Coconut milk has a few misconceptions swirling around the evolutionary foodie-verse about it – both about what it actually is and about where it’s Paleo-friendly. Many think that coconut milk is the liquid in a fresh coconut (that’s actually coconut water), but the milk is a prepared beverage. Made by mixing shredded coconut and water, the mixture is simmered, strained, and squeezed to create the rich, creamy drink we call coconut milk.
Found in both cans and cartons, not all coconut milk is created equal. While a can of pure coconut milk sporting an ingredient list of coconut and water is pretty clean on where it falls on the Paleo spectrum, there are other health factors to consider. If it’s a can, BPA (Bisphenol-A), a component of the can’s metal lining, can potentially leach into the milk. BPA has been found to have estrogenic activity and has been linked to a role in a host of diseases, from diabetes to cancer. Look for brands that are BPA-free.
Additionally, many companies turn out milk with not-so-nice additives and ingredients. Some add in thickeners, gums, or carrageenan, which can cause digestive problems, especially for those with compromised gastrointestinal systems.
Coconut milk in cartons can fall even farther away from a clean ingredient list, prompting it to be called a “coconut beverage.” Many companies turning out coconut milk in cartons sweeten it, flavor it, and add thickeners – not the real deal when it comes to coconut milk.
To avoid any additives or ingredients that might cause issues, many Paleo advocates recommend making your own. Try using shredded dried coconut and mix it with water to create your own coconut milk.
What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?
Chris Kresser says: “Coconut milk is often a staple fat source for those following a Paleo diet. From a nutritional perspective, it’s an excellent choice.” However, he cautions that “women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding, children and other vulnerable populations (chronically ill) should avoid canned coconut milk products except for those that are BPA-free.
Healthy people may be fine with canned coconut milk, provided they don’t react to the guar gum and provided they’re willing to take the side of industry scientists that claim BPA doesn’t cause harm in humans.”
Stephanie Greunke, RD (and member of Robb Wolf’s RD consulting team) says: “I’ve read countless recipes that list coconut milk as an ingredient and want to make sure that people realize coconut milk means just that – coconut milk in the can, prepared from a whole coconut, or shredded coconut mixed and prepared with water. While a multitude of companies is coming out with their own version of coconut milk by the quart and half a gallon, these new innovations are truly coconut beverages, not milk. In short, do not use the coconut milk beverages in your recipes.”
Mark Sisson says: “If you find yourself holed up in a dingy Albuquerque motel room littered with empty tetra-paks of Aroy-D, you’ve got a problem. Other than that, as long as you’re not gaining unwanted body fat, or drinking so much that it displaces other, more nutrient-dense foods in your diet, you’re probably fine.
Is Coconut Milk Paleo?
Yes, coconut milk is Paleo-acceptable.
If you make your own from just coconut meat and water, then the answer is a resounding yes.
Things get murky, however, when choosing more store-bought brands. Depending on ingredients and personal preference in avoiding BPA, it can be a bit of a judgment call on what type of coconut milk is acceptable on a Paleo regimen. So watch where it comes from, what’s in it, what it’s called, and how often you drink it to ensure that it’s a healthy addition to your diet.