Coconut milk, despite its high saturated fat content, can help the body burn more energy and lose weight more easily. The unique structure of the MCFAs found in coconut milk allow them to be burned more readily for energy, and increases total energy expenditure over the day. Additionally, they have been shown to be more satiating than longer-chain fats, filling you up better and helping prevent hunger.
So, despite coconut milks potential to raise total cholesterol, the effects it will actually have on your body are likely to be far different. Coconut milk has more potential to help you lose weight and feel satisfied than cow’s milk or any other milk substitute. Furthermore, coconut milk is more likely to positively affect your TC:HDL ratio, increasing your good HDL cholesterol more than LDL cholesterol.
If you drink coconut milk, and have looked at the label, you’re probably aware that it is high in saturated fat. This may seem worrying to you. After all, we’ve been bombarded with public health messages saying “Avoid saturated fat at all costs!” The truth is more complicated, however. As it turns out, not all saturated fats are created equal.
There are four commonly consumed saturated fats:
- Lauric Acid
- Myristic Acid
- Palmitic Acid
- Stearic Acid
The difference between them lie in their lengths. Lauric acid, common only in certain foods like coconut, is the shortest saturated fat we commonly eat, and is designated a “medium-chain fatty acid” (MCFA). This is opposed to the short-chain fatty acids, which are very uncommon in food, and the long-chain fatty acids, which are the most common.
Does Coconut Milk Raise Cholesterol?
It is true that lauric acid and myristic acid (two of the saturated fats in coconut) raise total cholesterol levels. One fact which is usually ignored, however, is that lauric acid raises the good HDL cholesterol to a greater extent than LDL cholesterol.1 The result is that your total cholesterol to HDL ratio (TC:HDL) goes down, which correlates with a decreased cardiovascular risk.
Myristic acid raises cholesterol without affecting the TC:HDL ratio, making the effects it has more or less neutral. In case you were curious, trans fat increases the bad LDL cholesterol more than HDL, which is why it is the worst fat to consume for cardiovascular risk.
It’s also important to consider that diet is only one factor increasing cardiovascular risk. For most patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and obesity are much greater risk factors. Both of these factors drive up our body’s production of cholesterol, which causes a much steeper rise in total blood lipids and cholesterol than diet does.