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Coconut milk – Is it the Paleo milk substitute?

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
October 3, 2016
Coconut milk – Is it the Paleo milk substitute? image

When I was vegan for two years, I regularly indulged in soy lattes. Sometimes they’d be plain, other times flavored with a sugar- free syrup (which was still technically vegan; but not healthy by a long shot either.) Soy milk became a part of my daily ritual

Little did I know that drinking this milk alternative was actually working against me.

One of the very reasons I’d opted to foray into a vegan approach was to address the nagging stomach issues I’d had since I was a small child. And they were getting worse by the day.

At the time, back in the late 90s heading into the early 2000s, I believed soy was not only a good option to take the place of dairy milk, but that it was also important for me to consume as a woman to provide a good source of calcium, plant estrogens, and even a little protein.

I hadn’t yet learned that soy is actually a very inflammatory food,1 that 93% of the soy in the US is GMO2 and that soy protein isolate was first approved for use in the US as a packing material.3

So the next time you’re in the queue at the coffee shop thinking that processed soy milk is a better option than cow’s milk, think again.

But where does that leave the coffee drinker who doesn’t want their coffee as black as midnight?

There are a few options.

Personally, I always recommend sourcing a better coffee bean - roaster or brew - one so decadent that it wants for nothing other than to be ground and pulled into the perfect ristretto shot.

But, if that doesn’t satisfy your tastes, the past few years has seen a new trend emerge. And while many are seeing it as the healthiest option yet, there’s a lot of reading between the lines we’ve got to do in this case, too.

I’m talking coconuts here!

Don’t get me wrong. I love coconut. I use coconut oil for cooking due to its high smoke point, for scooping into a hot green tea to provide a little dose of MCT oil, or for a mid-morning fat snack during a day of intermittent fasting. And sometimes I simply enjoy a spoonful out of the jar, the way we might have done back when we were eating peanut butter!

But coconut milk is a different story. Many popular coffee chains now offer any coffee or espresso drink you can dream up made with your choice of milks: dairy, soy, almond or rice and of course, coconut.

But what’s really in it? Sadly, what you’ll find at most large chains leaves a lot to be desired!

Unless you’re at a mom-and-pop cafe in Kona, chances are slim that you’re getting fresh coconut milk.

Instead you’re more likely to be downing a concoction made of water, coconut cream, cane sugar, tricalcium phosphate, coconut water concentrate, natural flavors, sea salt, carrageenan, gellan gum, corn dextrin, xanthan gum, guar gum, vitamin A palmitate, and vitamin D!4 Well at least the vitamin D has some health benefits.

Sure, some of the ingredients look benign; water, coconut cream, sea salt… but what is a ‘natural flavor’? And why exactly do we want to be ingesting any gums?

We don’t.

Often used to stabilize commercially prepared foods, gums are also high in anti-nutrients, they are inflammatory and they can cause GI distress.5

Not surprisingly, this is another example of how we can learn about a healthy food, initially reap all its benefits, and then find as it becomes more popular and mainstream, it starts to pop up in all different permutations, often far more processed and far less beneficial than more natural origins.

So here’s the skinny - skip the fancy sounding cafe drinks made with ingredients that despite being gluten free or not containing aspartame as still a far cry from being something we’d want to consume.

Instead, take a DIY approach at the local cafe by enjoying some organic raw coconut butter alongside your piping hot match, or at home, by whipping up your own version of a Paleoista Green Tea Latte.

Of course, if you are on the big island of Kona, gazing out over the ocean with coconut trees decorating your landscape, crack one open and drink to your heart’s content!

Paleoista Green Tea Latte Recipe

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 3 mins
Total time: 13 mins
Serves: 2
Say goodbye to sweet and hello to savory! Adding a good source of fat to a hot tea instead of the old, tired sugar, allows you to keep your energy high and your mind focused. Bring on the coconut!


  • 16 ounces hot brewed tea of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 " fresh ginger root
  • 2 T coconut butter, or fresh coconut meat
  • 2 T MCT oil
  • Freshly ground cinnamon, for garnish
  • Lemon twist, optional

1. Brew tea according to directions
2. Remove tea leaves and pour into blender
3. Add next four ingredients
4. Whiz until well combined and frothy
5. Serve in large mugs with cinnamon sprinkled on top

More in September Series: All About Calcium




[1] "Beans and Legumes: Do They Adhere to Paleo | Dr. Loren Cordain." The Paleo Diet. N.p., 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016

[2] "Overview." GMO Awareness. N.p., 02 May 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2016

[3] "Development of Soy Protein Isolate/waterborne Polyurethane Blend Films with Improved Properties." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016

[4] "What's Really in a Starbucks Coconut Milk Latte?" Prevention. N.p., 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016

[5] "Carrageenan Dangers - Carrageenan Safety | Dr. Weil." N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016

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