3 reasons why coconut milk may not be your friend

June 9, 2011 in Food & Nutrition | 81 comments


picture of coconut milkCoconut milk is often a staple fat source for those following a Paleo diet. From a nutritional perspective, it’s an excellent choice. It’s high in saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are both easily burned as fuel by the body. MCTs are particularly beneficial in that they don’t require bile acids for digestion, and they’re directly shunted to the liver via the portal vein.

Coconut milk and fruit can be a great snack for Paleo folks, and coconut milk smoothies make a great Paleo breakfast choice – especially in the summer.

So what could be wrong with coconut milk? Here are three things to consider.

Bisphenol-A

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical that has been used in consumer goods since the 50s. It’s found in reusable drink containers, DVDs, cell phones, eyeglass lenses, automobile parts and sports equipment. One of the highest sources of BPA is cash register receipts.

We’ve known for decades that BPA has estrogenic activity. In vivo animal studies and in vitro cell-culture research has linked low-level estrogenic activity associated with BPA exposure to all kinds of fun stuff, like diabetes, ADHD, heart disease, infertility and cancer.

Is BPA exposure common? You bet. This CDC report found BPA in the urine of 93% of adults. Perhaps most troubling is that companies like Nestle, Similac, Enfamil and PBM all use BPA in the linings of metal cans holding baby formula. This is scary in light of a recent study which found an association between neurobehavioral problems in infants and high levels of BPA in their mothers.

So why is BPA even legal, you ask? Its safety status is still somewhat controversial. Although I’m not sure how “real” the controversy is.

On the one side you have consumer advocates and independent researchers and scientists who claim that there’s sufficient evidence against BPA, including plausible mechanisms for how it causes harm, to ban it completely. They argue that continued use of BPA in industrial and commercial materials is akin to performing a large, uncontrolled experiment on us all. I tend to agree.

On the other side, you’ve got industry scientists claiming that there’s no significant evidence that low levels of BPA causes harm in humans. If I was a cynic, I might point out that these chemical industry groups are out to protect a multi-billion dollar market from government regulation. Global BPA demand is up to 12 billion pounds and growing at 5% per year.

Okay, back to coconut milk. BPA is used in the lining of certain canned foods. BPA especially leaches into canned foods that are acidic, salty or fatty, such as coconut milk, tomatoes, soup, and vegetables.

So what’s the solution here? In short, if you want to be on the safe side and reduce your exposure to BPA, you have to reduce your consumption of canned foods (including coconut milk) as much as possible. I made this recommendation in 9 Steps for Perfect Health-#3: Eat Real Food.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that families who ate fresh food for three days with no canned food, and using only glass storage containers, experienced a 60% reduction of BPA in their urine. The reductions were even higher (75%) for those with the highest BPA levels at the beginning of the study.

The good news, however, is that there are at least two brands of coconut milk that don’t have BPA in them. One is Native Forest, which you can purchase on Amazon if it’s not available at your local store. The other is Arroy-D, which is a brand imported from Thailand. You can get it here (but you have to scroll down and order the version that comes in cartons, not the cans at the top). I’m a little suspicious of Arroy-D, though, because one Thai reader mentioned that it does contain other ingredients aside from coconut milk. I don’t read Thai, so I can’t confirm this. If anyone out there can, please leave a comment below.

Coconut milk can also be made quite easily at home, with coconut flakes, a blender and cheesecloth. Here’s a video to show you how (get a load of the soundtrack). I find that blanching the coconut flakes prior to blending improves the results.

Guar gum

The other potential problem with canned coconut milk is guar gum. Guar gum is a galactomannan, which is a polysaccharide consisting of a mannose backbone with a galactose side group. It’s primarily the endosperm of guar beans.

Beans and legumes have a variety of compounds in them that make them difficult to digest, especially for people with digestive problems (1 in 3 Americans, from the latest statistics).

In my clinical experience, many patients with gut issues improve when they remove guar gum from their diet – including canned coconut milk.

Unlike BPA, there’s no evidence that guar gum may cause serious harm. So, if you’re able to tolerate guar gum, I don’t see a problem with buying coconut milk from Native Forest or Arroy-D or making it at home.

Fructose malabsorption

Fructose malabsorption (FM) is a digestive disorder characterized by impaired transport of fructose across the small intestine. This results in increased levels of undigested fructose in the gut, which in turn causes overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Undigested fructose also reduces the absorption of water into the intestine.

The clinical effects of FM include: intestinal dysbiosis, changes in motility, promotion of mucosal biofilm, and decreased levels of tryptophan, folates and zinc in the blood. Symptoms produced include bloating, gas, pain, constipation or diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue (to name a few). Recent research has also tied fructose malabsorption to depression.

Lest you think this isn’t a common problem, studies have shown that up to 40% of people in Western countries suffer from fructose malabsorption.

Even in healthy people without fructose malabsorption, however, only about 20-25g of fructose can be properly absorbed at one sitting. Glucose assists in transport of fructose across the intestine, so in general foods with equal amounts of glucose and fructose will be better absorbed than foods with excess amounts of fructose (in relation to glucose).

While fructose malabsorption can cause symptoms in anyone, those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are particularly affected. While the prevalence of FM is the same in healthy populations and those with IBS & IBD, the experience of FM appears to be more intense in the latter group. This is probably due to the increased visceral sensitivity common in IBS and IBD patients.

In fact, one of the most promising clinical approaches to treating IBS & IBD right now is something called the FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols. These include:

  • fructose (fruits, honey, HFCS)
  • fructans (wheat, onions)
  • lactose (milk sugar)
  • polyols (sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol & mannitol, along with fruits like apples, pears and plums)
  • galactooligosaccharides (legumes & beans, brussel sprouts, onions)
  • other sweeteners like polydextrose and isomalt

Studies have found that restricting FODMAPs can significantly improve the symptoms associated with IBS, IBD and fructose malabsorption.

What does this have to do with coconut milk, you ask? According to Drs. Gibson & Barrett, experts in fructose malabsorption, coconut milk is is a FODMAP and should be avoided by people with digestive conditions like IBS & IBD.

According to NutritionData.com, coconut milk has very little sugar of any kind – including fructose. Nevertheless, I do have patients that cannot even tolerate homemade coconut milk (which has no guar gum in it), even though they are fine with coconut oil. I assume that they are reacting to the fructose in the coconut milk – but I can’t be sure.

Recommendations

Let’s bring this together into recommendations for three different groups of people:

  • Women who are trying to get pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding, children and other vulnerable populations (chronically ill): should avoid canned coconut milk products except for those that are BPA-free, like Native Forest and Arroy-D
  • People with digestive problems (IBS, IBD, GERD, etc.): may want to avoid coconut products entirely, except for coconut oil
  • 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

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Emilee June 9, 2011 at 10:15 am

What a disappointing and poor article…first of all, you make the article sound as if coconut milk itself is bad but it is not, simply the PROCESSED/CANNED milk is the issue.

Make your own coconut milk! It’s easy and way better than canned milk! http://www.freecoconutrecipes.com/recipe_HomemadeCoconutMilk.htm

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

Apparently you didn’t read the article. The last section explains why even homemade coconut milk can cause problems for people.

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Emilee June 9, 2011 at 10:33 am

According to NutritionData.com, coconut milk has VERY LITTLE sugar of any kind – including fructose. Nevertheless, I do have patients that cannot even tolerate homemade coconut milk (which has no guar gum in it), even though they are fine with coconut oil. I ASSUME that they are reacting to the fructose in the coconut milk – but I can’t be sure.

Sorry but I just don’t see enough data or evidence here to make that conclusion/ASsumption.

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Dana June 9, 2011 at 10:39 am

Emilee, God forbid that I should tell anyone not to be opinionated on someone else’s blog, since I am myself from time to time and I’d be a hypocrite–but you are just being rude. I see plenty of loopholes here for someone who wants to continue consuming coconut milk and it’s not like Chris has a gun to your or anyone else’s head. Go take a cold shower and soak your head a while, you’ll feel better.

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

I don’t need any more evidence than this: certain patients feel bad after eating coconut milk (even homemade), and then feel better when they remove it. Period. That’s enough for them, and it’s enough for me. Science isn’t perfect, so sometimes we can only speculate on the mechanisms. Your reaction is strange. I can only assume you sell coconut milk or have some other ulterior motive. Otherwise, there’s absolutely no reason to respond the way you are.

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Emilee June 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

Dana, exactly it is hypocritical so take your own advice. The problem is I see so many “well meaning” natural foods/health blogs which I follow many are so quick to jump and say, this is BAD don’t eat/drink it etc…and coconut is an amazing food source. it just think the article sets a bad tone and people are quick to forward on these messages and then the message gets more exaggerated each time…all based on a small assumption. Lots of healthy foods make otherwise healthy people ill and they can’t tolerate it, or they need some gut healing to be able to tolerate it. If coconut milk makes someone feel bad they can stop drinking it, that doesn’t mean coconut milk is bad and needs to be warned against. Sorry if I was a little overzealous I had come across several articles like this on other topics and “news” type sites, it sets a bad example in the natural food/health community that as soon as we see one little iota that something could be “bothersome” to some people it’s “bad” gotta get a warning out or else.

And nope I don’t sell a thing. just dont’ understand all the fearmongering going on within the natural community lately.

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Emilee June 9, 2011 at 11:37 am

I completely agree about CANNED coconut milk…

For example those same people with the fructose intolerance, certainly can’t eat honey then because it’s got about 4times the amount of fructose…so is Honey a danger? Would you warn the dangers of honey? No because it most likely benefits more people than not and is an amazing healing food.

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

Emilee,

The title of the article is “3 reasons why coconut milk may not be your friend”. I am a health care practitioner. My job is to help sick people get well. These articles aren’t written for the “healthy general population” – for the most part. They’re written for people that are either struggling with some health problem, or want to optimize their health to the greatest extent possible.

Please don’t put words into my mouth. I didn’t say coconut milk is bad, nor did I say people should stop drinking it. Your job, like anyone else’s, is to THINK. I outlined the reasons why coconut milk MAY be a problem. Nowhere did I make a single absolute statement about coconut milk.

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Todd June 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hi Chris. In this response to Emilee you go back and forth between coconut oil and milk. I’m assuming you meant milk. Not trying to nitpick but it seems like people want to explode on this post, so I thought I’d mention it!

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for pointing that out, Todd. I made the change to clarify.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Well, thanks to Dr. Kresser again for me. He first wrote about methyl B12 being more easily absorbed than cyano and after three yrs of neuropathy in my left leg, it is now gone since starting methyl 13 days ago.

As for coconut milk, I got an upper GI bleed (with GERD symptoms) 3 or 4 mths into going Paleo and no explanation for it. Ironically, about the same time I heard Dr. Kresser say on a podcast that some people can’t tolerate guar in coconut milk. I had been drinking a lot of it. I cut out the coconut milk, increased my whipping cream, and all GERD symtoms (belching, excruciating pain in chest and left arm numbness/tingling, pain in the sternum, etc.) went away! So, if Dr. Kresser had not said so, I would have undergone an unnecessary endoscopy. Dr. ruled out a couple other things on exam and blood tests. But they also wanted to put me on PPIs which I didn’t do. Kresser’s not fear mongering. He’s enducating us for free.

By the way, where’s your PAYPAL button Dr. Kresser? I’d like to donate some of my savings to you!

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Chuck June 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Emilee I cannot tolerate coconut milk at all – and I love it – however, I do tolerate heavy cream just fine – Guar Gum and all (I do try to avoid GG as much as possible on general principles, but it’s hard when you are out and about)

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Roger Zoul June 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

I use a brand made by Turtle Mountain that comes in a carton

http://www.turtlemountain.com/products/product.php?p=so_delicious_beverage_hg_original

I do see guar gum on the label, though.

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Kerie Campbell June 9, 2011 at 10:46 am

This website http://www.importfood.com/cfch1301.html lists the ingredients in Aroy-D coconut milk. In English.

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mary ann June 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

I make fresh coconut milk in the vitamix. I use a wooden bench-type tool I bought at an Asian grocery store that allows you to sit on it and use a small blade to scrape out the coconut. Not sure what it is called, but they use them in the Pacific Islands.

Also, I know boxed coconut milk has bad additives, but do the box linings have BPA?

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Douglas Ritz June 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

Oh yes! The world is a highly contaminated environment. With arsenic in chicken, mercury in seafood, dioxin in milk and now, BPA in coconut milk. With 9 billion inhabitants what more can one say.

My grandfather always said: Don’t shit in your own nest.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what we have done.

Bon Appétit!

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Tony Mach June 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

The problem with BPA is not so much that it is estrogenic (it has a rather low estrogenic effect), but that it interferes with the thyroid hormones (just compare the chemical/structural formula of BPA to T3/T4).
See here: http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/reprint/87/11/5185.pdf

And by far the biggest troublemaker with regards to BPA are really the receipts. I think you would need to *eat* dozens of plastic bottles, to get the same exposure to BPA as with a single touch of a BPA covered receipt.
http://coolinginflammation.blogspot.com/2008/10/toxins-bpa-estrogens.html
http://coolinginflammation.blogspot.com/2009/12/bpa-in-thermal-printer-ink.html

And I think the biggest problem with coconut milk are the other ingredients (all kinds of things to thicken or emulsify the product), whether declared or undeclared…

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

I completely agree that the BPA in receipts is a far greater problem. But this article was about coconut milk.

Re: estrogenic activity, the papers I’ve seen is that BPA binds more strongly to alternative estrogen receptors, and its physiological effects are thought to be mediated by these alternative pathways. This in turn triggers changes in hormone concentration, enzyme function, protein synthesis, and more.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Is this why Whole Foods now asks you if you want your receipt?

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Bryan Stell June 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

I thought it was a good article Chris. The BPA is the most concerning issue to me as I am otherwise healthy and have put down cans of coconut milk at a sitting with seemingly no issues. However, my main sources of coconut oil WERE chefs choice, Thai Kitchen Organic, and whole foods’ 365 organic coconut milk. How are you sure about the BPA content of coconut milks. No companies list it on their labels. I ordered the BPA free kind but it is more expensive of course.

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

Canned coconut milk is one of the highest sources of BPA in canned food (along with canned tomatoes). However, as Tony pointed out, that pales in comparison to BPA exposure from cash register receipts. It’s hard to know whether the BPA you get from canned coconut milk has a significant health impact, but the study I linked to in the article does suggest that eliminating canned foods and using only glass for food storage decreased BPA levels by 60-75% in the study cohort. That clearly indicates that canned food is capable of raising BPA levels.

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ReneeAnn June 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

A bit of an aside, but you did bring up “BPA especially leaches into canned foods that are acidic, salty or fatty,…” Is this a problem with tuna? If so, would you point me to a post on that? Great post!

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

I’m not sure, ReneeAnn. If someone else knows, please chime in.

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Maria June 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

From the Consumer Reports article: “The StarKist Chunk Light canned tuna we tested averaged 3 ppb of BPA, but BPA levels in the same brand in a plastic pouch weren’t measurable.”
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/december-2009/food/bpa/alternative-packaging/bisphenol-a-alternative-packaging.htm

That does make me wonder whether my canned sardines in olive oil are safe or not. :(

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Maria June 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

And one more from the same article: “Although tests of the inside of the cans found that the liners were not epoxy-based, Vital Choice’s tuna in “BPA-free” cans was found to contain an average of 20 ppb of BPA and Eden Baked Beans averaged 1 ppb.”

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Melissa June 9, 2011 at 11:39 am

I used to have some major issues with coconut milk. When I would eat it, it would be like the food in my stomach was unable to digest properly and would just sit there. I had bad burping and bloating. I suspect I had gastroparesis. Either way, I am healthier now and digest it fine. I’m glad to hear that the brand at my grocery store, Native Forest, is BPA-free, but I usually buy creamed coconut and dilute it to make milk since it’s the same price for a can of creamed coconut. I’d suggest people who have trouble with it might want to mix it with broth.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

“I used to have some major issues with coconut milk. When I would eat it, it would be like the food in my stomach was unable to digest properly and would just sit there. I had bad burping and bloating.”

Melissa, exactly how I felt, physically and rationally! More than half the time you can’t even burp and the pain is incredible. I’d have the first bite of a meal and the indigestion and lack of burping would start, even some immediate regurgitation. Abandoned the coconut milk, and all this stopped.

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ReneeAnn June 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I had that problem and it turned out to be the guar gum. Making my own solved the problem.

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Kyle June 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

I just purchased some coconut cream from tropicaltraditions.com. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it comes in a glass jar and I read that you can take a few tablespoons and mix it with water and viola. Coconut milk.

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 11:51 am

I’ve done it this way. The consistency is quite different than canned coconut milk, but still tastes good. I prefer to make using the flakes and cheesecloth.

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Kyle June 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm

How do I make it with flakes and cheescloth? Do you have a link?

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm

It’s in the article.

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Kyle June 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Ha, thats what I get for skimming.

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Misty June 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Thank you Chris
This explains some things I’ve dealt with relative to a particular client of mine consuming grass fed animal proteins, wild salmon, some leafy greens AND coconut milk.

She actually began to feel better once eliminating fruit so I’m going to share this with her.

I believe Whole Foods is working to use a no BPA can in their 365 brand.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Then I’d have to do a challenge, as I love WF organic coconut milk. Maybe like Melissa, I need to let my gut heal first. I was so no-fat, low-fat for so long that I wouldn’t doubt my gall bladder wasn’t secreting much. They should take out the guar while they’re at it.

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Rodney June 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I have a few more somewhat random BPA related questions.

1. I use 1-2 cans of tomatoes a week. Are there BPA-free brands, or bottled tomatoes available, or do I need to learn to can my own each fall? Hmm…not a bad idea, actually!

2. Does BPA on receipts get absorbed through skin, or does it need to be ingested?

3. Would hand washing upon returning from shopping do enough and occur soon enough to minimize BPA exposure?

4. Does anyone have a link that lists BPA content of a wide variety of foods and other sources?

I have mild hypothyroid symptoms and am always looking for ways to reduce exposure to environmental things that might be contributing to this. Thanks again for a thought provoking post!

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm

1. The only one I know of is Eden Foods, which makes a glass jar tomato product. But I haven’t been able to find it locally.
2. It gets on the hands, then the hands touch the eyes, mouth, nose etc. and it gets absorbed that way.
3. Better not to touch the receipt at all. You are likely to touch some part of your face between the store and when you get home. But if not, probably.
4. Here’s an article with some good links: https://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/waiter-theres-bpa-in-my-soup/#more-4108

One of the main things BPA does is suppress thyroid function, so yes, it’s a good idea for you to reduce it as much as possible.

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Rodney June 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Thanks for the speedy reply. I researched a bit too and here’s what I found.

Bionaturae has tomatoes and tomato paste in glass jars. It does travel from Italy, and shipping to your house isn’t the most eco friendly, but it is an option. I found a seller that has free shipping to make the cost manageable, but I am hesitant to post links on your blog. Canning lids have BPA since they are metal. Workarounds exist, but I haven’t looked into that yet.

Receipts printed on thermal paper will leave a slightly darker scratch mark if you scratch it with a coin. This is one lottery ticket you DON’T want to be a “winner.”

Using alcohol based hand gels to wash your hands actually increases BPA absorption, so use soap and water.

Thanks again for the tips!

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ReneeAnn June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I keep a stainless steel bottle of water to drink in a cooler in my car and a hand towel nearby. When I come out of the store, I wash my hands with the water and dry briskly with the towel. Then I use soap and water when I get home and put that bottle in the dirty dish pile. I started this routine with the swine flu scare, but I like feeling clean and it’s easy so I still do it. Maybe that helps a bit with the receipts. I never use the hand gels because of the obnoxious fragrance.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Freeze your tomatoes vs. canning. Much easier! We harvest, cook our sauces and freeze for the winter. We gave up canning many, many years ago. Sterilizing jars was such a drag.

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Peggy The Primal Parent June 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm

And carageenan! That’s aggravating to the gut as well as guar gum. Too bad all coconut milk has additives. ;(

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"Murph" Dillinger June 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I have found two “pure” varities of coconut milk.

1. Aroy – D (cardboard box, greenish, coconut picture on the front)
2. Go-Tan (cardboard box, purple, coconut picture on the front)

I can provide pics if needed.

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Henry D June 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Please provide pics and a link for Go-Tan.

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Henry D June 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm

and a link for Aroy-D, while you’re at it.

Thanks

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Sarah June 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Awesome post as always. Thanks Chris. To those people who feel the need to complain – these articles are available to everyone for FREE. You have your own brain to decide for yourself if you agree with it or not. I think it’s terrible when people who spend time and effort writing articles or posting things on youtube, get people being rude. Please think about a more constructive use of your time!

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"Murph" Dillinger June 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Being rude is a no no, being sceptical is a must.

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"Murph" Dillinger June 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

What about UHT treatments of coconut milk ? Do we “loose” anything ?

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Tracy E June 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thanks as always for the informative article. I’m new to eating a much more pure and healthy diet. Unlike one of the posters here, I don’t see this as an article against coconut milk. I see it as information on why (as I’ve always believed) everything that’s supposed to be good for you isn’t always – especially when the corporate food conglomerates get through with it. In this case, canned coconut milk is especially bad because of the BPA from the can, but there are things you should also consider if you have other health concerns. You continue to inform and provide options and I thank you for that.

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Emz June 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm

People with digestive problems (IBS, IBD, GERD, etc.): may want to avoid coconut products entirely, except for coconut oil

Would coconut butter pose a problem for a Crohn’s sufferer?

Thanks/Regards,

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

It certainly might. Only way to know is to test it out.

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Sandra Brigham June 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Well, that’s the weird part – I never had reflux or GERD symptoms before Paleo, only while having coconut milk.

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Princess Dieter June 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I bought the Aroy-D in cartons, and it’s wonderful. Truly the yummiest coconut milk I ever had. I don’t have it every day, but since I ditched milk, this makes great hot cocoa and cold beverages with that milky vibe.

I used to be a canned foods junkie. No more. I’m ready to pass on most of my stuff to the food bank, cause we’re used to eating fresh now. Pretty much try to buy my oils and sauces in glass jars now, though I still have some “for emergency” canned stuff as I live in a hurricane zone.

But definitely folks need to try the Aroy-D in the carton. No tinny taste, lovely coconut flavor….it’s all good.

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Wings o' Change June 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ll add a fourth reason that coconut milk is bad for you: carageenan. This explains why: http://www.notmilk.com/carageenan.html

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Chris Kresser June 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Wings: you’re exactly right. I was going to include that, but the article was getting long as it is. Others may want to note that carageenan is also in all of the fake milks like almond, rice & soy.

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gregory barton June 10, 2011 at 4:12 am

Are we to assume that Arroy-D 100% coconut milk also contains carageenan although there is nothing on the label?

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Richard B June 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Going paleo almost 2 years ago fixed 90% of the relatively mild but unpleasant chronic GI issues I’ve had my entire life, especially when I was vegetarian. However, I was still baffled by occasional flareups. My recent discovery of the FODMAP concept has been helping me nail down the remaining 10%. I had already figured out I had issues with soy, legumes, wheat, xylitol, and inulin, but FODMAP helped tie everything together. Sure enough, coconut milk and especially coconut water are problematic for me. Coconut ice cream (sweetened with high-fructose agave, no less) is one of the worst things I have ever found for my digestion, with the exception of textured soy protein. I’ll never make that mistake again! Sadly, I love all things coconut. :(

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Joe Guth June 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm

In response to Emilee’s comment above. That is exactly why Chris removed reader comments……
Thanks again for the great article!

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Carroll June 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Hi Chris

Re guar gum, does this mean that gluten free products could be a problem? How about Xanthum gum?

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Chris Kresser June 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

Sure does. A lot of gluten-free packaged products are full of junk. That’s why I’m always telling people to “eat real food”.

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Sarah Nickolet June 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Emilee….your comments are coming across as arrogant. There was no wrong information presented here.

My daughter has Fructose Malabsorption. She cannot tolerate coconut milk at all. She cannot tolerate strawberries either. Some things cause instant symptoms with her and sometimes it takes a couple hours. The limit of fructose for most people is 25g-50g per sitting. My daughter reacts to one strawberry which contains about 239 mg of fructose. Coconut milk contains approximately 6 grams of carbohydrate per cup. There is more fructose than glucose for carbohydrate in these 6 grams of carbs. Therefore in the fructose sensitive individual…this equates to gas, bloating, diarrhea and Steatorrhea.

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Kirill June 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Chris, always wanted to ask this. Can guar gum(or the fructans, or BPA) be altered/reduced/destroyed by fermentation? I always ferment my coconut milk(some along with chocolate too, it’s divine!) to get rid of the phytates. Thanks for all the great info.

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Chris Kresser June 10, 2011 at 8:08 am

I would assume that fermentation may affect the fructans and guar gum (perhaps they are metabolized at least in part by the bacteria, since that is what happens in the gut), but I don’t think fermentation would affect the BPA. But I don’t have any data on this.

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ReneeAnn June 10, 2011 at 8:29 am

How do you ferment coconut milk? I suppose I could make coconut milk kefir out of it, is that what you do?

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Chris Kresser June 10, 2011 at 8:40 am

Yep.

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Kirill June 10, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Thanks for the reply, Chris.

Yes, you either ferment by leaving it covered with a cloth for about 5 days(adding sugar/dextrose or honey for the bacteria to thrive on) or use a culture starter, like Body Ecology. I prefer their regular starter over the Kefir one because it has the L. Plantarum, which eats up the phytate and is dairy free: “may contain trace amounts”. But once you have made it once it’s easy to save a small part to add to the next batch and so on.

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ReneeAnn June 11, 2011 at 8:29 am

I use live kefir grains which you have to get from someone who has live grains, and I keep a small batch of milk kefer going for hubby who does well on it. That also keeps me in multiplying kefir grains. Then, for the the last two years I’ve used his leftover grains, rinsed well, to make non-diary kefir for me. I’ve tried several recipes, but my fall back is to dissolve refined sugar in water and then keep in it a jar in the frig to use as my kefir sugar liquid. I do set in on the shelf when I pour some over the kefir grains to ferment. I use sugar water because it’s lower in fructose than some other methods that I’ve tried and it is inexpensive. The bacteria eat up all the sugar, so I don’t think it matters that it’s refined. I spend my dollars on high quality meat, fermented cod liver oil and chlorella, so this is one area I try to save money. :)

I rarely use coconut milk and have not noticed it bothering me as long as I make it fresh (from frozen coconut). If that ever bothers me, I’ll try the ferment if I need it for a recipe. Thanks! :)

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gregory barton June 10, 2011 at 2:59 am

Arroy-D coconut milk claims to be 100% coconut milk. On the box is written in large yellow script “กะทิ 100%”. กะทิ is the Thai word for coconut milk.

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gregory barton June 10, 2011 at 3:16 am

Ah! It’s in English on the side of the carton.

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Marina June 10, 2011 at 5:59 am

Two things stand out- One, I really believe the article title should have had the word “Canned”, since
much of the focus is on damage from can linings. Of course in general for all canned foods it is important to remind consumers there are dangers- given the make-up of the can.

Second- we would be better off thinking about gut health in terms of balancing for healthy friendly bacteria in general. Of course I am aware that too much sugar/fructose could throw this balance off, but as a long term practitioner and teacher, I believe the focus should be on what “to do”, not solely on what “not to do”- in short, I do not think avoiding healthy brands of coconut milk, in judicious amounts within the diet, per-se is the solution, but rather rejuvenating the digestive system. And surely there will always be people who feel better avoiding one or another food- those who are paying attention, that is.

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John June 10, 2011 at 7:17 am

I dig the info, but a lot of it feels recycled from Wikipedia. Not to mention it’s more qualitative than quantitative (i.e. ‘BPA is bad, avoid it’ – well, how much are we exposed to, how much of that is absorbed and at what levels is it harmful?).

I hope this doesn’t scare people into avoiding canned coconut milk, when in reality they more significant issue is previously mentioned and well known food toxins. However, thanks for the help and I do feel this may help a small few who may be having trouble with coconut products.

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David June 10, 2011 at 8:43 am

The FODMAP diet is really very interesting. Chris, does this modify anything about your enthusiasm for the GAPS/SCD diets? These diets are all about reducing the amount of di- and polysaccharides, and thus they allow fruit, honey, etc. But according to the FODMAP diet, wouldn’t these things be off limits due to their fructose and honey content? Would the GAPS diet be more effective if it removed fruit and honey altogether and even limited certain vegetables like brussel sprouts and onions? I know some people on the GAPS diet who eat a lot of apples. This seems like it might not be such a good idea after all.

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Chris Kresser June 10, 2011 at 8:50 am

No. They’re different approaches. They could be combined, of course, and some find it necessary to do that. What I’ve found with FODMAP is that usually people are sensitive to some but not all of them. For example, some might be sensitive to onions (fructans) but not dairy (lactose), or vice versa.

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Henry D June 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

For someone dealing with a serious case of diverticulitis (where they soon might have to undergo surgery to remove part of their colon), would a FODMAP or GAPS protocol help? I’m sure Paleo would help on itself, but it seems like the person I’m referring will most likely need to consider other things. What about an autoimmune protocol? I’ve been following your blog and podcast for some time, but have yet to hear you touch on diverticulitis (I apologize if I missed it).

Thanks

Henry D

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Pakkie June 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

Thanks for the insight, I’ve always love coconut milk. Am Asian and coconut is a must in our cooking but all canned ones including Arroy-D does not test like coconut, fortunately, I live in a town with lots of Asian grocery stores. I now buy shredded frozen coconut ( I used to buy the whole coconut, break it, and used a hand held grater but my hands get too tired) put in the blender with hot water then use cheese cloth to squeeze out the milk part.

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WRS June 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

Thanks for the article. Do you have an opinion on “powdered” coconut milk / cream. I buy the “Chao Thai” brand and use it in my coffee and shakes. It come in a foil “wrapper”. I like using the powder much more than canned milk since the canned only lasts a couple days. Plus, the box of powder I buy runs around $3 and makes like 40 servings.

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z June 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

FWIW – here is another company that sells coconut milk and coconut cream in BPA free tetra packs. Unfortunately when I contacted the company, I found that both products contain 0.1% xanthan gum as a stabilizer. Here is the info on how the products are manufactured:

http://www.wildernessfamilynaturals.com/category/coconut-products-coconut-milk.php#moreinfo

They also carry coconut oil, coconut flakes and powdered coconut milk.

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JoelG June 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Paper receipts!? Who knew!?
Thanks for the heads up.

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Alex June 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm

One solution: So Delicious coconut milk in a carton. No BPA, but still has guar gum.

http://www.turtlemountain.com/products/product.php?p=so_delicious_beverage_hg_unsweetened#

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Brad June 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm

For those following a GAPS diet to treat gut dysbiosis, do you recommend avoiding shreded coconut? Coconut manna/cream?

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Chris Kresser June 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I recommend that people experiment to find out. There’s no other way of knowing.

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Vivian June 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

What about packaged coconut water? Do the same problems exist with it?

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