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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Are the coconut milk products I'm using keeping my cholesterol high?

I am an fairly active 27 year old vegetarian who doesn't eat any meat or dairy. I only include very limited amounts of egg and shellfish in my diet. I do everything that I am supposed to be doing to lower cholesterol (minimal processed foods, no trans fat or hydrogenated oils, a lot of whole grains and veggies, regular exercise). My HDL is way above optimal, but my LDL and triglycerides are slightly above where they should be.

The only thing I can think of that is keeping these numbers up is coconut milk. I don't eat dairy and I limit soy, so I have been using coconut milk products to replace things like milk, coffee creamer, yogurt, and ice cream. I know that coconut is high in saturated fat, but I thought that it was a good type of fat. Is it possible that the coconut milk in my diet is keeping some of my cholesterol numbers high? My diet is about 90% vegan, so I don't know what else I could be doing wrong.

Dr. Gourmet Says...


Cholesterol profiles can be a challenging thing to evaluate, and I would urge you to speak with your physician about yours.

Having an HDL (good cholesterol) way above optimal is fantastic and may help to balance your slightly higher LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. At the same time such cholesterol profiles need to be taken in the context of overall health, including high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as family history and social history such as tobacco use and exercise.

Coconut milk might be contributing to your cholesterol scores, as it does have higher levels of saturated fat, and from your email it appears you are using it fairly frequently. These are better quality saturated fats, however, and may have less impact than those from animal based sources. Using the "light" coconut milk may be an option for you, as it is much lower in total fat and saturated fat.

It may also be that you aren't doing much of anything wrong, but that your numbers are normal for your health profile. Check with your doctor to review the numbers.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet