Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Coconut Cream Bad For You?



Short answer

Coconut cream, while rich in flavor and versatile in cooking, contains high levels of saturated fat, which can impact heart health and cholesterol levels. It is also calorie-dense, potentially affecting weight management. Its low glycemic index favors blood sugar control, and lauric acid may boost immune function and metabolism. However, the benefits must be weighed against the risks of increased LDL cholesterol and total calorie intake. Portion control is essential. People with coconut allergies or sensitivities must avoid it. Moderation and mindful inclusion in a balanced diet are key for those without health concerns.



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Long answer

Saturated Fat Content and Heart Health Implications

Coconut cream is a rich and thick product made from the grated meat of mature coconuts. Its creamy texture and tropical flavor make it a popular ingredient in desserts, curries, and beverages. However, one of the most significant concerns surrounding coconut cream pertains to its high saturated fat content. This section explores the implications of coconut cream's saturated fat on heart health.

Saturated fats have long been implicated in the development of heart disease by contributing to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis. According to the American Heart Association, individuals should aim to limit their intake of saturated fats to no more than 5-6% of total daily calories. A closer look at coconut cream reveals that it contains a higher proportion of saturated fat compared to other plant-based creams. For reference, one cup of coconut cream contains approximately 57 grams of saturated fat, which is well above the recommended daily intake.

  • Impact on Cholesterol Levels: Studies have shown mixed results regarding coconut's effect on cholesterol levels. While some research suggests that coconut fat might raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, it also appears to increase "bad" LDL cholesterol, potentially neutralizing potential benefits.
  • Medium-Chain Triglycerides: Coconut cream is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are processed differently by the body compared to other fats. MCTs can be quickly used for energy, which some studies suggest may be less likely to be stored as fat. However, the impact of MCTs on heart health is still under investigation.
  • Comparison to Other Fats: Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. In this context, choosing plant-based creams with lower saturated fat content, such as those derived from almonds or soy, might be a heart-healthier choice.

Furthermore, the current understanding of coconut cream's impact on heart health is still evolving. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that populations that consumed large amounts of coconuts had lower rates of heart disease. However, these populations also followed diets high in fish, fruits, and vegetables, which could have influenced the results.

Given the high saturated fat content in coconut cream, individuals with existing heart health concerns or high cholesterol should exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian. Moderation is key, and incorporating a variety of fat sources, emphasizing unsaturated fats, can contribute to a balanced diet and better heart health.

It is also important to note that coconut cream used in moderation can still be part of a healthy diet, especially when combined with an otherwise balanced intake of nutrients and a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity. Consumers should be mindful of the portion sizes and frequency of consumption when incorporating coconut cream into their diets.

The Glycemic Index of Coconut Cream and Blood Sugar Control

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of coconut cream is crucial for individuals concerned with blood sugar control, especially those with diabetes or prediabetes. The glycemic index is a system that ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how much they raise blood glucose levels after being consumed. Foods with a high GI are quickly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. Conversely, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed more slowly, leading to a gradual rise in blood sugar.

In the case of coconut cream, its glycemic index is considered low. Studies have indicated that coconut products have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that the GI of coconut products, including coconut cream, usually falls well below 55, which classifies it as a low GI food.

This is particularly beneficial for those managing diabetes or insulin resistance. When consumed in moderation, coconut cream can be a part of a balanced diet without significantly impacting glycemic control. Its low carb content and high fat profile modify the absorption rate of sugars into the bloodstream.

However, it is important to note that the overall glycemic load (GL) - which takes into account the GI in combination with the serving size - of a meal that includes coconut cream can vary. Therefore, pairing coconut cream with other low GI foods can help maintain better blood sugar stability.

Below are some key points to consider about the GI of coconut cream:

  • Coconut cream has a low glycemic index, which implies it may have less of an immediate impact on blood glucose levels.
  • The high fat content in coconut cream slows down the digestion process, potentially preventing spikes in blood sugar.
  • Coconut cream should still be used in moderation, as excess caloric intake can lead to weight gain, thereby affecting blood sugar control.
  • Always check for added sugars in commercial coconut cream products, as this can significantly increase the glycemic load.
  • For those closely monitoring their carbohydrate intake, such as individuals following a ketogenic diet, coconut cream can be a suitable option due to its low carbohydrate content.

People with diabetes should always consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to their diet. Personalized nutrition advice is essential, as the response to dietary glycemic index can be individual.

While the GI of coconut cream is low, it's essential to consider the context of the whole meal and overall diet when addressing blood sugar control. When included as part of a balanced and mindful eating plan, coconut cream can be consumed without undue concern over causing major blood sugar spikes.

Lauric Acid in Coconut Cream: Pros and Cons

Lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut cream, has been the subject of various research studies due to its unique properties and effects on human health. This sub-section aims to shed light on the advantages and disadvantages of lauric acid consumption through coconut cream.


  • Supports Immune Function: Lauric acid is touted for its antimicrobial properties. It has been shown to combat bacteria, viruses, and fungi, potentially enhancing the immune system's defense mechanisms. A study published in the Journal of Bacteriology noted that lauric acid could inhibit the growth of pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans.
  • Moderates Cholesterol Levels: Studies have suggested that medium-chain fatty acids like lauric acid may have a more favorable effect on the cholesterol profile compared to long-chain fatty acids. Lauric acid can increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, potentially promoting heart health. However, it's important to note that it can also raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, albeit to a lesser extent.
  • Role in Weight Management: Lauric acid and other medium-chain fatty acids could aid weight management by promoting satiety and increasing energy expenditure. A study in the International Journal of Obesity showed that medium-chain triglycerides may increase thermogenesis and thus, could contribute to weight loss efforts when included as part of a balanced diet.
  • Could Benefit Metabolic Health: There's evidence suggesting that medium-chain fatty acids might improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism which are crucial factors in managing diabetes and preventing metabolic syndrome.


  • Potential Increase in LDL Cholesterol: Although lauric acid improves the HDL/LDL ratio, it does raise LDL cholesterol. Individuals with existing high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease should consume lauric-rich foods like coconut cream in moderation.
  • Saturated Fat Content: Despite its potential health benefits, lauric acid is a saturated fat. A meta-analysis found that high intake of saturated fats is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 5-6% of total daily calories.
  • Caloric Density: Coconut cream is high in calories, which could lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts without appropriate portion control or compensatory physical activity.

In conclusion, while lauric acid in coconut cream has potential health benefits, it should be consumed with attention to the overall dietary pattern, individual health conditions, and lifestyle factors. Moderation is key, and incorporating a variety of different fats can help ensure a balanced and healthful diet.

Culinary Uses and Portion Control

Coconut cream is a versatile ingredient in many culinary traditions, particularly in Southeast Asian, South Asian, and Caribbean cuisines. It's known for its rich texture and ability to impart a creamy, tropical flavor to dishes. The culinary applications of coconut cream are diverse, ranging from savory curries to sweet desserts.

When incorporated into meals, coconut cream can be used in the following ways:

  • Curries and Soups: Adds richness and a smooth texture to vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes alike.
  • Dairy Alternative: Serves as an excellent lactose-free substitute in creamy sauces, smoothies, and baked goods.
  • Desserts: A key ingredient in mousses, puddings, and traditional sweets like Thai sticky rice with mango.
  • Cocktails and Beverages: Used to create piña coladas and other tropical drinks that require a creamy element.

While coconut cream can elevate the flavor and consistency of many dishes, its consumption should be mindful when considering portion control. Due to its high calorie and saturated fat content, appropriate serving sizes are crucial to integrating it into a balanced diet without contributing to potential health risks.

Guidelines for portion sizes of coconut cream are as follows:

Dish Type Suggested Serving Size
Curries/Soups 1-2 tablespoons per serving
Smoothies/Sauces 1 tablespoon per serving
Desserts 2-3 tablespoons per serving
Cocktails/Beverages 1-1.5 ounces per drink

Portion size recommendations ensure that consumers can enjoy the distinctive taste of coconut cream while avoiding excessive intake of fats. It is advisable to measure out portions when cooking, particularly when recipes call for larger quantities, to avoid inadvertent overconsumption.

Using coconut cream sparingly and intentionally within a diet that is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can be part of a balanced approach to nutrition. As always, individuals with specific health conditions or dietary restrictions should consult with a health professional before adding coconut cream or significantly changing their fat intake.

Allergic Reactions and Food Sensitivities to Coconut Products

While coconut cream is a popular ingredient in various cuisines and offers a richness to dishes that are generally well-tolerated, it is crucial to be aware of potential allergic reactions and food sensitivities associated with coconut products. Coconut allergies are relatively uncommon compared to other nut allergies; however, they can occur and sometimes may be severe.

An allergic reaction to coconut can involve the immune system and elicit symptoms ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. Symptoms often include:

  • Skin reactions like hives, eczema, or itching
  • Gastrointestinal distress such as nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Respiratory issues including wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
  • More severe reactions like anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention

Food sensitivities differ from allergies in that they are generally non-immune responses that can also cause discomfort and adverse effects. Sensitivity to coconut might lead to:

  • Digestive problems such as bloating, gas or irritable bowel symptoms
  • Headaches or migraines after coconut consumption
  • Low-grade inflammation potentially contributing to a host of chronic health problems

It is fundamental for individuals who suspect they have a coconut allergy or sensitivity to consult an allergist. An expert can conduct diagnostic tests, like a skin prick test or specific IgE blood tests, to determine if coconut is a trigger. It should be noted that if someone has a known, serious allergy to tree nuts, they may be more likely to have an allergic reaction to coconut, although the cross-reactivity is relatively low, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Individuals with known reactivity to coconut should also be cautious of derivative products, which can include:

  • Coconut oil and coconut butter
  • Coconut flour and sugar
  • Coconut milk and water
  • Cosmetics and personal care products containing coconut derivatives

Importantly, people with coconut allergies should also be aware of labels, as coconut-derived ingredients are often found in processed foods under various names. These can include lauric acid, caprylic acid, and others that may not immediately suggest a coconut origin. Complete avoidance is necessary for those with confirmed allergies.

In conclusion, while coconut cream can be enjoyed by many as a delicious and nutritious addition to a balanced diet, those with coconut allergies or sensitivities should exercise caution, identify safe consumption levels, or avoid it altogether if needed. Awareness and understanding of their reactions empower consumers to make informed dietary choices for their health and well-being.

Frequently asked questions

Coconut cream can be incorporated into a weight loss diet in moderation. It's high in fats, including medium-chain triglycerides, which may aid in satiety and might even boost metabolism slightly. However, due to its high caloric density, portion sizes should be carefully managed, and it should be balanced with other lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods to maintain a healthy caloric deficit.

Coconut cream is a lactose-free alternative to dairy products, so it's suitable for individuals who are lactose intolerant. It offers a creamy texture and can be used in many recipes that traditionally include dairy cream, such as soups, sauces, desserts, and beverages.

To enjoy coconut cream while maintaining heart health, focus on moderation and balance. Opt for smaller portion sizes, as recommended in the article, and prefer it in dishes that include a variety of other heart-healthy ingredients like vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Limiting overall saturated fat intake from other sources on the days you consume coconut cream can also help manage your heart health.

Yes, coconut cream is suitable for a low-carb or ketogenic diet due to its high fat content and low carbohydrate levels. Its low glycemic index means it has minimal impact on blood sugar levels, making it a good choice for these diets. However, as with all foods on such diets, portion control is essential to maintain the required macronutrient balance.

Ask a question about Coconut Cream and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • mild digestive upset
  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • potential allergic reactions

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • potential allergen sensitization

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high saturated fat content
  • lauric acid
  • medium-chain triglycerides
  • potential added sugars
  • coconut allergens


  • supports immune function
  • may improve cholesterol profile
  • aids in blood sugar control
  • potential weight management aid
  • low glycemic index
  • versatile culinary uses

Healthier alternatives

  • almond cream
  • soy cream
  • low-fat dairy options
  • other plant-based creams

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Organic Coconut Milk

  • Unsweetened
  • No Guar Gum
  • USDA Organic
  • Non-GMO Verified
  • Versatile use
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-09-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-09-2024

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