Coconut milk, a traditional cooking staple in Thailand, has recently gained popularity in the United States. It’s versatile and nutritious, making it a delicious cooking substitute for dairy. Coconut milk is becoming increasingly popular in the United States — and for good reason. It may improve cardiovascular health, help fight against infections, ease gastric ulcers and reduce anxiety. It also improves the probiotic effects of yogurt, and it’s lactose-free.
Are you doing enough to protect your heart? Studies have found coconut milk’s fatty acids can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Coconut milk also improves vascular wall health, reducing atherosclerosis risks. It’s also a great source of multiple electrolytes, which are necessary for proper cardiovascular function. All of this makes coconut milk an overall powerhouse for the heart. But it's not done yet!
Coconut milk has incredible antimicrobial properties. One study demonstrated its ability to wipe out Staphylococcus epidermidis and E. coli. More research needs to be done in this area, but coconut milk may have the power to help protect against multiple types of infections.
Coconut milk’s gastrointestinal benefits may extend well beyond its antimicrobial effects. According to research conducted on rats, it works comparably to the medication omeprazole in reducing and preventing gastric ulcers. Both coconut milk and the medication reduce levels of inflammatory cells like C-reactive proteins and neutrophils, as well as symptoms, but coconut milk and coconut water have fewer side effects than omeprazole. Before changing any medications, be sure to talk to a doctor but it may be worth the conversation if you want to try it out.
Coconut milk is a rich source of numerous vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and its effects may be powerful enough to impact mental health.
One study analyzing mouse behavior looked at the results of daily coconut milk consumption using three groups: a control group that didn’t receive any coconut milk, a group that received 0.4 milliliters (ml) of coconut milk and another group that received 0.6 ml of coconut milk each day. Mice that drank coconut milk showed far fewer anxious behaviors — and the ones that consumed 0.6 ml performed even better than the ones given 0.4 ml.
Research indicates that yogurt made with coconut milk in addition to cow’s milk may significantly increase its beneficial bacteria culture. This could be big for those suffering from gastrointestinal issues.
Two bacteria that are believed particularly beneficial to people are Lactobacillus acidophilus and strains of bifidobacteria, both of which are common in most probiotic supplements. These “beneficial” bacteria and yeasts improve gut and immune health by reducing the number of harmful microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. They also help synthesize important nutrients, metabolites and enzymes for other parts of the body, all of which are vital to good health.
Cow’s milk can be downright miserable for people who have trouble digesting lactose. According to Mayo Clinic, lactose intolerance causes gas, bloating, cramping, nausea and diarrhea within about 30 minutes of milk consumption. Coconut milk is lactose-free, so people who have trouble consuming cow’s milk can use it as a safe alternative. The only downside is, depending on the concentration you buy, it can be high in fat, so it's important to read labels and choose wisely.
Some people can become downright ill from consuming dairy, and for reasons that go beyond lactose intolerance. Other proteins in milk can also cause allergies, which often manifest as gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory issues. A1, a protein found in the milk of some exotic breeds of cows, could be especially dangerous.
And coconut milk is also a good option for vegans or those who simply choose not to consume dairy milk.
With its many benefits, coconut milk is a great dairy substitute that can work in most types of cooking. Look for labels saying unsweetened before adding it to savory dishes but there are unlimited ways to incorporate this healthy dairy-alternative into everyday foods. If you haven't tried it already, maybe it's time to do so.
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