Can coconut milk be substituted for milk?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can coconut milk be substituted for milk?”, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this substitution.

Can coconut milk be substituted for milk?

Yes, coconut milk can be substituted for milk. It can be used to replace milk in both sweet and savory dishes. It thickens and enhances the flavor of curries and provides a sweet and coconutty flavor to baked goods. Coconut milk is a low calorie and low protein substitute.

However, it cannot replace milk in terms of nutrition, as its composition differs greatly from the composition of cow milk.

What are the risks of substituting cow milk for coconut milk?

The risks of substituting milk for coconut milk is of possible malnutrition. Milk is a source of proteins and vitamins that are not provided by coconut milk.

While milk contains 8 g of proteins in a 240 mL portion, coconut milk contains less than 1 g. Milk proteins are of high digestibility and bioavailability and contribute to human growth and the immune system (5). 

Milk lipids contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which have been related to health benefits in the cardiovascular system and immune function, as well as in its anticancer properties and hypolipidemic effects. Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, which is related to maintaining the elasticity of the blood vessels. In addition, coconut milk contains saturated fats.

Milk contains liposoluble (A, D, E) and hydrosoluble vitamins (B complex and vitamin C), as well as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, which are essential for maintaining  bone health. Coconut milk contains minerals, although not in the same quantity and it contains vitamin E and C, but is not a source of the vitamin B complex (4).

Because coconut milk lacks vitamins A and D, it must be fortified. In addition, coconut milk is a low-calorie plant-based milk. A portion of 240 mL of coconut milk contains only 80 calories, while the same amount of cow milk contains 168 calories.

Therefore, you should not substitute milk for coconut milk if you are concerned with the nutritional quality of these types of milks.

What are the benefits of substituting cow milk for coconut milk?

The benefits of replacing milk for coconut milk are the avoidance of lactose, in the case of lactose intolerant individuals, the elimination of milk protein in the case of patients allergic to milk protein and the avoidance of an animal product in the case of vegan people.

Coconut milk contains less than half of the calories of cow milk in the same portion and is therefore good in a diet for losing weight. 

Should you replace cow milk if you have a milk allergy?

Yes, you should replace cow milk for another type of milk, such as coconut milk, if you are allergic to cow milk. Milk allergy is a disorder in which the immune system reacts to one or more milk proteins causing an inflammatory response (2).

Milk allergy is most common among children and is characterized by diarrhea, rashes, vomiting, and anaphylaxis. 

Should you replace cow milk if you have a lactose intolerance?

Yes, you should replace cow milk for another type of milk, such as coconut milk, if you have lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is characterized by the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar) due to the absence of the lactase enzyme. 

Lactose intolerance is generally an inherited condition (primary hypolactasia) that disables lactose digestion due to lactase deficiency, causing abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence upon the consumption of lactose-containing foods (2).

Should you replace cow milk if you are vegan?

Yes, you should replace cow milk for another type of milk, such as coconut milk if you are vegan. Vegans avoid consuming dairy including cow milk for animal warfare while others avoid dairy milk for religious reasons (1).

Can coconut milk be substituted for milk in a dish?

You can replace milk by using coconut milk to cook and to bake. Due to its high amount of fat, coconut milk, similarly to milk, gives creaminess and thickness to a dish.

In addition, due to the presence of phospholipids in the fat globules, both milk and coconut milk can act as emulsifiers in emulsified foods, such as cakes and sauces (3,6).

Proteins and phospholipids present in coconut milk are responsible for stabilizing it naturally. The proteins present in the aqueous part of the coconut milk emulsion act as an emulsifier, which helps to stabilize the oil droplets. 

These molecules have both hydrophilic and hydrophobic groups that help to reduce the tension between the two phases and disperse the oil droplets in the aqueous phase, which ultimately results in increased emulsion stability.

Although the replacement will change the flavor and the nutritional profile of the dish, it is possible, with low changes in the final texture.

Other FAQs about Milk which you may be interested in.

Can you freeze cashew milk?

Can I use heavy cream instead of milk?

What can I substitute for powdered milk?


In this article, we answered the question “Can coconut milk be substituted for milk?”, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this substitution.


  1. Handford, Caroline E., Katrina Campbell, and Christopher T. Elliott. Impacts of milk fraud on food safety and nutrition with special emphasis on developing countries. Comprehen Rev Food Sci Food Safe, 2016, 15, 130-142. 
  2. Mäkinen, Outi Elina, et al. Foods for special dietary needs: Non-dairy plant-based milk substitutes and fermented dairy-type products. Crit rev food sci nutr, 2016, 56, 339-349.  
  3. Mehta, Bhavbhuti M. Chemical composition of milk and milk products. Handbook of food chemistry. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2015. 511-553.
  4. Sethi S, Tyagi SK, Anurag RK. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016, 53, 3408-3423. 
  5. Pereira, Paula C. Milk nutritional composition and its role in human health. Nutrition, 2014, 30, 619-627.  
  6. Patil, Umesh, and Soottawat Benjakul. Coconut milk and coconut oil: their manufacture associated with protein functionality. J food sci, 2018, 83, 2019-2027.

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