Is Coconut Milk Ok For Kidney Disease?

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This is a question I often get “is coconut milk ok for kidney disease”? Because a healthy diet is not the same for everyone with kidney disease, lets dive into the details to help you figure out what is best for you.

Ready-to-Drink vs. Cooking Coconut Milk

Before we jump into our main question “is coconut milk ok for kidney disease”, it is important to make this important distinction.

You can find two very different types of coconut milk at the grocery store. Ready-to-drink coconut milk is thinner and contains fewer calories, fat and potassium compared to canned coconut milk. Cooking coconut milk usually comes in a can and is used for tasty Thai curry dishes.

Comparison of cooking coconut milk (in a can) and ready-to-drink coconut milk.

Cooking coconut milk can have TONS of potassium and unhealthy saturated fat. For some people with kidney disease, this extra potassium can be dangerous. For others, extra potassium is beneficial. However, cooking coconut milk can add a delicious sweetness and creaminess to curries. I do recommend choosing the “lite” version to cut back the saturated fat for heart health.

Most of the information in this article refers to “ready-to-drink” coconut milk.

Dairy and Kidney Disease

Dairy has a bad reputation when it comes to kidney disease. This may leave you wondering, is coconut milk ok for kidney disease as an alternative to regular cow’s milk?

Dairy has become a taboo on the “renal diet” because it has a fair amount of potassium and phosphorus in it. For some people with kidney disease, it is important to limit these nutrients. But this is not the case for everyone. Read on to understand if these nutrients are a concern for you.

Potassium in Coconut Milk

It is very important to note that not everyone with kidney disease needs to limit potassium. In fact, it is healthy for people with earlier stages of kidney disease to eat a high potassium diet. If this describes you, you do not need to be concerned about the potassium in cow’s milk. In fact, the potassium may help control your blood pressure! (1)

For some people in the later stages of kidney disease, the kidneys are not able to get rid of potassium as well. This causes high blood potassium levels. You only need to limit potassium if you have high levels of potassium in your blood.

If you do have high levels of potassium in your blood, coconut milk is a good choice! Ready-to-drink coconut milk has about 75% less potassium than cow’s milk. Most plant-based milks are lower in potassium than cow’s milk.

Phosphorus in Coconut Milk

Phosphorus is a little more tricky. Similar to potassium, limiting phosphorus becomes more important in the later stages of kidney disease. However, some studies have shown benefit to cutting back on phosphorus in the earlier stages too. (2) (3)

Cow’s milk does have quite a bit of phosphorus in it – about 340mg per 1 cup serving. However, if you are staying away from large portions of meat and phosphorus food additives, there is likely room in your diet for cow’s milk. In addition, our bodies do not absorb natural phosphorus as well as artificial phosphorus.

Coconut milk (and most plant-based milks) has much less phosphorus than cow’s milk – it has about 95% less phosphorus than cow’s milk! If you have high levels of phosphorus in your blood. Or, have Chronic Kidney Disease Stage 4 or 5 (a GFR less than 30ml/min), coconut milk is a better option to help you cut back how much phosphorus you eat.

Protein in Coconut Milk

Eating too much protein is associated with faster progression of kidney disease. (4) (5) (6) In fact, the National Kidney Foundation recommends that everyone with kidney disease limit how much protein they eat.(6) How much protein you need depends on many factors, including your stage of kidney disease and other medical conditions. However, a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.(6)

Most people are eating much more protein than they need. This is especially true for people with kidney disease who are not on dialysis, who have lower protein needs.

Coconut milk (and most other plant-based milks) is much lower in protein compared to cow’s milk. One cup of cow’s milk has 8 grams of protein, compared to only 0.4 grams in coconut milk.

Coconut Milk vs. Other Milks For Kidney Disease

Of course, there are many types of plant-based milks available at the grocery store. The amount of protein, potassium, phosphorus and other nutrients is very different for the different kinds of milk. Generally, plant-based milks are lower in potassium than cow’s milk. The exception being soy milk, which has nearly the same amount of potassium as cow’s milk. However, the potassium amount is very different in different brands. If you need to limit potassium, check the nutrition facts label to make sure the brand you choose is not too high.

Generally, plant-based milks are lower in phosphorus and protein compared to cow’s milk.

Use this table to help you figure out the best type of milk for you!

 2% Cow's MilkCoconut MilkAlmond MilkSoy MilkRice MilkOat Milk
Calories12269367452130
Protein (g)811805
Carbohydrate (g)12834724
Fat (g)553432
Saturated Fat (g)340.2101
Potassium (mg)3429016130018131
Phosphorus (mg)224172210580150

All nutrition information is based on a 1 cup serving.
Nutrition values can differ significantly based on brand and product.

Warning: Potassium & Phosphorus Additives in Plant Based Milks

Unfortunately, many plant based milks available on the market contain phosphorus and potassium food additives. These ingredients can add significant amounts of potassium and phosphorus to your milk.

Always make sure to read the Ingredients on the Nutrition Label. Look for milks that do not have potassium ingredients. Or, ingredients that have the letters “PHOS” in them. PHOS ingredients contain artificial phosphorus.

Here are some kidney-healthy coconut milks that do not have added potassium or phosphorus:

Please note that ingredients often change. These products do not have potassium or phosphorus in them as of November 2020. Make sure that the milk you buy is kidney friendly!

The common So Delicious® and Silk® plant-based milk brands tend to have potassium and phosphorus additives.

Coconut Water & Kidney Disease

What about coconut water? Is that ok for kidney disease?

Coconut water tends to be very high in potassium. Most brands have around 450mg per one cup. For people in the later stages of kidney disease, this high potassium may be a problem.

Compared to coconut milk, coconut water generally doesn’t have potassium and phosphorus additives in it. But, always check the Ingredients label to make sure!

Coconut Oil & Kidney Disease

Coconut oil is certainly having a spotlight moment! Coconut oil has been touted as a health food to help with everything from depression to weight loss.

However, the research does not support these claims.

Coconut oil actually has more saturated fat in it than butter. We know that saturated fat is associated with heart disease. There is no well-done research to suggest that the saturated fat found in coconut oil is any different than the saturated fat in butter, shortening, fried foods and red meat. In fact, the American Heart Association issued a science advisory in 2017 against the use of coconut oil.(7) And, a recent study found that coconut oil raised cholesterol levels.(8)

Therefore, I do not recommend it be used regularly. Instead, similar to butter, it should be used in small quantities on occasion. Choose heart-healthy olive and vegetable oils most often!

Bottom Line: Is Coconut Milk Ok For Kidney Disease?

Yes! Coconut milk is ok for kidney disease! However, make sure to find a brand without potassium or phosphorus additives. If you have high levels of potassium in your blood, make sure to avoid large amounts of cooking coconut milk and check the ingredients for potassium additives.

Nutrition needs in kidney disease are very individual. Make sure to talk with your dietitian to make the best milk choice for you!

Happy Eating!

Melanie

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