Is Coconut Milk Safe for Diabetics? What You Need to Know

Is Coconut Milk Safe for Diabetics? What You Need to Know?
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Coconut is a very versatile type of fruit – coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour, and coconut sugar are just a few things that can be made with it. At the same time, it’s also very beneficial in terms of health – particularly, coconuts are rich in antioxidants, which can reduce the risks of developing several diseases, and they also have antibacterial properties.

Coconut milk, one of the by-products of coconut and the main topic of our conversation, inherits all the good stuff and more. It’s dairy-free, making it a great alternative if your body doesn’t tolerate lactose, and it might be easier to digest even for those who are not lactose intolerant, among other things.

However, as good as it all sounds, as a person with diabetes, you need to ask yourself a question – Is coconut milk going to be good for my blood sugar? Is coconut milk good for diabetes? That’s what we’ll be talking about in this article.

When it comes to what is good and what should be avoided by people with diabetes, there are two main things you need to be looking at – those are the glycemic index and glycemic load.

If you don’t know what they are, GI is a numeric score between 0 and 100, which shows how drastically a particular food can make your blood sugar levels increase. Glycemic load (GL), on the other hand, takes into account not only that but also the serving size and how much glucose a particular food contains.

This led to many considering the GL index to be more accurate, but truthfully, if you want to get the whole picture, knowing both of them is essential. That’s because there are plenty of foods that might have a high GI, but once you look at their GL, it’s pretty low, meaning that despite a high GI, they can still be safely consumed by people with diabetes. An example of that is watermelon.

So, what are the GI and GL of coconut milk?

Coconut milk, depending on what source you use, has a glycemic index (GI) of around 40 to 42, which is still considered low. It also has a pretty low glycemic load, equaling about 1.1. If you were wondering whether does coconut milk spike insulin, the answer is no. Low glycemic index foods, which coconut milk is a part of, do not cause insulin spikes.

In fact, there is a study that suggests coconut products, including coconut milk, can be beneficial to individuals with diabetes. According to the results of the study, published in 2021, coconut products:

“were capable to significantly lower serum glucose and glycated haemoglobin levels, improve insulin, lipid profile, renal parameters such as urea, total protein and creatinine and electrolyte levels in diabetic rats. Further, coconut products markedly protected kidney tissues from diabetes induced histopathological changes. Importantly, all the tested coconut products were as efficient as metformin in exerting favourable effects on the studied diabetic parameters highlighting their anti-diabetic utility.”

One downside to this study is that it was performed on rats – more studies on humans are needed to ensure that the same results will be obtained.

So, Is Coconut Milk Completely Safe for People with Diabetes?

Truth be told, coconut milk is a bit of a tricky one, as while it has pretty good GI and GL indexes, it is high in fats, specifically saturated fats.

According to the latest data, it is best to keep your saturated fat intake at no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake. For women, the average would be 2000 calories, while for men, it’s 2500. This means that you shouldn’t consume more than 20 to 25 grams of saturated fats per day.

One cup of canned coconut milk (240 g) can have as much as 57 grams of fat, most of which is saturated fat. If you do the maths, that means that one cup of coconut milk is almost double the recommended daily saturated fat intake.

This can contribute to high cholesterol, which, in turn, can lead to coronary heart disease. A good option here would be to opt for a reduced fat coconut milk, which lowers the amount of saturated fats your body intakes when consuming coconut milk.

It’s important to remember, however, that most people don’t consume a whole cup of coconut milk at once – it is usually added to coffee or other beverages, smoothies, as well as sauces, etc., to enhance the taste.

To put it simply, yes, when consumed in moderation, people with diabetes can safely drink coconut milk. The best choice would be unsweetened, reduced coconut milk, but reduced fat coconut milk should work just fine as well.

What About GI and GL of Other Forms of Coconut?

Now that you know how GI and GL look for coconut milk, let’s take a quick look at some other forms coconut can be consumed in and how glycemic index and load look in their case.

  • Coconut has a glycemic index of 45 and a glycemic load of 0.8, making it both a low GI and low GL food.
  • Coconut sugar has a glycemic index of 35 and a glycemic load of 1.8, meaning it is both a low GI and low GL food.
  • Coconut water has a glycemic index of 54 and a glycemic load of 3. This means that it’s between low and medium GI while also being a low GL food.
 

What Is Coconut Milk Good for?

While people with diabetes need to be careful how much coconut milk they incorporate into their diet, incorporating even a few spoons of it into your diet can actually be quite beneficial to your health due to coconut milk’s health benefits.

First of all, coconut milk contains MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), which are a type of fat. According to research, those can have several benefits.

The first one is weight loss. A review titled Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Health: The Potential Beneficial Effects of a Medium Chain Triglyceride Diet in Obese Individuals found that dietary MCTs, taken either on their own or with other supplements, can be used to help obese individuals lose weight due to their ability to prevent intestinal permeability/endotoxemia through gut microbiota remodeling. They can also prevent fat storage through the improvement of the lipid catabolism/anabolism balance.

A study was conducted on rats to see whether there would be any difference between rats that were given cow milk and those that were given coconut milk. The study group was divided into six smaller groups and was given either a regular diet or a high-protein diet with coconut milk or regular milk. According to the results, there was – rats who were given coconut milk showed reduced fat and visceral fat.

What’s more, they can also potentially make people feel more full after eating due to their ability to affect the secretion of metabolites and hormones responsible for regulating food intake.

There is also some hope that coconut milk might be beneficial in improving insulin production, also associated with the MCTs, although further research is still needed. As it was written in the study called Effects of medium chain triglycerides supplementation on insulin sensitivity and beta cell function: A feasibility study which observed this potential coconut milk benefit:

[…] we observed changes in insulin sensitivity in subgroups including men, African Americans, and subjects with a BMI under 24.6 kg/m2 that are hypothesis generating and warrant further study.

Coconuts and their by-products, including coconut milk, contain lauric acid, which, despite being a saturated fat, can also have several good effects on you.

One of those is its potential positive influence on the immune system. According to the results of a study titled Measuring the Antimicrobial Activity of Lauric Acid against Various Bacteria in Human Gut Microbiota Using a New Method, lauric acid “might contribute to intestinal health” and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help support the immune system.

There are also studies that suggest that lauric acid itself might be beneficial in inhibiting cancer cell growth. However, in this case, it’s important to remember that the amount of lauric acid a person can consume, whether they have diabetes or not, is not enough to say that consuming coconut milk prevents cancer.

While in many regards, coconut milk still requires more research, what we know now seems very promising.

Is Coconut Milk Safe for Diabetics? The Bottom Line

So, can people with diabetes safely consume coconut milk? When in moderation, yes, coconut milk and diabetes do not interfere with each other – as long as you watch your saturated fat intake, we don’t see why not. Coconut milk can actually have several health benefits, and there are more of them still to be discovered and studied, which is why it would be a shame not to include it in your diet altogether.

Diabetes is a condition that affects millions of Americans, and while there is no cure for it, there are ways to make living with it completely manageable – and knowing which foods you can eat freely and which ones you should avoid is one of those. At Insulin Outlet, we make it our mission to help people with diabetes navigate through the condition – that’s why we offer several resources on it. Take a look at our Resources page and expand your knowledge about diabetes.

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