Why can’t I tolerate coconut milk?
It can be very frustrating when you can’t take something and don’t know why. Many people in Germany know this feeling because, according to the position paper of the Environmental Medicine Commission at the Robert Koch Institute, around 20 percent of the adult population suffer from allergies.
There are numerous substances that can trigger an allergic reaction or an intolerance. Even if that sounds strange, some of them do not tolerate everyday foods like onions or potatoes at all. And others just can’t tolerate coconut or coconut milk. Now let’s take a look at what coconut milk actually is and what is behind the coconut milk intolerance :
What is coconut milk?
When you picture a coconut in your mind, the first thing you will likely see is the fibrous brown shell. This shell envelops the nutritional tissue . This is scientifically referred to as endosperm, but we would rather call it pulp.
Inside is a cavity filled with coconut water. This water is also popularly referred to as coconut milk , but this is not the same as the coconut milk that you can buy.
Because the coconut milk you can buy is made from the pulp. This is dried, crushed and then mixed with hot water . This “coconut cake” is pressed so that a white liquid emerges. That liquid is actually the coconut milk that you can buy.
The coconut milk obtained in this way is very rich in fat and is often used in cooking. By the way, you can also buy so-called coconut cream. This is like thickened coconut milk.
There are actually differences in the quality of coconut milk: the pure liquid is referred to as 1 milk, while the pressing of desiccated coconut mixed with water is referred to as 2 milk .
Is the Coconut a Nut?
Although the term nut is in the name, the coconut is botanically a stone fruit . However, it is confusing that, for example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still counts coconuts as tree nuts, i.e. nuts that grow on trees.
However, this is not a mistake, but has an important background: The FDA is an institution in the USA that ensures that foods for allergy sufferers are labeled accordingly. To this end, she has defined various food groups that often trigger allergies.
There are people who are allergic to coconut or who are intolerant to coconut milk. This would have to be warned by appropriate notices on the packaging where coconut is contained.However, the FDA does not have a label for stone fruits . Therefore, she lists the coconut as a tree nut so that it has to be labeled as an allergen.
In contrast, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture does not list the coconut as a nut or allergen. This means that coconuts do not have to be listed as an allergen or specially labeled on German labels.
The botanical classification is important for you. And here applies: The coconut is not a nut, but a fruit.
Why can’t I tolerate coconut milk?
Coconut milk intolerance can have several reasons . For example, you have a food intolerance.
Perhaps you know these better than food intolerance or food intolerance. This is a disturbance in your metabolism, so that certain ingredients or constituents of food are not used at all or only insufficiently by your body. Therefore gastrointestinal complaints such as diarrhea often occur in the case of food intolerance .
But the intolerance is not life-threatening , in contrast to an allergy , which can have serious consequences.
A food allergyis a disorder in the immune response. The allergy usually shows up at a young age, because the body sees the so-called allergens, i.e. the substances to which the person reacts, as a potential danger. Therefore, the body’s immune system will fight these allergens.
For the immune system to sound the alarm, even small amounts of the allergen are sufficient . This endogenous reaction goes so far that it can be life-threatening for those affected. Therefore , allergies should never be taken lightly . Fortunately, an allergy to coconuts is relatively rare.
Find out more about the differences between allergies and intolerance.
Another reason why you cannot tolerate coconut milk can be the fat it contains . Coconut milk consists of around 15 percent fat – some people cannot stand that at all. If you generally have problems after eating fatty foods, our post Diarrhea After Eating: Finding the Causes and Fighting it can help you .
Can I drink coconut milk if I am allergic to nuts?
Since the coconut is not a nut, it would be obvious that someone would not be allergic to the coconut despite a nut allergy. A US study with 191 children was able to show that children with a sensitization or allergy to peanuts or tree nuts were not sensitized or allergic to coconut more often.
But even with scientific evidence, you cannot assume that you will be able to tolerate coconut milk. If you have an existing nut allergy, first clarify with your doctor whether you can drink coconut milk . The doctor can best assess whether the respective allergens are present in the coconut or whether there may be so-called cross-reactivity.
What is cross-reactivity?
If you already have an allergy to certain substances, you may also react to other substances with these substances. Medical professionals refer to this as cross-reactivity or cross-reaction or cross-reaction.
The above-mentioned US study shows an example of this cross-reactivity : children who were sensitized to peanuts or tree nuts were more likely to be sensitized to sesame, but not to coconuts. Children with a clinical history of peanut and tree nut allergy were more likely to be allergic to sesame seeds.
This cross-reaction occurs again and again and affects substances that share similar proteins. Depending on your allergy, your doctor can tell you which cross-reactions may occur.
How do I recognize a coconut milk intolerance?
Let’s say you have an allergy to coconut milk. Then you would show symptoms after eating:
- Skin reactions such as rash, hives, or eczema
- Gastrointestinal complaints
such as nausea, abdominal pain , vomiting or diarrhea
- Respiratory symptoms
such as wheezing, coughing, or a runny nose
- Swelling of
the lips, tongue, or face
Severe reactions called anaphylaxis can occur with coconut allergy and affect several organ systems . However, coconut anaphylaxis is rare.
Nevertheless, you should call the emergency doctor on 112 if you feel unsafe or if you experience symptoms . The anaphylaxis may announce itself:
- Tingling sensation in the body
- a headache
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- difficulties swallowing
Make sure to call the emergency doctor on 112 if those affected show these reactions:
- Pale and cold skin
- Lips turn blue
- Pulse has flattened
- Airways cramp up
- Shortness of breath
Can I use my shampoo with coconut?
You may already react on contact with products that contain coconut ingredients. Because coconut oil or coconut extracts are also often found in cleaning agents and cosmetics .
Medical professionals speak of dermatitis , an inflammatory reaction in your skin . The result of contact with coconut would be an itchy, blistering rash. This can last a few days and only then subside.
If you suspect contact dermatitis due to coconut, please contact your doctor as soon as possible . The doctor can do an allergy test with you to see if you are allergic to coconut.
What to do if you are intolerant to coconut milk?
A doctor can find out whether there is an allergy or a food intolerance or perhaps nothing at all. Various so-called allergy tests are available for this purpose. You can collect some information yourself in advance that will make the diagnosis easier for the doctor later:
- Which food and which amount?
This information is fundamental, because the further tests are based on the substances and the amount.
- What complaints do you have?
This list can already give an indication of whether it is more of an allergy or an intolerance.
- Are there any allergies in your family?
Allergies seem to have a genetic component. This means that if parents have an allergy, it increases the likelihood that their birth children will also develop an allergy.
What allergy tests are there?
Your doctor will first ask you in detail and then examine you . Because a careful examination can often identify other medical problems or rule out some.
Then there are various tests to choose from that can diagnose an allergy:
- Skin test
In the so-called skin prick test, a small amount of the suspicious food is placed on the skin of your forearm or back. The substances are only brought into the skin by a light scratching, so the whole thing doesn’t hurt. As a control, you will also receive an aqueous solution and one with histamine applied. There must be no reaction with the aqueous solution, with histamine there must be a reaction. If your skin becomes red or itchy in the area with the food, you have an allergy.
- Oral test
With this test, you are allowed to eat small and then larger amounts of coconut or drink coconut milk. The doctor will observe you very closely and can use the reaction to assess whether it is safe for you to eat coconut.
- Blood test In your blood your antibodies show whether and to what you are allergic. Therefore, your doctor can draw some blood. An external laboratory then tests these allergy-related antibodies, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE).
In addition to these options, there is also an option for your doctor to suggest what is known as an elimination diet . You are not allowed to eat or drink coconut for a week or two . After this time you can consume coconut again. This allows the doctor to see if and when you are showing symptoms.
An elimination diet cannot tell whether the reaction to a food is an allergy or a food sensitivity. In addition, this method is not 100 percent safe and carries risks if you have had a severe reaction to coconut in the past.Therefore, please never carry out such a test on your own, but only with medical supervision.
Can I order an allergy test online?
Perhaps you have seen that there is also an online option to take a test. There are actually providers who claim that they can detect a wide variety of food allergies with a blood test. They will send you a test kit. You send this set back with a few drops of your blood and get a result a few days later.
Sounds simple, but it is mostly just scientifically wrong. Because these tests do not measure the IgE antibodies mentioned, but IgG antibodies . However, there is no evidence that the presence of IgG antibodies is actually an indication of an allergy.
Therefore, these tests only say that you have had contact with the respective substances, but not whether you have an allergy.
What should I avoid with a coconut intolerance?
As already mentioned, the coconut is not considered an allergen in Germany and is therefore not labeled separately. Therefore , if you have coconut intolerance, you have to read the food labels meticulously and , if necessary, first consult the manufacturer or do without the product.
Coconut is available as the following products, among others:
- Coconut milk
- Coconut water
- Coconut cream
- Coconut oil
- Coconut flour
- Coconut syrup
- Coconut blossom sugar
- Coconut chips
Coconut can also be used as an ingredient in baked goods, ice cream, breakfast cereals and confectionery .
Important for you to know : Coconut is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. In other words, if you visit Asian – including Indian – restaurants, please be sure to ask about the use of coconuts so that you don’t get a nasty surprise.
In general, when going out to eat, always ask about the ingredients. Because coconut is sometimes hidden in food that you may not think about right away. Below we’ve listed some of the products to look out for:
- Macaroons and other cakes and biscuits
- Ice cream
- Some fruit juices contain coconut
- Vegan cheese
What are the alternatives to coconut milk?
You now know that you can’t tolerate coconut and try to avoid products made from and with coconut. But now the question arises, what can you actually use as an alternative to coconut milk? Maybe our tips will help you further:
Substitute for coconut milk
The good thing is that coconut milk is often offered as an alternative to animal milk. In other words, you may have the option to switch to the more classic products.
Let’s say you want to replace the coconut milk in cooking. Then you could use cream, yogurt, cream cheese, or cottage cheese for the consistency you want.
If you want the taste or the nutty note , cashew paste or almond paste could help. Note, however, that these products can also cause intolerance and allergies.
How can a low FODMAP diet help if I suffer from intolerance?
With some intolerances, you suffer from gastrointestinal complaints after consumption. These are not only annoying, but can also limit you in your everyday life.
One way to alleviate these symptoms is through what is known as the FODMAP diet . The English abbreviation stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and (and) polyols . Long and short-term carbohydrates and sugar alcohols, some of which are difficult to digest, are hidden behind the acronym.
But why are these so difficult to digest? Our small intestine lacks enzymes that can break down FODMAP. In addition, these are so large that they cannot fit through the intestinal walls.
Therefore, they reach our large intestine relatively undisturbed. There are numerous microorganisms that break down the FODMAPs – but this creates gases and the FODMAPs bind water. The consequences for you are diarrhea, gas and other complaints.
Therefore, an appropriate diet can help you in individual cases, although FODMAP are generally not harmful. This post will help you with the correct implementation: FODMAP diet for irritable bowel syndrome: What can I eat?
Coconut milk intolerance – what to do?
You now know why you can’t tolerate coconut milk. This is a food intolerance or allergy . In addition, there may be cross-reactivity if you already have another allergy to substances with comparable proteins. The best way to clarify this in detail with your doctor. They have different options for diagnosing an allergy through various tests.
While an intolerance is particularly noticeable due to the symptoms , an allergy can be life-threatening due to the anaphylactic shock . Therefore, please always have any incompatibilities medically clarified in order to avoid such emergency situations.
It is also always good if you know your own body so well that you can classify your reactions and complaints well. This is the best way to notice when something is wrong. Find out more about your digestive system by reading our articles Your digestion: So simple and yet more complex than you thought and get inspired by 10 incredible facts about the intestine – we wish you a lot of fun!