Coconut milk: Cholesterol culprit or victim of misconception?

Is it true or not that coconut milk has high cholesterol?

24 Feb 2024 08:00pm
Coconut milk. Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Coconut milk. Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Since ancient times, many have spread the belief that consuming coconut milk can cause high cholesterol.

This situation has led some of us to fear indulging in dishes based on this raw ingredient.

In fact, dietitians in health clinics also advise against doing so.

So, is it true or not that coconut milk has high cholesterol?

Through a video uploaded on Instagram, Columbia Asia Hospital Emergency Department Medical Officer Dr Malar Santhi Santherasegapan, answers this question.

The social media influencer said that for centuries, coconut milk has often been regarded as a cause of high cholesterol.

"In my view, if coconut milk was a human, it would have sued all of us long ago for being slandered.

"I want to make a confession on behalf of coconut milk here. Coconut milk does not contain cholesterol because all plant-based foods have no cholesterol.

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"Coconut milk comes from trees, right? Trees are plants, right? So it has no cholesterol," she said, quoting from a clip from a talk show programme.

In a separate video, Dr Malar, who often provides explanations to social media users about health matters, further elaborates on this view.

The post was uploaded to answer a user's question who claimed to have been advised by a dietitian not to consume coconut milk and fat.

"In coconut milk, there is indeed no cholesterol. That is a fact, but remember, coconut milk has saturated fat, and if consumed excessively, it can lead to the production of excess cholesterol by our own bodies," she said.

She emphasised that cholesterol is produced by our bodies and not by food.

"The amount of cholesterol produced by the body is around 15 to 20 per cent only.

"Only animal-based foods contain cholesterol," she said.


So, what causes the production of cholesterol in our bodies?

She further explained that there are many reasons why the body produces high cholesterol.

One of them is due to foods high in saturated and trans fats like burgers, nuggets, sausages and other processed foods.

For example, butter, cheese, cookies, pastries, ice cream and fried foods like potatoes and fried chicken are among the foods high in saturated fat.

The same goes for coconut milk.

However, according to the doctor, it is not wrong to occasionally consume foods like nasi lemak, coconut milk curry, rendang and spicy coconut milk dishes.

What is important is to reduce calories and the amount of saturated fat overall.

"Saturated fat is only recommended to be less than 10 per cent of our total daily calorie intake.

"So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, only 200 should come from saturated fat," she said.

This amount should include all foods, whether coconut milk, burgers or cheese.

Furthermore, Dr Malar stated that stress also contributes to the production of cholesterol.

Some people also have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol called familial hypercholesterolemia.

These individuals have higher cholesterol levels compared to others even if they do not consume foods containing saturated fat.

Therefore, she said, these individuals need to seek medication to prevent the risk of stroke and heart disease.

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