Coconut Milk vs. Almond Milk: Which Is Healthier?

Coconut Milk vs Almond Milk

If you’ve recently bought plant-based milk, you’re not alone. According to a Harris Poll conducted for the grocery retailer Instacart, the number of people who bought plant-based milk has increased by 27 percent in 2020.

The research found that almond milk is the most popular choice, although coconut milk is the top choice in the Pacific Northwest. Either way, both plant-based milks are gaining fans.

How do these dairy alternatives compare? Read on to learn more about the nutritional differences between these two trendy milks.

Who should try almond or coconut milk?

Almond milk, coconut milk, and other plant-based options are suitable for a variety of reasons.

If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk, these plant-based alternatives are good substitutes for cereals, oatmeal, smoothies, coffee and pastries without any disturbing effects.

These types of milk can also help you reduce your consumption of animal foods, something many people strive for. The reality is that even dairy drinkers sometimes consume alternative milks.

According to a report by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), about one in four milk drinkers opted for a plant-based alternative at some point.

Both coconut milk and almond milk are considered nut milks, so those with nut allergies are better off with something like soy milk, oat milk, or hemp milk.

Eva Katalin/Getty Images

coconut milk

How it’s made

There is a difference between the coconut milk that is sold in cans and the things that are sold in boxes.

The former is made from shredded and pressed coconut meat and is a higher-fat, thicker mixture most commonly used for cooking. The latter is diluted with water, so it is more like the consistency of skim milk.

Coconut milk is not always a carton of coconut and water. It may also contain gums, which are used as a thickener, and vitamins and minerals as ingredients. Most thickeners are fine, but carrageenan has been linked to intestinal inflammation, so you may want to avoid it.

Many types of plant-based milks, including coconut milk, are sweetened with added sugar.

Still, it’s better to consume unsweetened coconut milk, as adults consume an average of about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day — way too much. For perspective, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests limiting added sugar intake to six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.

While the nutrients added to enhance coconut milk may vary from brand to brand, the ideal is to look for a variety that has been fortified to match the calcium and vitamin D content of dairy milk.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can also choose one that’s fortified with vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found only naturally in animal foods.

Benefits of coconut milk

Coconut milk stands out for being a source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This type of fat is notable because it potentially increases your metabolism and decreases body fat. (MCT oil may have other benefits, too.)

The science isn’t settled yet when it comes to the benefit of MCTs in coconut milk. Studies with MCTs usually use a supplement version.

Since coconut milk is diluted with water, it does not provide the same amount of these fats. Therefore, it’s hard to say whether you’ll benefit in the same way from MCTs naturally found in coconut milk.

But there are other potentially beneficial components in this milk alternative.

It contains phenolic compounds, according to a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Food Science. In theory, these antioxidants protect against the oxidative stress associated with the development of cancer, heart disease and other conditions, but obtaining them from coconut milk has not been studied in humans.

To protect your health, eat mostly whole or minimally processed fruits and vegetables and other plant foods (such as nuts and whole grains).

Coconut milk can certainly complement this diet, but it should not be considered the sole source of antioxidants.

take care of coconut milk

The main drawback of coconut milk is its high saturated fat content. That’s the type of fat linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

While there’s a lot of confusion about saturated fat, the AHA recommends limiting it to no more than 13 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. That means if you eat fewer calories, your saturated fat intake should be lower.

The AHA suggests limiting saturated fat to no more than 6 percent of your total calories. And in fact a 2020 Cochrane Review of 15 studies with more than 59,000 participants found that lowering saturated fat intake led to a 21 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

In other words, reducing your saturated fat intake can lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Also, while regular milk has eight grams of protein per cup, coconut milk has almost none. This may not be a problem if you consume it along with other protein sources or if you are careful about making up for the protein deficit.

But it is not ideal for children.

Because plant-based milk is not a nutritional match for cow’s milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages giving anything other than milk to young children unless there is an allergy or other medical need to replace it.

almond milk

How it’s made

Almond milk is made from ground almonds that have been soaked and then filtered to separate the solids. It is also diluted with water.

Like coconut milk, almond milk is then fortified with various types of gums to thicken and stabilize it. Sugar is also often added to almond milk and can be fortified with nutrients, such as calcium and vitamins D and E.

Almond Milk Benefits

Almonds contain prebiotic fiber, which means almond milk also has this fiber, according to a review published in the Journal of Food Science Technology.

Prebiotic fiber (not to be confused with probiotics) is a type of fiber that feeds your good gut bacteria, allowing them to thrive.

But don’t count on almond milk to meet your fiber needs. In general, it is not a good source of fiber. Instead, try to eat about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day by choosing a variety of fiber-rich plant foods, whether you drink almond milk or not.

Almond milk is low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, which can be helpful if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight. It is also low in saturated fat. The main type of fat in almond milk is monounsaturated fat, which is also found in olive oil.

Several studies indicate that this type of fat may be helpful in weight loss and weight management, and in lowering unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels.

Of course, almond milk does not provide these benefits alone. But it can be part of a healthy eating plan that promotes a healthy weight and heart.

almond milk concerns

Almonds are highly nutritious and provide protein, manganese, magnesium and copper in addition to other nutrients and bioactive compounds. That said, almond milk is diluted and low in almonds, so it’s relatively low in these compounds.

However, you don’t have to worry about getting these nutrients from almond milk if you eat almonds and other foods that provide them.

Like coconut milk, almond milk is low in protein and therefore not recommended for young children. Plus, almond milk can be high in added sugars, which have been linked to a host of health problems, from heart disease and high blood pressure to memory problems and vision problems.

And, as with coconut milk, if you see carrageenan among the ingredients, you may want to stay away.

Nutrition Facts Of Coconut Milk vs. Almond Milk

When it comes to coconut milk vs almond milk, their nutritional profile varies. Here are the nutrients and percentages of the recommended daily value (DV) in one cup of each:

coconut milk

Calories: 76

Fat: 5 g (6 percent RDI)

Saturated fat: 5 g (25 percent DV)

Sodium: 46 mg (2 percent RDA)

Carbohydrates: 7 g (2.5 percent DV)

Fiber: 0 (0 percent DV)

Egg white: 0.5 grams (1 percent RDI)

Calcium: 459 (35 percent RDI)

Vitamin D: 2.44 micrograms (12 percent DV)

Potassium: 46 mg (1 percent RDA)

Iron: 0.7 mg (4 percent RDA)

Vitamin b12: 1.54 mcg (64 percent RDA)

almond milk

Calories: 37

Fat: 2 g (2.5 percent DV)

Saturated fat: 0.2 g (1 percent DV)

Sodium: 176 mg (8 percent RDA)

Carbohydrates: 3 g (1 percent DV)

Fiber: 0.5 g (2 percent DV)

Egg white: 1 g (2 percent DV)

Calcium: 449 mg (35 percent RDA)

Vitamin D: 2.44 micrograms (12 percent DV)

Potassium: 163 mg (3 percent RDA)

Iron: 0.7 mg (4 percent RDA)

Vitamin b12: 0 mcg (0 percent RDA)

How To Use Coconut Milk Vs Almond Milk?

Both coconut milk and almond milk can be used in ways you traditionally use cow’s milk, such as to lighten coffee, as an ingredient in baked goods, and mixed with cereal or oatmeal.

Coconut milk has a coconut flavor, which may not go well with certain recipes.

Unsweetened, plain versions of these milk substitutes also work well in savory recipes. But if a recipe specifies a type of milk, you may want to use that product for the best results.

The Cost of Coconut Milk vs Almond Milk

On Amazon, a 64 ounce box of 365 unsweetened coconut milk sells for about $3, the same price as 64 ounces of 365 unsweetened almond milk.

Of course, the price depends on where you shop and the brand you buy. Don’t be surprised if coconut milk is a bit more expensive.

Which plant-based milk is better?

If you’re looking for plant-based milks due to lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or animal welfare concerns, both coconut and almond milks are suitable options.

But if you’re looking for the low-calorie option with the healthiest fat profile, almond milk is the winner.

Whichever milk you choose, always choose an unsweetened variety and make sure it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D in amounts roughly equivalent to cow’s milk.

And plan to eat enough protein from other sources, as neither milk has a meaningful amount.

Next, learn how to make cashew milk.

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