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3 Reasons Why You May Not Be Able to Tolerate Coconut Milk


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Reviewed by Laura Beth Schoenfeld, RD, MPH


Coconut milk is often a staple fat source for those following a Paleo diet. From a nutritional perspective, it’s an excellent choice. It’s high in saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are both easily burned as fuel by the body. MCTs are particularly beneficial in that they don’t require bile acids for digestion, and they’re directly shunted to the liver via the portal vein.

Coconut milk and fruit can be a great snack for Paleo folks, and coconut milk smoothies make a great Paleo breakfast choice – especially in the summer.

So what could be wrong with coconut milk? Here are three things to consider.


Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical that has been used in consumer goods since the 50s. It’s found in reusable drink containers, DVDs, cell phones, eyeglass lenses, automobile parts and sports equipment. While the research on BPA is still mixed (some studies indicating harm and others not), given the uncertainty I think it makes sense to avoid it whenever possible.

BPA is used in the lining of certain canned foods. BPA especially leaches into canned foods that are acidic, salty or fatty, such as coconut milk, tomatoes, soup, and vegetables.

So what’s the solution here? In short, if you want to be on the safe side and reduce your exposure to BPA, you have to reduce your consumption of canned foods (including coconut milk) as much as possible. I made this recommendation in 9 Steps for Perfect Health-#3: Eat Real Food. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that families who ate fresh food for three days with no canned food, and using only glass storage containers, experienced a 60% reduction of BPA in their urine. The reductions were even higher (75%) for those with the highest BPA levels at the beginning of the study.

The good news, however, is that there are brands of coconut milk with BPA-free cans or carton packaging. One is Native Forest, which you can purchase on Amazon if it’s not available at your local store.

Coconut milk can also be made quite easily at home, with coconut flakes, a blender and cheesecloth. Here’s a video to show you how (get a load of the soundtrack). I find that blanching the coconut flakes prior to blending improves the results.

Guar gum

The other potential problem with canned coconut milk is guar gum. Guar gum is a galactomannan, which is a polysaccharide consisting of a mannose backbone with a galactose side group.

It’s primarily the endosperm of guar beans.

Beans and legumes have a variety of compounds in them that make them difficult to digest, especially for people with digestive problems (1 in 3 Americans, from the latest statistics). In my clinical experience, many patients with gut issues improve when they remove guar gum from their diet—including canned coconut milk.

There’s no evidence that guar gum may cause serious harm. So, if you’re able to tolerate guar gum, there’s no reason to avoid it. If it does give you digestive trouble, look for a brand that’s free from guar gum. The other option, of course, is making coconut milk at home.

Fructose malabsorption

Fructose malabsorption (FM) is a digestive disorder characterized by impaired transport of fructose across the small intestine. This results in increased levels of undigested fructose in the gut, which in turn causes overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Undigested fructose also reduces the absorption of water into the intestine.

The clinical effects of FM include: intestinal dysbiosis, changes in motility, promotion of mucosal biofilm, and decreased levels of tryptophan, folates and zinc in the blood.

Symptoms produced include bloating, gas, pain, constipation or diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue (to name a few). Recent research has also tied fructose malabsorption to depression.

Lest you think this isn’t a common problem, studies have shown that up to 30% of people in Western countries suffer from fructose malabsorption.

Even in healthy people without fructose malabsorption, however, only about 20-25g of fructose can be properly absorbed at one sitting. Glucose assists in transport of fructose across the intestine, so in general foods with equal amounts of glucose and fructose will be better absorbed than foods with excess amounts of fructose (in relation to glucose).

While fructose malabsorption can cause symptoms in anyone, those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are particularly affected. While the prevalence of FM is the same in healthy populations and those with IBS & IBD, the experience of FM appears to be more intense in the latter group. This is probably due to the increased visceral sensitivity common in IBS and IBD patients.

In fact, one of the most promising clinical approaches to managing IBS & IBD right now is the low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols. These include:

  • fructose (fruits, honey, HFCS)
  • fructans (wheat, onions)
  • lactose (milk sugar)
  • polyols (sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol & mannitol, along with fruits like apples, pears and plums)
  • galactooligosaccharides (legumes & beans, brussel sprouts, onions)
  • other sweeteners like polydextrose and isomalt

Studies have found that restricting FODMAPs can significantly improve the symptoms associated with IBS, IBD and fructose malabsorption.

What does this have to do with coconut milk, you ask? According to Drs. Gibson & Barrett, experts in fructose malabsorption, coconut milk is a FODMAP and should be avoided by people with digestive conditions like IBS & IBD.

According to NutritionData.com, coconut milk has very little sugar of any kind – including fructose. Nevertheless, I do have patients that cannot even tolerate homemade coconut milk (which has no guar gum in it), even though they are fine with coconut oil. I assume that they are reacting to the fructose in the coconut milk – but I can’t be sure. According to Monash University, small quantities (up to 1/3 of a cup or 80g) of coconut milk may be tolerable for those who are sensitive to FODMAPs.

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Let’s bring this together into recommendations for three different groups of people:

  • Women who are trying to get pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding, children and other vulnerable populations (chronically ill): should avoid canned coconut milk products except for those that are BPA-free, like Native Forest and Arroy-D. Note: Native Forest is organic, but Arroy-D is not.
  • People with digestive problems (IBS, IBD, GERD, etc.): may want to avoid coconut products entirely, except for coconut oil
  • Healthy people: may be fine with canned coconut milk, provided they don’t react to the guar gum, and provided they’re willing to take the side of industry scientists that claim BPA doesn’t cause harm in humans

Want organic coconut milk – but without the BPA and guar gum?

There are available options to buy organic, guar-gum-free coconut milk in a BPA-free container. Or, with a little extra effort, you can easily make this at home yourself.

  • Purchase coconut cream (Let’s Do Organic and Artisana are good choices) and blend with water to make coconut milk.
  • Purchase shredded coconut (again, Let’s Do Organic is a good choice), and follow the instructions below for making homemade coconut milk.

Homemade coconut milk instructions



  • Heat water until hot (but not boiling).
  • Add shredded coconut and water to blender (preferably a Vitamix!) If all of the water won’t fit, you can add it in two batches.
  • Blend on high for several minutes until thick and creamy.
  • Pour through a colander to filter out the coconut pulp, then squeeze through a cheese cloth or nut milk bag to filter the smaller pieces of coconut.
  • If you separated the water into two batches, put the strained coconut back into the blender with the second batch of water.
  • Drink immediately or store in the fridge. Fresh coconut milk should be used within 3-4 days of making it for the best flavor and texture.
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Join the conversation

    • Yes. I just discovered this coconut milk myself. Organic, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, fair-trade & non-BPA. It’s a product of the Philippines. It’s a little hard to find sometimes tho. You can order it by the case through “Azure Standard” & they will deliver it to a drop off point in your area. They do not charge for shipping.
      The only drawback with this coconut milk is that it is not smooth when you open the can & it is necessary to stir it vigorously. Still, I think it’s the best on the market.

      • Plus, I tried using this brand to make yogurt (in a Yogourmet yogurt maker) and it didn’t work; it didn’t gel and the lite milk floated at the top and there was separated water at the bottom. I’m new to making yogurt and heard you “can” use coconut milk…so maybe I should’ve used the full fat version. ?

        • Coconut milk and coconut cream are two different products. Use coconut cream to make yoghurt.

  1. I make homemade coconut from coconuts and avoid anything in a package. Buy whole coconuts drain the water crack open pry out the meat cut into smaller chunks add 32 oz filtered water to coconut meat blend in vitamix strain thru nut bag and you have fresh coconut milk.

    • Yes! We needn’t be relient on these huge, greedy, misleading businesses to do every little thing for us! Coconut milk is simple to make. Thank you for pointing out that it comes from coconuts, Susan. It’s like a foreign concept to so many people that we can make our own foods and drinks so easily from the fresh real thing.

      • Yes, Crunchy Mama, business are greedy and could care less about safety or health as long as its legal for them to do so and they continuing to bring in profits.

        Our government Depts like the FDA and EPA have been weakened by cutting budgets and allowing individuals with special interests connections to judge what can and cannot be offered for sale to the general public.

        Michael Taylor worked for Monsanto but has gone back and forth under several different administrations to be a decision maker in the FDA. He’s only one of many, even a Supreme Court Justice is an ex Monsanto employee, Clarence Thomas.

        We’ve all become too dependent on industrialized food when not that long ago people used to grow their own gardens and raised their own animals for meat consumption.

        The food today has little to no nutrition and filled with chemicals including pesticides, herbicides. growth hormones, antibiotics and things we need to look up because we don’t recognize the ingredients because they are anything but real food. Glyphosate is found everywhere its also known as one of the chemicals in Roundup AKA GMOs. All meat not 100% grass fed is also tainted they feed the ‘meat’ animals corn, BT corn which is a pesticide and cows like many other farm animals do not naturally eat corn or grains they eat grass. They use corn because its subsidized (welfare) by our tax dollars and make the animal grow faster so it gets to market quicker than we end up eating what its eaten and the dangerous cycle continues. If those same animals were not slaughtered their live span would be just a fraction of what it naturally should be because they too cannot live on corn especially contaminated corn, they need fresh clean grass to eat to see their full potential and live years longer.

        Know what you’re eating people! Its important, we are not artificial but made up of cells and bacteria. We will never evolve to eat chemicals……………never!

        Monsanto and friends hire their own scientist to spin the BS but the truth is staring us in the face just look at the level of illness’s people are having, its nothing like it used to be. Cancer is common as well as a host of diseases and conditions we never heard of 20-30 years ago.

        The soil is depleted on conventional farms instead of having healthy organism that give us nutritious foods we are left with sterile soil. That’s not how nature intended, the soil in my garden feeds my plants and that’s the way it should be and has been for thousands of years for others.

        If you can’t or don’t have the room for a garden you can join community shares or buy from local farmers and growers.

        No matter what you think about BPA it is also a factor and I for one avoid any toxin that I can.


        I doubt very much if Chris is trying to make a buck off of anyone buying the products he listed he’s simply giving you options that he knows are BPA free many of us share the info to help others but you can always find your own or read every label and contact the manufacturers and ask.

        That old saying ‘You are what you eat’ has never been more spot on…………..

        • If you can get fresh made coconut milk to last longer than 2.5 days or 60 hrs in the fridge, tell me your secret 🙂

          I’ve been drinking it fresh for a dozen years and I can never get beyond the third day, ever.

    • The best part for you IS the coconut juice inside the coconut. It does help to regulate your bowels. It’s a natural stool softener. This article is fear mongering.

    • And then the vitamix puts non-stick coating particles into your coconut milk. Look at youtube. Plus the company have been horrible at dealing with it and claim non stick coating is safe in small amounts. I’d never trust that company.

  2. Now Biona have changed their cans and that brand of tinned coconut milk also doesn’t have a lining with BPA in it. They also now list nothing other than coconut and water in the ingredients of their full fat milk (no guar gum stabiliser) and they use organically produced coconut milk. It’s easy to get hold of in the UK, more common in (non-specialist) supermarkets than Arroy-D.

  3. Excellent example of a deceiving commercial text. People wake up! The only reason Chris has written this article is because he wants you to buy those brands. Also the title and introduction is at least misleading as the reader expects to read something about why _coconut milk_ might not be good for you. Instead he goes on about canned products and other additives. Well it’s obvious that a highly processed or simply industrialised product derived from original coconut milk might have side effects. The fraction of people with PM might wish to avoid a whole bunch of food stuff that their body cannot process – it is all a matter of perspective. So what did we learn from this article? Nothing.

  4. I am living in Australia. I have been using a new coconut cream by Wokka a product of Thailand, processed for Manassen Foods Australia. It is supplied in a metal pouch (not in a can). Labeled as- Ingredients: Coconut Cream (100%). How do I find out if it is lined with BPA’s? And is there any other processing? Like Irradiated; Pastured; Hydrogenated or any other thing I don’t know about?

    • OMG this is a effing nightmare. WHY??? Are humans so sick as to do this?? Seriously I’ll never use coconut again because I’d never be sure unless they came from Florida or something. I honestly wont. I had no idea. Seriously wtf? Thank you so much for posting this. ♥

  5. To Jane and Rob, how kind of you both to respond to my query about losing weight or, more important, not gaining weight on hi fat low carb diets, when one is sedentary such as ourselves. You both had great info and I am following up. Blessings to you both, to myself, and to all… yes, it’s hard enough having a specific condition and then trying to find the best way to ameliorate some of its effects. Again, thank you so much!

  6. I am living France and have been buying the Aroy-D Coconut milk. Until a couple of months ago it stated “Ingredients: Coconut Water 60%, Water”.However, now this line is covered on every package by a sticker stating instead “Ingredients: COCONUT EXTRACT 60%, WATER; EMULSIFIER (E435)”.

    • I live in Illinois. I use Arroy-D coconut milk. The lining is BPA free. The ingredients listed are: Coconut extract 60%, Water. NO other ingredients are listed on the label.

  7. I did not see anything about Silk unsweetened coconut milk in your article. How does it compare? I use it everyday in my breakfast fruit, spinach and protein smoothie. I do have digestive problems but it seems when i use the Silk coconut milk I feel fine,
    I also love the new Cashew milk out now but it does seem to upset my digestion (along with other nut milks I have tried like Almond milk). I do not know why the almond and cashew milk upset my stomach but so far this coconut milk works well for me so will stick with it.

  8. I am suspicious with Arroy-D coconut milk in a can. Because I cook and ate it for the whole week, to make deserts (with black sticky rice).
    I feel so uncomfortable/bloat/lactacid on pelvic/stomach area. I thought it’s because I have my period. But I thought because I am having a period. But I went to emergency hospital, it seems doctor found nothing. Doctor is convinced it’s not because of coconut milk.

    I will try not eating coconut milk/fat/lactacid for a week. If I am cured, that means that coconut milk in a can is the culprit.

  9. Well, thanks for the background. At least I know I am not crazy. The most recent episode was very nasty with things happening on both ends of my body simultaneously. I think it goes back to a one cup of Goya Coconut milk ( the can was still in date) required by a recipe. A nearly identical experience was had a year earlier also with one cup of Goya coconut milk. The tie to lactose intolerance may be at work also; my body does better with “Lactaid” products.

    • I was Told That Pure Coconut Milk Straight from I coconut is unhealthy to men Because in the future or later on in Your life You Might not get kids, But I thought this Was supposed to be healthy because it’s natural. My Question is, Is this True?

      • It’s not true, that is soya milk not coconut milk. Coconut milk is very good for you

  10. You should have indicated that the coconut milk you are referring to is not fresh, hence misleading. There are many countries who have an abundance of freshly made coconut milk. Does fresh coconut milk also to be avoided by diabetics?

    • Canned coconut milk seemed pretty apparent throughout the article. He even described the canned or box brands in detail. And then addressed fresh as well.

      • I 100% disgree. There is no mention of the word can in the opening of the article and at the end of the article I am still left unsure and to what he means by carton. I have never seen canned coconut milk, only cartoned, such as the So Delicious brand, in the freezer section. If you are not reading carefully and rely purely on the “shocking headline” you would avoid coconut milk all together. It’s a great alternative for toddlers that are lactose intolerant. To the other commenter, studies have shown that soy can lead to male infertility issues. I would google for more info.

        • Almond & Cashew milk might* be higher FODMAP. I’m not sure. Check out Low FodMap diet, Monash University’s 3 minute video.

        • @Me – True coconut milk is sold in a can. What you are referring to (Silk, So Delicious, etc.) is a coconut milk “beverage”. Not even remotely the same thing.

  11. Chris,
    Not sure if anyone helps you yet. What said on the Aroy-D label is 100% Coconut Milk. No Preservatives, and the address of the company.

    I’m not sure whether they put anything bad or suspicious in it or not. Just want to help you read the label 🙂

    The best way to get the coconut milk is to crack it open and squeeze the milk from the meat.

  12. Thrive Market sells “Natural Value” Coconut milk that is guar gum and bpa free.

  13. I’ve also made coconut milk with fresh coconut a couple times recently. Removing the hull is the hardest part, and baking it in a 350 oven for 15 minutes then hitting it with a hammer does that for me. (Also good for stress reduction!)

    It’s reasonably economical – fresh coconuts cost $1.29-1.69 here and make about 500 mL of rich coconut milk each and Aroy-D coconut milk costs $5/L.

    • An easier way to crack open the coconut us to take it outside where you can use a hard rock or a kerbstone.

      Look for the three lines or veins that run vertically from the top to the bottom of the nut. Hold the nut firmly in your hand with the centre vein facing away from your palm. Strike the nut against the kerbstone aiming the central vein at the kerbstone. A few sharp hard taps on the veins should result in the nut cracking horizontally around the nut. You can then retrieve the flesh using a sharp knife if necessary. I or muse you it works with a bit of practice

      This is how Fijian people do it. They then use the kernel to make Bilo or cups by polishing the shell with sand until all of the hairy husk is removed revealing a shiny tortoiseshell pattern

  14. I am reading a book – The coconut oil diet. My daughter is a registered dietitian. I was telling her the benefits of the oil. She told me to be very aware of how many calories the oil contained. Should that be a concern?

    • I have a masters in nutrition and I say, keep reading and use the coconut oil! Yes it is higher in calories, but it will cause satiety and reduce cravings. Calorie and nutrient dense food is the way to go. There is much more to food than just the calorie count. Coconut oil is filled with medium chain triglycerides that actually cause your body to burn more calories and fat. It is also antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial and good for your intestinal flora health. I went on a higher fat diet with coconut oil, grass-fed meats and dairy, and my triglycerides and LDL went down and my HDL went up.

      good luck!

      • I’m suspicious that you maa’m sound like shill of the coconut marketing association but masquerade as a ‘nutritionist’ , beware of the saturated fat content . I’m a coconut farmer and while our products are tasty and flavorful , I will NEVER advise someone who is heart health conscious to eat or use edible products containing coconuts . Good Nutrition :Less than 2.5 grams of total fat and not more than 0.5 grams Sat fat for every 100 calorie portion . Keep this BS going till America learns the truth about coconut fats , after all its ‘make hay while the sun shines’.

        • Well for anyone that doubts that cholesterol benefits of coconut fat, all they need to do is get a before and after blood test to see if it works for them. Easy peasy.

        • The cells in our body,from our understanding, are made up of (either saturated fat, or cholesterol). They both are GOOD for you. Your brain needs them…

  15. Or you could just buy a whole coconut from your local fruit store…

    Poke a hole in the top with a skewer (where the holes are)
    Only ONE of the holes will work. (For some reason)

    Use a drill that is thick enough to poke a straw through and drill the hole where you made the previous hole.

    Then you can either stick a straw in and drink, or pour the milk into a cup.


    p.s. I really liked this article! Thanks!

    • Ollie, that would be coconut water 🙂 Still very good, healthy and delicious but that is NOT coconut milk.

    • The liquid you drink from the inside of a coconut with a straw is the coconut juice/water. Coconut milk means the product when you squeeze the coconut flesh (or dried coconut softened by soaking in water), it is an extract of the solid part of the coconut. You can make it easily from the whole coconut, once you have the coconut opened in half (I think people use a saw), by scraping off the white flesh with a sharp scraper (be careful to avoid cutting yourself!). Then pulverize in a mixer/blender and strain through a fine mesh.

    • That’s not coconut milk, that’s coconut water. You have to grind up the meat, the coconut along with the water to make the milk.

    • The liquid inside a coconut is coconut water, not milk. To make coconut milk, you’ll have to blend the water (either coconut water or plain tap) with the pulp inside.

    • Unfortunately you would be drinking coconut water. That’s not the same as coconut milk.