The FODMAP content of coconut-based products

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Is coconut high in FODMAPs? There is so much confusion out there, even now.

Many websites still say that coconut is indeed high in FODMAPs – according to www.lowfodmap.com this is “pre-2010” research – while others say no. Throw in all of us having our say and clogging up the airwaves of peer-reviewed research with personal complaints about symptomatic foods and no wonder people are confused. We’re all guilty of it. In fact, I’m planning to have a little whinge later on… but hopefully what I write first will help to clear things up.

Coconut Products

Coconut Flesh is the white layer of the fruit, just inside the husk. It is comprised of cellular layers of endosperm that deposit throughout the fruit’s development. It can be eaten fresh, desiccated or toasted, among other ways.

  • FODMAP rating (fresh) – low in 1 cup serves.
  • FODMAP rating (Desiccated/dry and unsweetened) – low in 1/4 cup serves, 1/2 cup serves contain moderate amounts of the polyol sorbitol.

Coconut Milk or Cream is made when you process the coconut flesh with water and strain it. Less water gives a thicker cream, more water produces a thinner milk.

  • FODMAP rating (milk) – low in 1/2 cup serves.

Coconut Oil is typically extracted by cold-pressing coconut flesh. As it is an oil, it contains no carbs, so it is low FODMAP.

  • FODMAP rating – low/safe.

Coconut Sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm. Monash has not tested it, but it is reportedly high in inulin, a type of fructo-oligosaccharide, so it should be consumed with caution after the elimination period is over. For more information, read this post about sugars and sweeteners suitable for the low FODMAP diet.

  • FODMAP rating – unknown.

Coconut Water is what pours out of the coconut when you pierce it. It contains 6.0 g of “sugars” per cup of liquid. It is quite refreshing and contains many vitamins and minerals, however, it does contain varying amounts of different FODMAPs.

  • FODMAP rating – 100 ml is low FODMAP, 250 ml is high in the sorbitol and contains moderate amounts of oligosaccharides.

The Research

In an attempt to make sense of all the conflicting information available, I tabulated all the weight estimates of sugars in coconut that I could find, as well as Monash University’s more recent additions. There weren’t too many that were reputable sources – most were health websites spouting who knows what – and of those that seemed reliable, only one broke the sugars down into their different types.

I used a few sources to create the following table, from which it appears that coconut in unsweetened forms is in fact a safe food in terms of fructose, with fructose not in excess of glucose, which has more recently been backed up by Monash University. Fructans were never mentioned, until very recently; they seem to only be an issue in coconut water. The polyol sorbitol comes into play in coconut flesh. Monash doesn’t release the exact grams of a FODMAP per 100 g, though it does use the traffic light system to visually represent a food’s safety.

Those who are malabsorb fructose should still monitor their coconut intake, as over consumption of the polyol sorbitol can further inhibit fructose absorption in the small intestine, leading to increased symptoms of fruct mal/IBS. This is important to note even if you aren’t sensitive to sorbitol alone.

Coconut Table of FODMAP Content

My Whinge

I can eat a moderate amount of unsweetened coconut flesh in its fresh or desiccated form and not have a reaction. I haven’t tested a large amount of the flesh before, mostly because I haven’t come across a situation in which I would want/need to gorge myself on coconut. My situation with coconut flesh seems to fit with Monash University’s research (link above) that lists a moderate amount of coconut flesh as low FODMAP. As for coconut water, as long as it’s not mixed with anything I can’t have, then I can drink 200 ml without issue, though I don’t do it often, as it’s expensive!

Coconut milk/cream is low FODMAP in serving sizes up to 1/2 cup, at which point sorbitol becomes an issue, for those that malabsorb it – I do not. Coconut cream is made by processing the flesh in a blender – the more water you add, the thinner it will become and you will eventually reach “milk.”

Here is my problem with coconut milk: I get stomach aches within an hour of consuming it but the low fat version doesn’t affect me. I have no idea why. I am not sensitive to sorbitol (blackberries, cherries) but full cream coconut milk makes me double over. The Finish Food Composition Database also lists coconut milk as having 1:1 glucose and fructose, so it shouldn’t set off fructose malabsorbers unless you have enough to overwhelm the co-transport system, which at lot. Maybe there are fructans present? Who knows. I would like to.

If anyone out there has a theory about coconut milk, I’d love to hear it. I’m currently about to test freshly made coconut cream, to see if it is potentially the canning process, or perhaps the can lining, that is causing my symptoms. Or maybe it’s the higher fat content rather than the saccharides present.

UPDATE: A bout of gastritis last year led me to see a nutritionist, who diagnosed me with low stomach acid. After being put on a vitamin, mineral and probiotic regimen for 6 months, my stomach acid levels have increased and my ability to digest fatty and high protein foods has improved dramatically, so I can now tolerate 1/2 cup of full fat coconut cream; I haven’t eaten any more, as it’s so calorie dense and filling I haven’t needed or wanted to. Thanks, Sharon! I promise to write more about this at some point!

———————————————————————————————————————————–

I’m not a dietitian and I didn’t participate in any of the research, so I’m not in a place to judge whether coconut is or isn’t low FODMAP – however, Monash University is a reputable source, who’s reports fit with the Finish Food Composition Database’s list of carbohydrates that are present in coconut.

What have your experiences with coconut flesh and cream/milk been?

Title image credit to: http://pixabay.com/en/users/Lebensmittelfotos-13/

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37 thoughts on “The FODMAP content of coconut-based products

  1. Hi there!
    I too have this issue with coconut milk / cream.
    However I do seem to have issues with sorbitol.

    Have you had anymore information on this!? I would love to be able to have coconut milk.
    I’ve not tried the light version … I’ll give it a go and see if I fare any better.

    • Hey, sorry to hear about your coconut issues. Unfortunately I don’t have any new information on the topic; it’s hard to find good quality articles that are properly referenced – and coconut is such a controversial topic with regards to FODMAPS. As soon as I read/find more information then I will update this post but until then it’s just going to involve self-experimentation.

  2. I am exactly the same way with coconut milk!
    you didnt say if you reached a conclusion about the water?
    I seem to be able to drink it just fine.

    • Yes, sorry. I can drink the water with no issues. I thought I had written that? Or maybe it was in a comment somewhere. I can even drink Vita Coco water, 2 servings doesn’t cause a reaction but then it isn’t supposed to unless there is something else added in there.

      I am planning on testing full cream coconut milk again soon. I hope it works out, because I have no idea why it shouldn’t. The reaction I get to it is the same as I get for fructose/fructans so it really confuses me!

  3. WIthin this article is Dr Sue Shepherd confirming Coconut Water is safe.
    http://www.sarahwilson.com/2012/03/is-there-fructose-in-coconut-water

    Dr Shepherd has just released her own range of ready-cook meals and one of them is Green Curry containing Coconut Milk. On this Facebook link, someone from her team confirms that it is safe for FructMal people. (Though I have read plenty of reports where people have said they are fine with Light (not Full) Coconut Milk so I guess we still have to pick our way through our own little minefields!)

  4. Thanks for the great information! Just a thought, most canned coconut milk has additives like guar gum, so to really test coconut milk you need to find a brand that doesn’t add fillers. How did it go with the freshly made coconut cream? (if u remember, I know this post was written about a year ago.)

    • Hi Emily, thanks for the input. I discovered that the source of my coconut cream issues was my low stomach acid, which was preventing me from properly digesting foods/liquids high in fat and protein, so I was struggling with meat as well as fatty foods like coconut cream and cheese. Since addressing this, I have been okay with all coconut products, so it was definitely the fat. I also haven’t had issues with any of the gums before. I’ll be updating this post soon, too, so stay posted. 🙂

        • Hi Phil,

          I’ll start by saying that I was taking these on my nutritionist’s orders, so I would urge you to also see a professional, as what worked for me may not work for you, depending on what’s going on. This is general information only. 🙂

          My nutritionist said that calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and a B complex are all important for supporting digestion, including stomach acid production, so that’s what I was taking. As for the probiotic, I wasn’t on the best one out there but I found one that required refrigeration and didn’t contain prebiotics, as those are usually fructans, so they’d just upset my FM and potentially negate the extra nutrients from the supplements. If you can tolerate lactofermented foods with live cultures, they are also a great source of probiotics.

          I can tell you that I was feeling about 90% better, in terms of digestion, in 3 or so days. Good luck!

          • Thanks Nataliya! 🙂 I’m trying to figure this all out as I am fed up of food issues…unfortunately, I can’t afford to consult with a nutrionist at present. I’m hoping I may be able to see one on the NHS here in the UK, as FODMAPs seems to be getting more recognized. If you don’t mind me asking what brand probiotic did you take? I can’t eat fermented foods as I also have histamine intolerance 😦 I also don’t do well with prebiotics.

            • Hi Phil,

              Sorry to hear about your HIT, that makes everything trickier. I have it, too but to a much smaller extent that only red wine really does anything to me – I think it’s more of an extension of my extreme skin reactions to plants, all I have to do is look at fresh cut grass haha.

              I’m in the US at the moment, so I’m not sure what the availability of this exact probiotic will be in the UK but I took Nature’s Way Primadophilus Original – it contained Lactobacilus rhamnosus and acidophilus.

              Please note that B. infantis the most data but this review lists a few more: http://www.grupoaran.com/mrmUpdate/lecturaPDFfromXML.asp?IdArt=4620478&TO=RVN&Eng=1

              This is a list of the five best probiotic blends according to the host website – I’d run these by a dietitian (if you get to see one) or your GP, to see what they recommend. Or, if you still can’t see one on the NHS, maybe just do some thorough research of your own. http://beneficialbacteria.net/review-post-the-five-best-probiotics-for-irritable-bowel-syndrome/

              I stopped taking the probiotic after that bottle was finished, as I noticed it made me a little windy (TMI, sorry) which it can do for some people. If probiotics upset you further, getting tested for SIBO might be an idea, so that’s what I’m pursuing at the moment.

              Cheers and good luck! I hope you get to see a dietitian or a nutritionist soon.

  5. Sue Shepherd’s recommendations are awfully soft on fructose and ogliosaccharides. Curry spice, black pepper, scallions, corn and non-avocado fruit…definitely not in a safe range, it borderlines on ridiculous.

    I have no qualms on her work with coeliacs, however when it comes to FODMAPS she relies too much on the capacity of GLUT2 for the simultaneous transport of glucose/fructose. Fact of the matter is, GLUT2’s capacity to transport fructose are low affinity and grossly limited by volume, unlike the GLUT5 transporter protein which is lacking or malfunctioning in the majority of Fructose Mal-s. It is best to take her guide with a grain of salt during the elimination phase and err on the strict side.

    • Hi VE, I don’t use Sue Shepherd’s work as guidance, though I do have her book. I use Monash University’s FODMAP booklet and follow their web updates. They list gf corn flakes as low FODMAP (1 cup) and green chives/scallions as low FODMAP (1 tbsp.), though they don’t list black pepper or curry powder (because it is a mix itself, this would be brand dependent). Non-avocado fruits that are low FODMAP are only recommended in serving sizes of 1/2 cup per sitting or less, even if the fruit is low FODMAP in larger amounts. I agree with you, though – those still on elimination should be quite strict (that’s the point, after all) before slowly testing out food groups later on.

  6. Coconut manna/flour/meat (anything with the fiber) are big triggers for me (and I think fresh coconut water—haven’t tested again to confirm), but coconut milk/cream (without additives) is fine.

    • That’s really interesting, as coconut cream is just the flesh processed with water. Perhaps it’s dosage dependent, or by blending the flesh your body finds it easier to digest?

    • Yes, the flour for me acted like a VERY high FODMAP because it is very high in fiber, and most of that fiber is inulin, which is very, VERY fermentable in the small intestines.

      • Yes, FODMAP Friendly have tested coconut flour and it failed in a 20g (3 tbsp.) serve for being high in sorbitol. Interestingly, it wasn’t listed as high in fructans (of which inulin is a variety) but I know that coconut sugar is high in inulin. Perhaps it depends on which species of coconut is used for the flour, the age of the coconuts, or how they are processed.

        Sorbitol also increases fructose malabsorption (it competes with the GLUT-5 transporters), so you’d have to be extra careful with other ingredients in your baked goods. All in all I personally wouldn’t try it until I was in the reintroduction phase.

  7. Thank you soooo much! I have been eating coconut milk and coconut milk ice cream for YEARS and recently I started getting really sick every time I ate it. So sad! I have had a intuition that it was the fat/protein but disregarded it following the fructans red herring. Coconut water is fine for me too. I am going to check out the stomach acid theory…..THANKS SO MUCH!!!!

  8. Hi there, thanks so much for this article. I found it really informative – especially compared to all the other information about coconut and low Fodmap out there on the internet! I’m currently trialing a low fodmap diet to see it has any affect on my persistant adult acne. I have tried many different elimination diets over the past few years (I follow paleo, have tried low salicylate, no nightshades, no eggs etc) and I feel that I may be on to something with fodmap. However, what brought me to final give it a whirl was an over consumption of coconut milk (250ml) in one sitting, which saw me break out like crazy within only an hour or two. This also happened when I ate a fair share of roasted garlic a few weeks back too (I tend to eat a lot of what I can eat as my diet is so restricted these days). Avocado and coconut are my two FAVOURITE things though, so I’m hoping I’m wrong – but it doesn’t seem like it. Do you think this sounds like it could be a fodmap problem? Have you head of fodmaps affecting acne like this? I’m just confused about the controversy around coconut. Could this possibly mean I could still have small amounts of say dried coconut, maybe just not over indulging on coconut milk and coconut yoghurt? Many thanks!

    • Hi Bec, I’m so sorry for the late reply – I only just saw your comment. I hope you’ve since found a solution to your acne. I don’t know if there’s any concrete evidence but I know I personally tend to break out in multiple little pimples when I eat wheat or too much dairy. Perhaps there’s something that happens when your body reacts to FODMAPs that leads to skin issues? I’d be interested to find out more if you’ve learnt anything since.

  9. Really interesting. i have issues with coconut too, particularly with coconut milk yogurt. Such a shame as i’m finding it hard to get lactose free yogurt here and i thought coyo was going to be the answer.

  10. I was having problems with coconut milk too so I started to research it and I think the culprit my be the thickener in it, which is guar gum. Guar gum can really irritate people with digestive or intestinal issue. A good alternative would be coconut cream. Make sure to always read the labels and check that it doesn’t contain guar gum.

    • Hi Angie, good point, the different gums can definitely be non-FODMAP gut irritants. When I was saying that full fat coconut products used to affect me, I was referring to gum-free products like full fat coconut cream, so it definitely wasn’t the gums. I regularly drink coconut milk with guar gum without issues, I was just having issues digesting fats for a while, which has luckily reversed itself. Thanks for your input. 🙂

  11. This is a really great article thank you! I also believe i have very low stomach acid, i have many food sensitivities and food just seems to sit in my stomach. I was on PPIs for a long time with acid reflux and believe this may have made me deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. Im about to trial an elimination diet. You mention that calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and a B complex all helped in restoring your stomach acid and it would be really helpful for me to know how much of each in mg or iu that you took please? I would ask my nutritionist for advice before starting these but would love to know what worked for you and for how long you took the supplements? Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Beth, thanks for the kind words. 🙂 My nutritionist friend went shopping with me and told me that, at least in the beginning, she recommended a fairly high dose of each. I don’t have the original bottles any more but I currently take a multivitamin as well as a cal/mag/zinc tablet. PLEASE talk to your health practitioner about it, though, as it might not be suited to your own condition(s).

  12. i do have a fodmap issue and sorbitol causes me problems. i made a batch of fresh coconut milk this week using a real coconut. i have had wind this week and this morning i had some stomach pains that were reminiscent of the pain i would get if i’d eaten
    high fodmap foods.

    • Hi Aprille, how much coconut milk did you drink in one go? If you go over the suggested serving, the sorbitol adds up. You might also be more sensitive to sorbitol than others… shit happens. 😦 Are there other low FODMAP milk options that you can try?

  13. Hi there,
    I found your site when googling the FODMAP content of coconut butter. I notice many sites do not address this coconut product. I assume it’s the same as coconut flesh/flakes though?

    Congrats on pinpointing the cause of your indigestion. I have been struggling with SIBO and Candida for about 2.5 yr. Not sure which came first but until I got rid of both (briefly, like for 1 month only!) all my indigestion or other symptoms remained. Overloading on sugar and alcohol brought my symptoms back. I’m about to start TheWholeJourney.com program called Gut Thrive in 5 to address SIBO, candida, parasites, FODMAP intolerance.

    My ND thinks maybe I just have low stomach acid since my last SIBO test was negative and I completed the 3 weeks of Fluconazole+InterfasePlus. So she just put me on Engzygest and BetaineHCl. While those do help somewhat (I think?), they do not solve all my issues. And since the issues went away after treating Candida and SIBO, I believe they are the root of my problems. I know Candida, especially, can recur easily. I’m awaiting results of another SIBO test at the moment as well.

    I’m curious about the protocol your nutritionist used to rid you of low stomach acid? Can you share any more details on the vitamins, minerals and probiotics? I’m surprised at the different approach your CN took compared to most NDs, who will just supplement with acid until the body can produce its own again. I wonder if she was sort of targeting SIBO and Candida with the probiotics. My gastro doc had me take VSL#3 (high potency probiotic) for several months but that did not do too much I don’t think.

  14. I’ve been diagnosed with fructose malabsorption and have never been able to tolerate coconut oil/milk/cream. Coconut milk or cream in cooking will guaranteed have me throwing up in 30 minutes after consumption. Also solidified coconut oil in the form of Copha has a similar effect. I’ve never had any problems with coconut flesh though.

    • Hi Hardhatcat, given that coconut oil is completely carb free (so cannot contain fructose) and the tinned milk and cream are rated low FODMAP up to 1/2 cup, it is possible that you have something else going on. For me, it was low stomach acid. Once my nutritionist put me on supplements to improve that situation and I’d given myself time to heal, I found a great improvement. The problem is that fruct mal can actually lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to low stomach acid, so now I make sure to take a multivitamin regularly and I haven’t relapsed in three years. I’d speak to your dietitian about the possibility of something else going on (low stomach acid, potentially fat malabsorption) and see what they say. 🙂 Good luck!

      • Thanks for that. I have been on multivitamins in the past and still have had problems as well as other members of the family but will definitely follow it up. I have also noticed that since i hit my 40s my sensitivity to fructose has got worse. Not sure if that was related to age or just body changes after having kids (i had my babiez at 35, 37,39 & 41

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