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The Nutritional Benefits of Coconut Milk for Babies

Coconut Milk

Coconuts are all the rage these days.

Celebrities are investing in coconut water, and all of your yoga friends are drinking it after Savasana. Coconut oil has gone from junk food pariah to “superfood” in a few short years. Nutritionists now tout it as an amazing health food that can help you burn fat.

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And coconut milk — that silky indulgence that makes your Thai curries so irresistible — is suddenly a paleo staple.

But is it good for your baby?

Is Coconut Milk Safe for Baby?

Well, it depends. Using coconut milk in place of breast milk or formula is a no-go. Studies suggest that even cow’s milk on its own can lead to iron deficiencies and severe dehydration in babies. Coconut milk definitely doesn’t do the trick. There is simply no substitute for the complete nutrition babies get from breast milk and/or infant formula.

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Some would say there’s no substitute for breast milk, period, with its unparalleled immunity protection, allergy resistance, and a slew of lifelong health benefits for both mother and child.

Milk Allergies

If breast-feeding isn't an option and you’re using a milk-based formula, watch out for symptoms of a dairy (or milk protein) allergy or intolerance. Symptoms of a dairy allergy or intolerance include:

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  • skin rashes
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • difficulty breathing
  • blood in stool

If your baby is having trouble with dairy, your doctor may recommend a soy-based formula. If your baby is allergic to soy too, there are elemental formulas that are hypoallergenic.

In any case, your pediatrician will not point you to coconut milk as an alternative.

While it is called ‘milk,’ coconut milk has little in common with breast milk, formula, or even whole milk. It shouldn’t be given to babies as a substitute to drink, but rather used as a cooking ingredient.
Karen Richardson Gill, M.D.

Coconut Milk for Toddlers

What about coconut milk for kids who have passed their 1st birthday? Could it take the place of cow’s milk in their lunchboxes?

Giving kids too much coconut milk can be dangerous. Coconut milk is wildly high in saturated fat. One cup of coconut milk has 57 grams of fat and 255 percent of your daily allowance of saturated fat. That’s more than 10 times the saturated fat content of full-fat cow’s milk, which has 8 grams of total fat.

Commercial brands of coconut milk beverages are diluted with water and contain far less fat, more in line with the amount in low-fat milk. But they can also have sweeteners and thickeners like guar gum or carrageenan that parents might want to avoid.

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You can make your own coconut milk with grated coconut. But your homemade coconut milk wouldn’t be fortified with some of the vitamins and minerals you'll find in the boxed drink.

Dairy Alternatives

If you're looking for an alternative to dairy, experts recommend the nutritional offerings of soy and even rice milk over coconut milk.

Coconut milk does get some love for its high content of lauric acid, a fatty acid also found in breast milk, though in completely different proportions. Lauric acid helps protect against infections and bacteria. Your body also burns it faster than other fatty acids.

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Coconut milk is also a good source of niacin, iron, and copper. If your older kids like coconut milk or coconut water, it’s fine to let them have it. But think of it as a treat like juice, rather than as a nutritional staple like cow’s milk.

The Takeaway

If you’re turning to coconut beverages because your child’s allergic to cow’s milk, soy, or other nut milks, beware. Coconut is also a potential allergen, though not nearly as common.

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Despite its FDA classification as a tree nut, it’s technically a fruit in the cherry family, so your nut-allergic kid might not have a reaction to it.

Cooking with coconut milk is also fine — delicious, even! Once your child is eating solid foods, they’ll probably love some sweet, mild coconut curry or a tropical smoothie. 

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