Yeah, yeah, if you eat enough coconut oil you’ll be able to lose fat while gaining muscle, fast until 4pm without hunger, and squat twice your bodyweight until you’re 150.* But even though coconut is an excellent source of healthy fat, some people just don’t react well to it – from rashes, to indigestion to everything in between. So here’s a practical guide to replacing all things coconut with other Paleo-friendly alternatives.
*Not really. Sorry.
Coconut oil (for cooking)
Coconut oil is the staple cooking fat for Paleo meals, but it’s far from your only choice. You have so many other Paleo choices for cooking fat that replacing coconut oil is a snap. Try…
- Animal fat (lard, tallow, schmaltz, etc.). Tallow, or beef fat, is particularly good for cooking at high heat because it’s very saturated, just like coconut oil.
- Healthy plant fats (olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, or red palm oil). Avocado oil is especially good if you want something without a strong taste of its own.
Your favorite of this list will depend on what you’re using it for, but there’s something for everyone in the non-coconut fat department.
Just as a point of trivia, red palm oil actually contains a respectable concentration of medium-chain triglycerides, the famously healthy fats that make coconut oil so fantastic. So if you’re looking specifically for an MCT substitute, then palm oil is your next-best choice.
Coconut oil (for beauty/cosmetic uses)
Coconut oil isn’t just for the table! It’s also used as a moisturizer, hair conditioner, mouth rinse…for any product you can buy at CVS, there’s probably a coconut-oil version of it somewhere. But even if your skin rebels at the thought of putting cheap moisturizer on it, you still have non-coconut options:
- Skin: jojoba oil, cocoa butter, avocado oil, or shea butter are all excellent choices for moisturizers and general skincare.
- Hair: if your skin is so sensitive that you can’t do any commercial products, look into the no-(sham)poo method. The most popular way to do no-poo is to rinse with baking soda, and condition with vinegar, but you also have plenty of other options as well.
- Teeth: toothpaste can be an issue with coconut allergies because sodium laurel sulfate (the ingredient that makes the toothpaste foam) is derived from coconut. But there are some brands without it; just look for “SLS-free” on the label. Alternately, if you’re into oil pulling, you can just replace coconut with sesame seed oil.
Coconut milk (and/or coconut cream)
This one’s a little tougher. So many Paleo recipes call for coconut milk to add a creamy texture to curries, sauces, and desserts. But you do have alternatives. For a substitution, why not try…
- Almond milk: tastes a little “nutty,” which not everyone likes, but it’s widely available.
- Cashew milk: slightly sweeter, and has a taste that most people find a little closer to cow’s milk.
Either would work well in a curry or drink recipe, or just as something to lighten your coffee with. If you’re struggling to get the texture right, a pinch of gelatin might also help thicken up a gravy and provide the same creaminess as coconut milk.
You can get both at grocery stories, but almost all grocery-store versions come with added sugar and flavorings along for the ride. A cheaper and healthier option is to make them yourself at home. Here’s a recipe for almond milk, and here’s one for cashew milk.
Coconut flour is used in everything from Paleo cookies to the breading on your fried chicken. But with so many excellent grain-free flours out there, it’s not hard to find a substitute. Just beware: you cannot substitute coconut flour 1-to-1! Coconut flour sucks up a lot more water than just about anything else, so you can’t just chuck any old powdered thing in there and call it a day. If you’re not a master grain-free baker, it’s usually best to look for a recipe specifically calling for whatever flour you’re looking for, instead of trying to substitute one for another.
- For baking or breading, try: almond flour, hazelnut flour, or any other nut flour.
- For thickening sauces, try: tapioca starch or arrowroot powder.
Another option is to find recipes that don’t use any flour at all, like these flourless brownies.
It’s also worth mentioning that this shouldn’t really be a huge deal. If your “Paleo” diet is comprised mainly of “Paleo cookies” washed down with “Paleo bread” and “Paleo pizza,” then it’s not really Paleo; it’s a sad, second-rate imitation of standard American junk food. Any kind of flour replacement should be an occasional treat, not an everyday staple. But for those times when you do want a special treat, coconut flour is far from the only option.
Coconut flakes are mostly used to add that special touch of chewy sweetness to cookies, macaroons, or other treats. Sometimes they’re also sprinkled on top of a dish to add a crunch. Substitutions will vary depending on how you’re using them, but try…
- As a sweet, chewy ingredient: raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruit.
- For crunch on top of a salad: sunflower seeds, flax seeds, crumbled nut topping or dehydrated blueberries (or other berries).
- As a “crust” ingredient: see one of the non-coconut flours listed above.
Coconut aminos are the Paleo answer to soy sauce. They deliver the same salty tang, only with no soy and no wheat. Unfortunately, if you also struggle with coconut, then this isn’t exactly an ideal solution.
For a different option, here’s a recipe for a replacement with no soy, wheat, or coconut products. Let the stir-fries resume!
Found in bottles and juice boxes in the checkout line, coconut water is touted as an all-natural electrolyte replacement and energy drink, a little like Mother Nature’s Gatorade.
That’s all true enough: it does have electrolytes, and it is better for you than chugging down a bottle of bright blue food coloring. But you can also make your very own electrolyte drink by squeezing a lemon into a bottle of water and adding a pinch of salt. Shake it up and gulp away; no coconut required.
Coconut sap/coconut sugar
Let’s get this straight: coconut sugar is sugar. Sugar does not magically become healthy because it’s made from the sap of a tree that also produces coconuts! So the bad news is that there’s nothing magical about “coconut sugar” that makes it healthier than any other kind of sugar. But the good news is that if it’s not special, it’s easy to replace. If you need a sweetener, you can substitute honey, molasses, or another Paleo-friendly sweetener, but bear in mind that no matter how “natural” it might be, you’re still essentially eating a spoonful of sugar. Keep it occasional and don’t try to fool yourself that it’s a health food.
Coconut: Optional, not Required
Coconut is a Paleo darling. And it is very good for you, but it’s certainly not required, and if it’s causing a bad reaction, then just skip it! Anything you can do with coconut, you can do with something else. From moisturizing your face to fueling your workout, there’s nothing that you have to rely on coconut for. So don’t let this one food stand between you and Paleo; it just shouldn’t be that big of an obstacle.