Losing belly fat is a common goal for many people looking to improve their health and appearance. Some claim that coconut milk can help burn stubborn belly fat. But is there any truth to this? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
What is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is a creamy, dairy-free milk alternative made from grated coconut meat and water. The fat in coconut milk comes mostly from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than other fats.
Compared to other plant-based milks like almond or soy milk, coconut milk is relatively high in calories and fat. A 1-cup serving contains about 550 calories and 57 grams of fat, 80-90% of which comes from saturated fat.
Coconut milk is lactose-free and vegan, making it a good option for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. It’s commonly used in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines.
Coconut Milk Nutrition
Here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 cup (240 ml) of coconut milk:
|Saturated fat||51 g|
As you can see, coconut milk is very high in calories and saturated fat. It also contains a small amount of carbohydrates and protein.
Coconut Oil and MCTs
The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut milk are also found in other coconut products like coconut oil. MCTs are thought to have several health benefits.
Compared to long-chain fatty acids, MCTs are digested differently and sent straight to the liver where they can be used for energy. Some studies suggest MCTs may increase metabolism, promote fullness, and help with fat loss.
But most studies looking at MCT oil and weight loss used concentrated MCT oil, not coconut milk. Also, many used very large amounts of MCT oil that would be difficult to get from coconut milk alone.
Does the Research Say?
Very few studies have looked specifically at coconut milk and belly fat.
One 6-week study in 40 women found that coconut milk porridge reduced belly fat more than soy milk porridge. Coconut milk porridge lowered waist circumference by 2.6 cm compared to only 0.8 cm for soy.
Another study compared the effects of coconut milk vs soy milk added to the diet in rats. After 8 weeks, the coconut milk group lost abdominal fat without losing muscle mass or bone mass.
The researchers attributed this fat loss to the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk.
However, this is still limited evidence on coconut milk itself. Larger and longer human studies are needed.
Other Potential Benefits
Some proponents say coconut milk offers other benefits as well:
- May reduce inflammation: The MCTs in coconut milk may have antioxidant properties that reduce inflammation.
- Contains lauric acid: A type of fatty acid with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
- Nutrient-rich: Provides vitamins C, E, B vitamins, iron, selenium, and electrolytes.
- Gluten-free: Safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
That said, many of these proposed benefits lack scientific evidence. More research is needed on the potential health effects of coconut milk.
Weight Loss Considerations
To lose weight, including belly fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. This means burning more calories than you consume.
While coconut milk may slightly boost metabolism compared to other fats, it’s still very high in calories. Drinking too much can easily hinder weight loss.
Replacing higher calorie foods with coconut milk could help create a calorie deficit. But coconut milk itself is not a low-calorie beverage.
Eating too many calories from fat, even healthy fats like coconut, can also prevent weight loss. Focus on getting healthy fats from whole foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish.
Coconut milk is generally safe in moderation. But it’s high in calories and saturated fat.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5-6% of total daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this equals 11-13 grams saturated fat per day.
One cup of full-fat coconut milk provides 46 grams saturated fat, or over 3 times the daily amount. Consuming this much regularly is not advised.
Light coconut milk is a better option at just 5 grams of saturated fat per cup. You can also use small amounts of regular coconut milk added to smoothies, coffee, oatmeal, etc.
Downsides of Coconut Milk
Here are some potential downsides to drinking coconut milk often:
- High in calories and fat, including saturated fat.
- Easily exceeds daily limits for saturated fat.
- May cause weight gain if consumed in large amounts.
- Not enough evidence on potential health benefits.
- Contains fructose, a simple sugar that may raise triglycerides when consumed in excess.
- High in omega-6 fats; the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is not optimal.
- BPA concerns: Cans may contain BPA lining.
Healthier Milk Alternatives
For a lower calorie milk alternative, consider:
- Almond milk: 60 calories per cup
- Oat milk: 130 calories per cup
- Soy milk: 100 calories per cup
- Skim milk: 90 calories per cup
- 2% milk: 120 calories per cup
When choosing plant-based milks, opt for unsweetened varieties to keep sugar and calories down.
The Bottom Line
Some research suggests coconut milk may reduce belly fat compared to other milks. However, the evidence is limited to a few animal and human studies.
Coconut milk is very high in calories and saturated fat. While small amounts are fine, drinking too much can easily hinder weight loss.
Coconut milk on its own does not specifically burn belly fat. A healthy diet and active lifestyle are still needed to lose weight and trim your waistline.
For a truly healthy and balanced diet, enjoy coconut milk in moderation along with plenty of vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats from foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.