Oh food industry, you’ve done it again. Turning something that should be simple into a science experiment and causing mass confusion amongst the general public. What started as a delicious concoction in a can is now showing up in the milk aisle, next to peanut and almond butters, amongst the yogurts, coffee creamers, kefirs, and even in the ice cream dessert section of your grocery store. One must scrutinize a label before seeing the word “coconut” and calling it fair game. As much as I’d love for coconut based dessert novelties to fit into my daily meal plan, that’s just not going to happen. True – it’s not the worst choice around and depending on your level of adherence to your diet, personal goals, and tolerances, there can be a place for it. I’d just prefer not see the multitude of added gums, soy lecithin, and agave syrup become an overwhelming presence amongst my daily food choices.

For the most part coconut oil and coconut butter are, in fact, quite delicious and consist mainly of pure coconut; however some of these new food innovations are not quite as innocent. Even canned coconut milk is not as simple as it may seem. Guar gum may be added to canned coconut milk to prevent the water from separating from the coconut oil and can cause gastrointestinal distress in certain individuals. To avoid this additive, you can try using shredded dried coconut and mix it with water to create your own coconut milk. There are tips on Tropical Traditions website to show you just how to do this and avoid the additives that may be in the canned version.

Another thing to keep in mind is the potential for BPA (Bisphenol-A) to be leached into the can. BPA is a chemical that may be in the lining of the metal can and has been known to have estrogenic activity (estrogen = female sex hormones) which may be linked to diabetes, heart disease, ADHD, infertility, and cancer. Chris Kresser does a great job of discussing some of these issues. The good news is that some companies, such as Native Forest, are becoming more aware of this issue and are starting to reconsider how they package their product. Native Forest Coconut Milk has confirmed that their coconut milk is in BPA free cans.

There’s a lot I would love to write about regarding these new foods, but for this post I mainly want to discuss coconut milk. I’ve read countless recipes that list coconut milk as an ingredient and want to make sure that people realize coconut milk means just that – coconut milk in the can, prepared from a whole coconut, or shredded coconut mixed and prepared with water. While a multitude of companies are coming out with their own version of coconut milk by the quart and half gallon, these new innovations are truly coconut beverages, not milk. In short, do not use the coconut milk beverages in your recipes.

The following table analyzes the ingredient composition of some of the leading brands of coconut products available:

Product Ingredients:

Organic Canned Coconut Milk Coconut Milk Beverage – Original Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage – Chocolate Shredded Coconut or Fresh Coconut

Canned coconut milk is a good go-to when you’re looking for a quick coconut milk product. Of course, if you have the time and energy – go wild with a fresh coconut or shredded coconut to make your own. When these other coconut beverages are used in recipes they water down your final product with extra gums, sugars, artificial sweeteners (which also cause digestive issues in many people), thickeners, and vitamins that really aren’t necessary if you are following a clean Paleo diet. I’d avoid them not only in recipes, but also for beverage consumption for many of the same reasons listed above. Save your money on these new coconut milk beverages and spend that extra few dollars on some real foods. Think outside the box!

Categories: Paleo Diet Basics


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. Eric Lester says

    Thanks, Stephanie.

    We have just started using coconut milk in the past month and this answered some questions that have popped up.

  2. Michal says

    It seams like the non-chocolate beverage is pretty much the same as the canned coconut milk with the addition of some supplementary vitamins and minerals. I don’t see any harm in those. Unless of course you prefer less ingredients for simplicity.

    • Liz says

      Michal, I agree. It’s not feasible for my fiance and I to make our own coconut milk, and we do like to use the “So Delicious” unsweetened coconut milk to make fruit smoothies with wild blueberries and organic strawberries from Trader Joe’s (we live in the desert, it was 109 today!) We just don’t have time to create our own coconut products from coconut, and it’s important to remember that keeping this lifestyle feasible is important.

      I do agree that the coconut ice creams, cookies, (insert processed food here) are definitely worth avoiding – buying REAL food should be the focus – but I’m not sure that railing against unsweetened coconut milk sold in gallons is quite fair – it shouldn’t be lumped with sweetened coconut products. While my fiance can drink a can of regular coconut milk with his berries (we do like Native Forest), I prefer something lighter every now and then, and for me, it seems ok. As Robb has said, different strokes for different folks – some can handle the guar gum and supplementary vitamins and minerals fine.

      I appreciate the author pointing out the increases in sugary coconut products. The aisles of the grocery stores are brimming with the stuff, and my parents have sent several emails asking if things are “ok” – this is a great article to point them toward.

      • Stephanie says

        Liz – if you need to occasionally use the unsweetened coconut milk beverages due to time constraints or feasibility and do not suffer from any side effects of the additives, feel free. The intention of this post wasn’t to make people feel guilty for using these products, but to enlighten individuals about the variety of choices out there.

        I completely understand that making your own coconut products takes time and effort, so just do what you can!

  3. Matt says

    Coconut milk in a carton is watered down, then brought up to consistency with the gums. 1c of unsweetened coconut milk from a carton (So Delicious brand) has just 5g fat. 1c of canned milk has almost 30g fat. So, in one can ($1.50-2.00) I get the same amount of actual cononut fat as I do in more than one carton ($3.00-4.00) of cononut milk.

  4. says

    Our go to brand of “canned” coconut milk is Aroy-D 100% Coconut Milk in a Tetrapak. It’s free of all additives and BPA. We found some at a local (Bay Area) Asian grocery store but have mostly purchased it online here:

    The same company also makes a 100% Coconut Cream with no additives, etc. The only downsides to these coconut products is that once you open a package you need to finish it quickly and the fact that they are shipped from halfway around the world…


    • Stephanie says

      Henry – you are absolutely correct. Aroy-D is a good choice as well. I just included Native Forest as it is more easily accessible. Great points.

      • Barbara says

        Native Forest coconut milk has GUAR GUM, which according to this article and other researchers may be a problem for folks with sensitive GI systems or inflammation issues.

    • Kevin Costello says

      UHT processing?

      We have been getting the Aroy-D Tetra Paks from philamfood for the past 12 mos.
      It seemed too good to be true: price, consistency, no BPA, no guar, no additives or preservatives, etc.

      I never considered that the tetra pak UHT process could be damaging the coconut.

      Does anyone have any info on the impact of UHT on sat fat?

      • says

        Kevin – I researched the UHT process and found it involves heating the milk to 284 degrees for 10 seconds. In my opinion this is not an issue. I think I ended cooking my curries at a higher/similar temperature anyway…


  5. says

    I find that the stuff in the carton (the coconut milk “beverage”) tastes chemically after using coconut milk (in a can) for years. I tried it and wasn’t that impressed. Besides, you can thin out canned coconut milk for far less money if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ve never made it from dried coconut, though… I’ve seen that tip on various blogs this past week and need to try it! (I’d rather stay away from the BPA-lined cans whenever possible.)

    • Stephanie says

      Celia – that’s a GOOD thing if it tastes chemically to you. That means that you’ve been eating a clean diet and can notice the processing that takes place in foods :)

  6. says

    I’ve been meaning to start making my own coconut milk for a long time, I think I’m going to actually start doing it now with shredded coconut and coconut cream concentrate from Tropical Traditions. Guess I’ll go at it after I finish the cans in the pantry off.

    • Stephanie says

      Just so you know – if you use the coconut cream concentrate it does end up being a little more grainy of a texture because of the fiber. Some people love it, but others find the texture to be an issue. Check it out and see what you think!

  7. says

    Thanks for the great article. I use a lot of coconut milk to cook our meals, and always bought the canned milk. Thanks to the encouragement of this article, I just now I went and bought a coconut (1.50 each at walmart) and made coconut milk, as well as coconut bread and coconut “popcorn” from the same coconut. I’m definitely doing this from now on. Not only is it cheaper, its healthier and fresher. Thanks for opening my eyes to doing this myself!

      • says

        To make coconut “popcorn” you cut up the coconut meat into small 1/4 or 1/2 inch pieces and cook them on a skillet, sans oil. After a few minutes they start to brown and even give “popping” sounds. That signals they are done. You eat them that way, and they taste remarkably like popcorn. We love them!

        I got this idea from a paleo blogger that saw this on the show survivor.

  8. Shel says

    Henry, is that stuff UHT? i’ll bet it is. if so, this might pose problems regarding oxidated lipids, etc.

    i don’t think there is any way around the idea that “paleo” means fresh food, as minimally processed as possible…

    …and yeah, this involves work and time.

    • says

      Shel – you are correct that these TetraPaks are subject to UHT. The TetraPak UHT processing involves heating the milk for 10 seconds up to 284 degrees farenheit (140 Celsius). I recognize this is not as perfect as making these from scratch, but I also don’t think that 284 degrees is going to do much to oxidize the saturated fatty acids in coconuts… but I am just an aspiring “pseudo scientist” so what do I know.


  9. Wendy says

    I live in the UK. This summer we went to the US for a visit back home. I was so excited to see the So Delicious products because I cannot buy those here. I loaded up, coffee creamer, ice cream, yogurt. It all made me sick! I was so distraught. Here in London, I use the canned to cook but I do use a carton for my coffee (Kara brand – filtered water, coconut milk 8.4%, fruit extract concentrate, calcium phosphate, emulsifier:sucrose ester, sea salt, color:natural carotene). Very few ingredients but added calcium which equates to 120 mg/100ml or 37.5% RDA.

      • Curt says

        Is Agave Nectar Syrup a good or bad thing? Where does it rank compared to honey? What do I need to look for with Agave Syrup?

          • Curt says

            Son of a Biscuit. Well will you look a there. Thank you so much Amy…Well out goes the Anastay oops Agave Syrup. I’m assuming that if you really need a sweetner that Honey is the way to go?

          • Amy Kubal says

            Curt – not to sound harsh but do you ever “really need a sweetener”? In any event stick with the most unrefined stuff you can find and know that it’s a treat and not an ‘everyday’ staple.

          • Curt says

            You now what Amy…Truly you are 10000% correct. It’s the last little bit of unhealthy me trying to hold on. Shouting in my ear…you can’t do without artificial sugars. I’m still flushing some of the “have to’s” out. Realizing that they never were “have to’s”. In reality…I haven’t had a “sweetener” in two weeks now. I pretty much cut them cold turkey. Well really I don’t have as much access to them as before.

  10. says

    This is really the fundamental problem with the health and fitness industry right now. A new buzzword comes out, it gets promoted to death, and then people will buy anything containing that “new miracle nutrient”, regardless of all the other garbage in the food or supplement.

    It seems to happen with everything. Antioxidants may prolong life? Lets throw a couple into a drink with 150g of sugar and call it a health food. Whole grain? Well, you can pretty much get away with any other garbage you want to put in there.

    I’m glad I really took the time to learn about what it really takes to be lean and healthy, because it would be so easy to get lost in all this BS.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Stephanie says

      Exactly! I’m glad you’ve taken time to learn about what it really takes to be lean and healthy. Spread the good word :)

  11. says

    great post Stephanie! I own The Primal Grind, a primal cafe in Toronto where we serve almond milk and coconut milk lattes instead of dairy. When we were choosing our suppliers it was hard to find quality, additive free coconut milks. We ended up choosing Native Forest for the exact reasons you mentioned as we rely on the convenience of a can with the quantities we use. It would have been much cheaper to choose other brands but we didn’t want to sacrifice quality.
    Thanks very much for bringing this up. As the paleo/primal movement grows and becomes more mainstream we are going to see alot of tempting new products marketed to us, we still need to continue to read labels and ask questions!
    Thanks again.

    • Stephanie says

      You’re welcome! Kudos to you for serving quality products despite the loss of revenue. I’ll be traveling to Toronto for work in the near future so I’ll have to swing by and check it out!! Maybe even pick up a “bad-ass T-shirt” while I’m at it too.

    • Liz says

      How do you do the lattes, if I might ask? The Native Forest coconut milk is super thick – do you add water? I would come and get one but live in the US.

  12. Vlad says

    Stephanie, what do you think about the fiber content in coconut? As far as I know it is about 90 percent insoluble. Many smart folks like Peter and Dr. Harris are not big fans of it. What is your opinion? Thank you. Vlad

  13. kiko says

    i’ve notice this myself with the guar gum. i drink the cocnut milk plain 1st thing in the morning after my workout. i tried a few brands but notice i could only stand to drink those without guar gum ugh. goya has been a favorite of mine. i buy can thou, but it has no extra sugar.

  14. Billi Cummings says

    Has anyone used the Vita coco 100% pure water that is sold in grocery and health food stores? The ingredients are: Coconut water, vitamin c. Is this a legit beverage for the Paleo diet?

    • Amy Kubal says

      There can be a place for coconut water. It shouldn’t become a replacement for ‘plain’ water throughout the day. But post workout and during workouts for endurance athletes, coconut water is an option.

  15. Kim says

    I keep hearing Robb say that fructose can cause stomach issues. There’s sugar in coconut milk (according to the online nutrition facts). Is that fructose? sucrose? What’s the deal? Should I be worried?

    • Amy Kubal says


      Coconut sugar is composed of 70-79% sucrose followed by glucose and fructose at 3-9% each. Sucrose, however is 50% glucose and 50% fructose making coconut sugar between 38-48% fructose. Should you be worried? Is the sugar in your coconut milk being added by the company or is it only from the natural occurring sugars in the fruit itself? Many brands of refrigerated coconut milk products add sugar – watch your ingredient labels! The amount of sugar in pure coconut milk is likely not enough to have any major effect on your stomach. The way to find out – try it, if it makes you feel less than optimal, it’s not for you. If it agrees with you and you still look, feel and perform like a champ then don’t sweat it.

  16. Gabrielle Keith says

    Man. So if I wanted to use coconut milk I need to get native forest? I’m a novus with the paleo diet. Just stripped my house of non paleo foods. How often can I use the coconut milk? Sorry for the loaded questions :) thanks!!!

  17. bernard says

    Thanks for the article Stephanie,

    One question though, do you think it is healthy thing to do to cook your food using coconut oil?

    I read one of your article about Saturated fat and there seems to be a little contradiction in your message. At first you were saying how Saturated fat does not cause heart disease and safe for human consumpsion however, in the same article you were eluding how we should eat Game meat because of their low saturated fat content.

    So at one hand you say sat fat is ok, but on the other hand you re-enforce the mainstream nutritional believe about bad sat fat and try to steer people away from consuming sat fat… Which is it?

    • Amy Kubal says


      Saturated fat is not bad! Game meat is a better choice due to it’s more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio. And overall our diets are low in the omega-3’s and high in omega-6’s. The saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids in traditional raised meats displace the more beneficial omega-3’s. Hope that helps!

  18. Victoria says

    thanks, I knew this, but my question for you concerning coconut is about the coconut flour. What is it and why does it give me gas when no other form of coconut gives me gas. I can consume the milk (goya, dilluted or full strength in recipes), can consume fresh coconut, shredded unsweetened coconut and also coconut oil and get no gas from them whatsoever, but I used coconut flour to bake with and got horribly gassy from it…is this common? I read other similar comments about it on line. If it is gassy, then why when other forms of coconut are not? Thanks.

  19. Art Tom says

    Robb have you seen the studies/stories that link coconut oil with reductions in ALS, dementia and alzheimers? It has to do with glucose assimilation very smiliar to diabetes. If it works as seems to have happened with many people, this would be an amazing thing for all of us.

  20. Stacy says

    Native forest bran has guar gum… Did u guys find a native forest can without guar gum? It’s not at my stores

    Trader Joes has no gaur gum canned coconut milk. Anyone try this?

  21. says

    I just spent a few hours researching UHT especially and have published this description of UHT coconut milk (which we sell),
    If anyone has any feedback about the nutritional effects of UHT processing specifically on coconut milk, please let me know. Also please see, the Weston Price page on UHT, I have left a detailed comment about the effects of UHT on Dairy milk, which is all I could find information about (in English):

    • Erik says

      Hi Karla, I am currently researching the UHT process as well. Did you find anything on the effect of UHT on the proteins and especially on the fats in coconut milk?

  22. shawn says

    I just read this article among many others on coconut milk and like anything it’s good in moderation right? I have been eating paleo for over 2 months and am a constant listener of wolf’s podcast. I heard robb wolf talk about having a can of coconut milk for breakfast as a way to help him put on mass for muscle, I believe that’s what he said. I lost a lot of weight and feel great but am looking at building muscle, so yeah I gave coconut milk a try and love it. I tend to look for sales and also read the ingredients, I haven’t found a guar gum free yet, but guar gum doesn’t seem to bother me. I tend to frequent the foreign food aisles. I haven’t really put a limit on how much I have as in a basic can of coconut milk. I look for the can of ingredients list that is the most simple.

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