Coconut milk is packed with minerals that contribute to energy production, support strong bones and connective tissue, and help synthesize vital antioxidants. It also contains energy-providing medium-chain triglycerides. If you use coconut milk powder, be sure to check the label on the products you buy. Powders generally have fewer calories and nutrients per serving, but nutritional values vary from one brand to the next.
Coconut Milk and Coconut Powder Basics
When you go shopping, don’t confuse coconut water with coconut milk. Coconut water is the fluid naturally found in the center of a fresh coconut. Compared to coconut milk, coconut water has less of most nutrients. Coconut milk is made from the nut’s white flesh, which is grated, soaked in water and strained to produce coconut milk.
To produce coconut powder, coconut milk is dried, then mixed with additives that prevent oils from separating. Some powders are also fortified with extra proteins and nutrients. While coconut powder retains the same minerals as coconut milk, the amount you’ll get depends on what nutrients were added, and the amount of powder you use. The only way to know is to check the label.
Strong Bones and Cartilage
One-half cup of coconut milk contains about 50 percent of the daily value for manganese, based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. It also has about 15 percent of the daily value of copper and 11 percent for magnesium. Manganese, copper and magnesium all work together to support bones and cartilage.
Manganese helps synthesize proteoglycans, which give cartilage the ability to absorb shock and withstand pressure. Copper is essential for producing two connective tissues -- collagen and elastin -- that build bones and cartilage, as well as skin and other tissues. About half of the magnesium in your body resides in your bones, where it promotes bone growth and density.
Specialized Antioxidant Protection
In addition to building bones, manganese is used to synthesize an antioxidant that protects mitochondria from highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Since mitochondria are responsible for producing energy, manganese ensures your overall health and vitality.
You’ll also get 10 percent of the daily value of selenium from 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Your body uses selenium to produce a group of enzymes called glutathione peroxidases, which work as specialized antioxidants. For example, one selenium-based enzyme protects developing sperm from free radicals.
Iron for Energy and Metabolism
Coconut milk can help boost your daily intake of iron, with 1/2 cup providing about 11 percent of the daily value. Your body depends on iron for healthy red blood cells and to deliver oxygen to muscles and cells. Iron-containing enzymes are important for energy production and DNA synthesis. Through its many roles, iron contributes to growth, healing and a strong immune system.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides vs. Calories
More than half of the total fat in coconut milk consists of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Even though MCTs are saturated fats, they're easily digested and used for energy, much like carbohydrates. MCTs show some promise for helping people lose weight, according to a January 2014 report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But the potential benefits of MCTs must be balanced against the fact that coconut milk is high in calories, and it still has fats that may boost cholesterol. If you drink 1/2 cup, you’ll get 276 calories and 29 grams of total fat.