Is unsweetened coconut milk high in calories?

Quick Answer

Unsweetened coconut milk is relatively low in calories compared to other plant-based milks. One cup of unsweetened coconut milk contains around 45 calories, while the same amount of 2% cow’s milk contains over 120 calories. However, coconut milk is high in saturated fat content due to its coconut oil base. So while not calorie dense, the types of calories in coconut milk may not be ideal for every diet. Moderation is key when incorporating unsweetened coconut milk into your diet.

Calorie Content of Unsweetened Coconut Milk

Unsweetened coconut milk is made by blending water with coconut meat and straining out the solids. This leaves a liquid resembling dairy milk in texture, but without the lactose that can cause issues for some people.

Here is the nutrition information for one cup (240ml) of unsweetened coconut milk (1):

Nutrition Facts Amount
Calories 45
Total Fat 4.5g
Saturated Fat 3.75g
Protein 0g
Total Carbohydrates 0g
Sugars 0g

As you can see, one cup of unsweetened coconut milk contains only 45 calories. This is significantly fewer calories than an equal serving of 2% dairy milk, which contains over 120 calories per cup (2).

Other popular plant-based milk alternatives like almond milk and oat milk contain even fewer calories at around 30-40 per cup depending on brand and variety.

So in terms of caloric density, unsweetened coconut milk is on the lower end compared to dairy milk and similar to other plant-based options. However, the type of calories in coconut milk is important to consider as well.

Fat Content of Coconut Milk

While unsweetened coconut milk is low in carbohydrates and overall calories, almost all of its calories come from fat.

Specifically, coconut milk contains a high amount of saturated fat due to its coconut oil base. Saturated fat has been linked to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels when consumed in excess (3).

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 13 grams per day for the average adult (4). One cup of coconut milk already provides 75% of this recommended daily limit.

Here is how the saturated fat content of unsweetened coconut milk compares to 2% dairy milk (1, 2):

Milk Type Saturated Fat (g)
Unsweetened Coconut Milk (1 cup) 3.75
2% Dairy Milk (1 cup) 1.5

As shown above, the saturated fat content in one cup of unsweetened coconut milk is over 2 times higher than 2% dairy milk.

For this reason, coconut milk may not be the best choice for individuals concerned about heart health or already at risk for high cholesterol. Moderation is key when adding coconut milk to your diet.

Coconut Milk Benefits

While its high saturated fat content requires caution, unsweetened coconut milk can be incorporated into a healthy diet in moderation. Some potential benefits of unsweetened coconut milk include:

– Dairy-free alternative – Coconut milk is naturally lactose-free, making it a suitable option for those with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivities.

– Nutrient content – Coconut milk provides small amounts of potassium, iron, copper, manganese and magnesium. However, amounts vary greatly between brands (1).

– Source of MCTs – Coconut milk contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that may support metabolism and weight management (5).

– Adds creaminess – The rich texture of coconut milk can be used to make dairy-free smoothies, creamer, ice cream, curries, etc. This provides a creamy mouthfeel without the dairy.

– Hypoallergenic – Coconut milk is generally well tolerated by those with food intolerances or allergies. Always check with your healthcare provider to verify.

So while unsweetened coconut milk is not suitable as a main beverage due to its high fat content, it can be used to add a boost of flavor and creaminess to dishes in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

How Many Calories in Coconut Milk Versus Dairy Milk?

Here is a comparison of the calories in one cup of unsweetened coconut milk versus whole and 2% dairy milk (1, 2):

Milk Type Calories (per cup)
Unsweetened Coconut Milk 45
2% Dairy Milk 122
Whole Dairy Milk 146

As shown above, unsweetened coconut milk contains significantly fewer calories than an equal serving of whole or 2% dairy milk.

However, when comparing fat content:

– Unsweetened coconut milk has 4.5g total fat and 3.75g saturated fat per cup
– 2% dairy milk has 5g total fat and 1.5g saturated fat per cup
– Whole dairy milk has 8g total fat and 4.5g saturated fat per cup

So while unsweetened coconut milk is lower in calories, its saturated fat content is nearly 2.5x higher than 2% dairy milk per serving.

This demonstrates why it’s important to consider the full nutritional profile – not just calories – when comparing milk options.

Coconut Milk Versus Other Plant-Based Milks

How does unsweetened coconut milk compare to other plant-based milk alternatives like almond, oat, and soy milk?

Here is a nutrition comparison of one cup of various unsweetened plant-based milk options (1, 6, 7, 8):

Milk Type Calories Fat (g) Protein (g) Carbs (g)
Coconut 45 4.5 0 0
Almond 30 2.5 1 1
Oat 40 2 1 5
Soy 80 4 8 4

Key takeaways:

– Calories: coconut milk is slightly higher than almond and oat milk but lower than soy milk.

– Fat: coconut milk has the most fat per serving besides soy milk. Its fat content is also mostly saturated fat.

– Carbs: coconut milk has no carbohydrates, while the other plant milks contain 1-5g carbs.

– Protein: coconut milk has no protein while the others offer 1-8g per cup.

So while coconut milk is low in overall calories, its nearly all fat makeup means its nutritional value does not stack up against other plant-based options. In moderation, coconut milk can provide a nice creamy addition to the diet as long as saturated fat intake remains within recommended limits.

Can Coconut Milk Lead to Weight Gain?

While coconut milk is relatively low in calories, its high saturated fat content can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess. Here are some factors to consider:

– **Calorie density** – Even though unsweetened coconut milk is low in calories, its high fat makeup means those calories are very concentrated. Just a small amount provides nearly 100% of calories from fat. Consuming high calorie density foods makes it harder to keep portions controlled.

– **Effect on metabolism** – Research shows that diets higher in saturated fat may slow down metabolism compared to unsaturated fat sources like nuts, seeds, and olive oil (9). A slower metabolism can promote increased fat storage over time.

– **Fat storage** – Saturated fat is more readily stored as body fat compared to unsaturated fats (10). The saturated fat content in just one cup of coconut milk nearly meets the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association (4). Consuming excess saturated fat from coconut milk could lead to greater fat deposition over time.

– **Empty calories** – Aside from its fat content, coconut milk has little to no protein, carbs, vitamins or minerals. Drinking it in large amounts may add extra calories without additional nutrition.

To prevent weight gain from coconut milk, limit intake to 2-4 ounces per day and focus on incorporating nutrient-dense whole foods at main meals. Those with obesity or heart disease risk should be especially cautious with coconut milk intake.

Coconut Milk and Weight Loss

Due to its high fat calorie concentration, unsweetened coconut milk is generally not considered an effective weight loss aid on its own. However, incorporating small amounts may help promote satiety and support weight management when paired with a reduced calorie diet. Here are some tips for including it in a weight loss plan:

– Use 2-4 ounces only 1-2 times per day in coffee, smoothies, etc. This provides creamy texture with minimal calories.

– Be mindful of portion sizes, as the fat content can quickly add excess calories. Measure with a measuring cup or food scale.

– Substitute coconut milk for higher calorie ingredients like cream, butter, oils when cooking. This reduces calories without sacrifising satisfaction.

– Focus on eating mainly whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains. Don’t rely on coconut milk as a major food source.

– Exercise portion control and avoid drinking coconut milk straight. Its easy to overconsume liquid calories.

– Pair with protein, fiber, and complex carbs to help control hunger and blood sugar spikes.

– Monitor your saturated fat intake from other sources like meat and full-fat dairy when incorporating coconut milk.

While coconut milk can be included as part of a weight loss diet, it should not make up the bulk of calories or content. Focus on overall healthy eating patterns and caloric deficit to promote lasting weight loss.

How to Pick the Healthiest Coconut Milk

When shopping for coconut milk, choose unsweetened varieties without added sugars or flavorings. Here are some other tips for picking the healthiest option:

– **Check the label** – Look for products marked as “coconut milk beverage” rather than “coconut milk” which is higher in fat.

– **Pick natural** – Avoid additives, guar gum, and carrageenan by choosing brands that just contain coconut extract and water.

– **Go for low-fat** – Select low-fat coconut milk which contains around half the calories and fat of full-fat varieties.

– **Consider fortified** – Choose brands fortified with vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.

– **Refrigerate after opening** – Once opened, store coconut milk in the refrigerator and use within 5-7 days.

– **Experiment** – Try blending coconut milk with lower fat milks like almond or oat milk to reduce overall fat and calories.

– **Use “lite” versions** – For savory cooking, lite coconut milk contains fewer calories with a similar creamy texture.

Picking the most nutritious coconut milk for your needs involves reading nutrition labels closely and being mindful of how you plan to use it. Prioritize healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil over coconut milk for everyday use.

Healthy Ways to Use Coconut Milk

When used in moderation, coconut milk can be a flavorful addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Here are some healthy ways to use unsweetened coconut milk:

– Mix 2-3 tablespoons into smoothies for creaminess
– Swap for milk when making overnight oats or chia pudding
– Use as a non-dairy creamer in coffee or tea
– Add to curries, stews, and soups for a rich base
– Make dairy-free whipped cream by whipping chilled coconut milk
– Use in place of milk and yogurt to make plant-based lassi drinks
– Blend with fruits to create dairy-free ice cream
– Mix with cocoa powder and stevia for chocolate coconut milk
– Make coconut rice pudding with lite coconut milk and no added sugar
– Use canned lite coconut milk or cartons as a lower fat option
– Stir into oatmeal along with fruit, nuts, spices, etc.
– Add to plant-based protein shakes for extra healthy fats

The key is to use coconut milk in small amounts to add flavor and texture, rather than drinking it straight or using it as a main beverage. Prioritize nutrient-dense whole foods as the foundation of meals and snacks.

Risks and Side Effects of Coconut Milk

While coconut milk can be incorporated into a healthy diet for most, there are some potential downsides to consider:

– **High in saturated fat** – The saturated fat content of coconut milk may raise LDL cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease when consumed regularly in high amounts (3).

– **Allergies** – Coconut is considered a tree nut. Those with known coconut or tree nut allergies should avoid coconut milk (11).

– **Gut issues** – Some individuals experience bloating, gas or diarrhea after consuming coconut products. This may indicate an intolerance.

– **Additives** – Certain brands contain additives like guar gum and carrageenan to improve texture. These may cause issues for sensitive individuals.

– **BPA exposure** – Canned coconut milk may contain BPA lining in the can, a potential endocrine disruptor. Opt for cartoned when possible (12).

– **High calorie density** – The high concentration of fat calories can easily lead to excess intake. Use measuring cups and pay close attention to serving sizes.

Overall, unsweetened coconut milk is likely safe in small amounts for most healthy individuals. Those with underlying health conditions should consult their healthcare team before adding it to their diet.


Unsweetened coconut milk is relatively low in total calories yet high in saturated fat due to its high content of coconut oil. While its creamy texture can provide a nice non-dairy addition to recipes like smoothies, coffee, curries when used in moderation, coconut milk does not provide standout nutritional benefits compared to other plant-based milks.

Limit coconut milk to 2-4 ounces per day and be mindful of your total saturated fat intake from other dietary sources. Focus on incorporating nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to meet your nutrition needs. With a balanced approach, unsweetened coconut milk can fit into an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle. Just don’t overdo it.

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