I am coco for coconuts.
In case you haven’t noticed, coconut milk is quickly becoming one of the most popular alternate beverages to regular milk. For those sensitive or allergic to lactose, coconut milk is a staple alternative. I have been using coconut milk and other coconut products for many years now in both cooking and in baking. I love the creaminess that coconut milk adds to sauces and I love the flavor of toasted coconut on almost anything.
The debate around different types of milks and their nutritional value will be saved for another day. Today I want to discuss in specific the options we have for coconut milk in our stores and the hidden ingredients that we don’t know much about. The good news is that there is a very easy and cheap solution to avoid all of these chemicals…. Keep reading!
Let’s start by talking about coconut milk. I’m talking about that thick, creamy, white milk that comes in a can at your local grocery store. You can buy organic or not. Unfortunately, no matter which “type” you buy, there may be some health concerns. The two main topics here are BPA and guar gum.
Most canned coconut milks are lined with a chemical called BPA. BPA is a chemical used to harden plastics and it is used in a lot of packaging still to this day despite the research showing possible health hazards. Research is linking BPA to such things as:
- Hormone imitation in the body, disrupting normal hormone levels
- Brain and behavior problems. Specific links have been made to issues in infants and young children
- Cancer. Yup the big C. Exposure to BPA has shown some increased link to cancer growth.
- Heart problems. Exposure has been linked to higher rates of heart issues.
This is a food additive used in many processed foods to thicken liquids. Most, if not all, canned coconut milks contain this additive. Guar Gum is actual a fiber that is extracted from the guar plant that grows in the Middle East. Guar Gum does not seem to pose any serious health risks at the low levels consumed normally. Problems with blockage in the esophagus and in pregnant women have been found when it is consumed in excess. Think- bulky, thick substance overload inside your body… bound to do something right? So for now, don’t worry too much about this one but keep an eye on it when you can.
Next up is the ever so popular coconut milk beverages (that even I was consuming until a few short months ago when I started looking closer at the labels). It always amazes me when I look at something like coconut milk and see a huge list of ingredients when in theory there should only two (coconuts and water). Paying more attention to what I was putting in my body, I started learning about some of these “extra” ingredients and here is the shocking truth that I found.
Here are some of the main brands and the LONG list of ingredients that come along with them:
So Delicious- Coconut Milk Beverage
Organic coconut milk (water, organic coconut cream), organic dried cane syrup, calcium phospahte, magnesium phosphate, guar gum, xanthan gum, vitamin A acetate, Vitamin D2, L-Selenomethionine (selenium), zinc oxide, folic acid, vitamin B12
Silk – Coconut Milk Beverage
Coconut milk (Filtered Water, Coconut Cream), Cane Sugar, Contains 2% or less of: Vitamin & Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2), Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Sunflower Lecithin, Locust Bean Gum, Gellan Gum.
WTF right?? What is all of this stuff and why is it in my drink? Lets look closer at a few of these “additives” and see what exactly they do once we ingest them.
We are learning more each year about the adverse effects that sugar have on our bodies. Cane Syrup is sugar. It is made by cooking the juice from the sugarcane plant until it is a burnt/golden color. The drug like side effects of sugar are present with this syrup. Avoiding or limiting our overall sugar consumption is a huge step in working towards disease prevention and health (a topic I will give more light to at another time)
For simplicity sake, this is a food preservative made in a lab (If it’s not natural, i’m not a fan). It is made by fermenting corn sugar (yay more sugar) with a certain strain of bacteria. The gum that is formed is used to thicken and keep oil and water together (as in salad dressings). No serious issues have been found related to Xanthan Gum. That said, I still don’t feel it is a good idea to ingest things that are not natural as we will never truly understand what our body does with these “fake” substances.
Unfortunately, it is very closely related to “artificial flavor” and is seen in almost every product on the shelves in our grocery stores today. It is added to foods to enhance or change the flavor of the foods. Wait shouldn’t the coconut add flavor to my coconut milk? The truth is that natural flavors are really just a component of a food found in nature (ie coconut) that has been manipulated and processed in a lab and then added back into your food. Once the processing is complete, I have a very hard time to think of this as something “natural”. Did you know that natural or artificial flavoring can actually contain anywhere for 50-100 different ingredients in itself? I don’t know about you but that scares the crap out of me. What is being hidden from me? What am I really putting in my body?
Developed as an alternative to Soy Lecithin due to too many allergies, Sunflower Lecithin is produced by separating oil and solids from the sunflower seed. During this processes, chemical solvents are used in order to extract the two parts. It is unclear if these solvents are present in the final product. Yes sunflower seeds are healthy and good for you. They are a whole food. Once you bring in heavy processing and chemicals, we still don’t know the effects this can have on our body. But I for one, don’t want to be the guinea pig.
Various Vitamins (Vitamin A, B12, D2, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc Oxide,Selenium):
Many products add extra vitamins. These can be a good thing, if you are deficient in vitamins. They can also be a bad thing as excess in certain vitamins can cause real and serious dangers. For example, too much Vitamin A has been linked to swelling in the brain, nausea, abdominal pain and hair loss. Too much Calcium, with deficiency in magnesium and phosphorous, can cause calcification of soft tissues in your body (very painful) and kidney stones. Too much Zinc can interfere with the absorption of other vitamins and minerals. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. I wouldn’t worry too much about these added vitamins but keep a watchful eye on how your body reacts.
So what can I do now you ask? I don’t like the sounds of some of these chemical additives, how can I still enjoy delicious coconut milk without moving to a tropical island?
The answer is so easy and amazing that you won’t even believe it.
Make your own coconut milk!
Yup you heard me. No i’m not talking about growing coconuts in your backyard or trying to hack into one of those impossible to open hard brown shells. I am talking about real, simple, cheap, easy and quick coconut milk made in your own house any time you want.
When I first found out how easy this was, I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t mainstream knowledge and that we weren’t all already doing this.
Step 1: Measure out 1 cup of organic unsweetened coconut flakes (yup the dried coconut you can buy at any store) and put in your blender.
Step 2: Put 3-4 cups of hot (not boiling) tap water into the blender
Step 3: Blend on high for 1-2 minutes
Step 4: Strain in a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth (the strainer works fine for me, but does leave a few “floaties” behind sometimes)
Voila! That is it. It takes all of 3 minutes for me to make a batch of delicious coconut milk in my kitchen. And the best part… it costs me less than $1 to make 1L of coconut milk. What??? Isn’t that amazing. Store it up to a week in a glass container in your fridge and add it to drinks, sauces, as a dairy replacement in baked goods or spice it with nutmeg, cinnamon and honey for a delicious drink. My favourite is using it in curries and putting a splash in my coffee.
Now it is your turn to make the change. I challenge you to try making your first batch today!
Do you have 3 minutes to make a positive change to your health? I bet you do!!!
P.s. I hate waste so once I have taken all of the pulp from the coconut milk, I use it in porridge and baking. If you have any ideas of extra uses for the pulp please comment below, I’d love to hear!