The FODMAP content of coconut-based products

By | June 25, 2013
The FODMAP content of coconut-based products

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.

The FODMAP content of coconut-based products
  • The Finish Food Composition Database (1) – http://www.fineli.fi/index.php?lang=en
  • SELF Nutrition Data (2) – http://nutritiondata.self.com/
  • USDA ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory (3) – http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
  • Monash University Low FODMAP Booklet (4) – http://www.med.monash.edu/cecs/gastro/fodmap/diet-updates/coconut.html
  • Based on research from Monash University, AUSTRALIA –  http://www.lowfodmap.com/c%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%93-fodmap/

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!

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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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