desserts like the ABC and cendols.
With its velvety surface and naturally mild sweetness, coconut milk is frequently viewed as a “wonder fluid” since its unique taste and nourishment offered has an extraordinary capacity to heighten the volume of flavour in different kinds of food while increasing the body’s immune defences and counteract infection. Today, coconut milk, alongside coconut oil and coconut water, are among the world’s most sought after health products.
Its unique fatty acids may aid in weight loss, boosts the immune system, reduce heart ailments and improve skin and hair
What exactly is coconut milk, and how is it made?
Coconut milk isn’t really “milk” by any ordinary means — it’s a fluid found within matured coconuts, stored inside coconut “meat.” When you air out a crisp coconut, the milky white substance that oozes out is regular coconut water, however when you mix coconut meat and later strain it, the outcome in a thicker coconut “milk.”
As a coconut develops, a greater amount of the water inside is supplanted with coconut meat, so matured coconuts tend to be better producers of coconut milk, while younger coconuts (around 5-7 months) are the best makers of coconut water. Coconut water is higher in sugar and certain electrolytes, while coconut milk is higher in healthy saturated fats (from coconut oil) and calories.
A quarter cup of coconut milk has:
- 138 calories
- 5 grams protein
- 2 grams sugar
- 14 grams fat
- 55 milligrams manganese (27 percent DV)
- 15 milligrams copper (8 percent DV)
- 60 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
- 22 milligrams magnesium (5.5 percent DV)
- 9 milligrams iron (5.5 percent DV)
- 157 milligrams potassium (4.5 percent DV)
What are the health benefits of coconut milk?
Coconut milk has also received a bad rap for its excessive content of saturated fat. On the flip-side, its unique fatty acids may also additionally aid weight loss, boosts the immune system, reduce heart ailments, and improve skin and hair health. Among its many health benefits are:
1. Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
Coconuts contain minerals important for circulation and controlling blood flow, coconut milk is also useful for lowering blood pressure and keeping blood vessels flexible, elastic and free from plaque buildup. For example, magnesium may help combat stress and muscle tension while aiding in circulation and keeping muscles relaxed, important for preventing heart attacks.
2. Reduces fat and builds muscle
After a session of exercise, muscles need plenty of nutrients — including electrolytes like magnesium and potassium that are found in coconut milk — to repair broken down tissue and grow back even stronger. Because of its high content of healthy fats, it also helps fill you up and prevent overeating or snacking throughout the day, which derail your efforts to improve your body composition.
3. Prevents fatigue and increases electrolytes
Although coconut water is a higher source of electrolytes, coconut milk also provides important minerals needed to maintain blood volume, regulate heart health, and prevent dehydration or diarrhoea. Especially in very hot weather, following exercise or after being sick, electrolytes help prevent exhaustion, heat strokes, heart problems, muscle aches or cramps, and low immunity. Coconut milk’s calories provide a quick and efficient source of healthy calories for the brain, which is primarily made up of fat and relies on a steady stream of it to function.
4. Helps in weight reduction
As a food high in MCTs, coconut milk is a very filling, fat-burning food. Fats provide the feeling of being full and satisfied and can help prevent overeating, snacking, food cravings and potentially weight gain. It’s also hydrating and helps the digestive organs, like the liver and kidneys, function properly, which helps metabolize fat and remove waste from the body.
5. Improves digestion and relieves constipation
A well-hydrated digestive tract is important for preventing or treating constipation. Coconut milk nourishes the digestive lining due to its electrolytes and healthy fats, improving gut health and preventing conditions like IBS.
6. Manages blood sugar and controls diabetes
The fat content of coconut milk can help slow the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream, better controlling insulin levels and preventing a “sugar high” or worse, conditions like diabetes. This is one reason why coconut milk is especially good to add to sweetened recipes, like desserts.
7. Helps prevent anemia
Although the iron content of coconut milk isn’t very high, it still provides a good source of plant-based iron that can contribute to a diet sufficient at preventing anemia.
8. Prevents joint inflammation and arthritis
Coconut milk’s MCTs can help lower inflammation, which is associated with painful conditions like arthritis and general joint or muscle aches and pains. Coconut milk in place of refined sugar especially is helpful for people with arthritis (or other autoimmune conditions) because sugar is a pro-inflammatory and linked to low immunity, worsened pain and swelling.
9. Prevents ulcers
Another benefit of coconut milk nutrition that may surprise you? Researchers found that it can help reduce the occurrence of ulcers even better than coconut water. When rats with ulcers were given coconut milk, they experienced a reduction in the size of ulcers of about 56 percent. The study found that coconut milk had protective effects on the ulcerated gastric mucus that can lead to painful ulcers.
Tips on buying the freshest coconut milk
It’s simple enough to make coconut milk yourself at home, but if you’d rather buy a premade kind, look for the purest coconut milk you can. The best kinds of coconut milk are organic and contain no added sugar or sweeteners, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and aren’t pasteurized (which can potentially destroy some of the nutrients).
Look for coconut milk (ideally organic) that’s been “cold pressured,” which indicates it’s only been lightly heated and processed to remove certain bacteria but hasn’t been exposed to high heat that can deplete vitamins and minerals. Skip any coconut milk (or water) that’s flavoured with juices, sweeteners, colours or other ingredients. You’re better off adding your own if you want to improve the flavour.
The primary ingredient should be 100 percent coconut milk and maybe coconut water. Some companies also add guar gum, which is a natural product used to stabilize the texture. Make sure the label indicates the milk is unsweetened to avoid a total sugar bomb.
One final note: If you buy canned coconut milk, avoid cans made with the chemical called BPA. BPA is found in some aluminium cans and has the potential to cause certain health problems when it leashes into foods (especially foods high in acid or fat, like coconut milk). Although the FDA still considers it safe, many nutrition experts disagree due to certain studies linking it to behavioural problems and other health concerns. (6) Look for an indication that the can is made without BPA and is “BPA free.”
How to make your own home-made coconut milk
Many people feel that canned or boxed coconut milk can’t compare to the home-made kind, or especially the kind you find freshly grated at your friendly neighbourhood mamak minimarket. Luckily, you can easily make your own coconut milk at home by purchasing fresh, young coconuts. Look for fresh, mature coconuts in the refrigerated section of health food stores, or better yet, using coconut meat that’s been removed from the shell already. Just make sure to find coconuts or coconut meat that’s still fresh and is either vacuum-sealed or opened within the past three to five days. The fresher the coconut is, the longer the coconut milk lasts.
Here’s how to make your own preservative-free, fresh santan, or coconut milk:
- Look for fresh coconuts and give them a good shake, making sure you can hear and feel some liquid moving around inside. That tells you they’re fresh.
- You need a sturdy cleaver (or a mini hatchet) to crack open a coconut, but you can also use any heavy knife or a hammer you may have at home.
- Bang the cleaver on the top of the coconut until you hear a crack. Then strain the coconut water out, and keep it for smoothies and other refreshing drinks. You’re left with 2-3 coconut pieces that have the white flesh/meat inside attached to the coarse, inedible shell. Remove the flesh either by cutting it out with a paring knife or continue to hit the back of the coconut until the meat falls off from the shell.
- Rinse the coconut meat well and chop it into small pieces. Then add your coconut meat to a blender or food processor along with about two cups of water (per one coconut).
- Blend it into a thick liquid, and then strain it using a strainer so you can separate the coconut pulp from the coconut milk. Squeeze the coconut pulp well with your hands to get the most coconut milk to strain out.
That’s it! Now you can starting using the coconut milk in your coffee, curries or cendols. Make the most out of your freshly grated coconut by keeping the meat for homemade coconut flour, or coconut scrubs to make dried coconut flakes, or feel free to add them to smoothies.