The Effects of Coconut on IBS

Coconuts have long been the mainstay of the diets of people who live in tropical areas and now they have become a hot new food craze. This is due to the purported health benefits given to coconut in its many forms. People are now eating more coconut itself, as well as stocking their kitchens with coconut oil, milk, and water.

If you have IBS, you may be wary of foods that are a little more exotic than the foods you grew up with. Take a look at which coconut products might be beneficial to add to your IBS diet, and which products you should probably avoid.

One measure of whether a food is friendly or not for an IBS diet is whether it is high or low in FODMAPs, which are fermentable sugars and alcohols. Coconut products vary in this. A diet low in FODMAPs is considered by some to be a strategy for reducing IBS symptoms.

  • 1/4 cup or less shredded or dried coconut

  • 3 ounces or less coconut water

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup or more of shredded or dried coconut

  • 8 ounces coconut water

Shredded Coconut

shredded coconut

enviromantic / E+ / Getty Images

Dried, shredded coconut is often added to baked goods, candies, and other sweet treats to give them the unique flavor of coconut. People seem to either love the taste of coconut or hate it. If you are a coconut lover, read on to see if it is okay to be enjoying shredded coconut on a regular basis.

Health Benefits

Shredded coconut is considered to be a good source of the following nutrients:


Shredded coconut can be enjoyed in many ways. Just be sure to buy the unsweetened variety so as to avoid consuming excessive amounts of sugar:

  • Add to smoothies
  • Sprinkle on fruits or vegetables
  • Use in baking

The Effect on IBS

The researchers at Monash University in Australia have done research on the amounts of FODMAPs in the various coconut products. Here is what they found regarding dried, shredded coconut:

  • 1/4 cup serving is considered low in FODMAPs
  • 1/2 cup serving is high in polyols, one of the types of FODMAPs 

This means that you should be able to enjoy eating shredded coconut in lower amounts without worrying that it will worsen your IBS symptoms. If you are not sensitive to polyols, you may not have to worry about portion size at all.

At lower amounts, shredded coconut appears to offer the benefit of IBS-friendly dietary fiber without the worry of IBS-unfriendly FODMAPs. If you are a coconut fan, feel free to sprinkle away!

Coconut Oil

Raw White Organic Coconut OIl with coconuts set atop a table

bhofack2 / Getty Images

The increasing popularity of coconut oil is due in part to a growing awareness that fats are not as bad for us as was previously thought. It is now believed that healthy sources of dietary fat are essential for our overall health. In moderation, coconut oil is seen as a "healthy fat."

If you purchase coconut oil, one of the first things that you may notice is that its form changes depending on room temperature. When stored in a cool room, coconut oil is firm like shortening. If the room warms, coconut oil will turn liquid. Whenever possible buy extra virgin coconut oil.

Health Benefits

Ask an alternative health practitioner about the health benefits of coconut oil and then be prepared for a long list. The list will likely focus on coconut oil having anti-cancer, anti-dementia, antibiotic, antiviral, and other properties. However, there is little to no clinical research to date to back up most of these claims.

One area where firmer conclusions can be made about coconut oil is in the area of cardiovascular health. Although coconut oil is classified as saturated fat, it is high in lauric acid, which is thought to have a beneficial effect on HDL cholesterol that's the good one.

What is also known is that healthy fats, such as coconut oil, aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals. A small study using mice as subjects found some evidence that coconut oil was effective in repairing cells and increasing antioxidants following the experience of stress.


Coconut oil is a good choice for sàute dishes due to its high smoke point. This means that it is preferable to other oils when cooking at a higher heat to avoid the unpleasant flavor (and health risks) associated with the point that the oil starts to smoke. In addition to using coconut oil for sàuteing, you can add it to:

  • Any recipe that calls for cooking oil
  • Coffee or tea
  • Smoothies

The Effect on IBS

According to the Monash University researchers, a serving size of 1 tablespoon of coconut oil is considered low-FODMAP. Since coconut oil is a fat and not a carbohydrate, there should be no concerns about FODMAP content at any size.

However, too much fat can strengthen intestinal contractions, which is not something you want when you have IBS.

Some people say they get constipation relief by ingesting coconut oil on a daily basis. However, there is no research to support or contradict this.

Coconut oil appears to be a good source of healthy fat that in moderation should not make your IBS worse.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk and slices of coconut, close up
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images

Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the meat of a ripe brown coconut.

Health Benefits

Because coconut milk contains coconut oil, particularly in the form of ​medium-chain fatty acids, it is thought to offer similar health benefits as the oil itself.


Coconut milk can be used wherever you would use cow's milk:

  • Baking
  • Drinking
  • Smoothies
  • Soups

The Effect on IBS

According to the researchers at Monash University, a serving size of 1/2 cup is considered low-FODMAP.

Coconut milk appears to offer a healthful, dairy-free milk substitute appropriate for anyone who has IBS. In particular, coconut milk is a nice choice for those who are lactose intolerant or who are following the low-FODMAP diet. Just be sure to buy coconut milk that does not have guar gum added to it as guar gum can be associated with causing unwanted digestive symptoms.

Coconut Water

coconut shell and water in glass

Burcu Atalay Tankut / Moment Open / Getty Images

Coconut water is the liquid from the inside of unripe green coconuts. Coconut water has begun to enjoy increasing popularity as a substitute for sports drinks due to its lower sugar content.

Health Benefits

Of all the ways that coconuts can be enjoyed, coconut water offers the least in terms of health benefits. It does contain potassium, sodium and other minerals, which is why it is viewed as a healthier alternative to popular sports drinks. However, it is still high in calories and so should only be used by people who have high activity levels or it may contribute to weight gain.


Coconut water can be drunk straight or added to smoothies.

The Effect on IBS

Unlike coconut oil, coconut water contains FODMAPs. According to Monash University:

  • A 3 oz. serving is considered low-FODMAP
  • An 8 oz. serving contains higher amounts of the FODMAPs oligos and polyols

With its potential for higher levels of IBS-triggering FODMAPs and its not-so-impressive nutritional profile, it is probably best to leave coconut water off of your grocery list.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Böhn L, Störsrud S, Liljebo T, et al. Diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well as traditional dietary advice: a randomized controlled trial. Gastroenterology. 2015;149(6):1399-1407.e2. doi:org/10.1053/j.gastro.2015.07.054

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Food Data Central: Nuts, coconut meat, raw.

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.