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I love matcha, there’s no denying it. Ever since I discovered the powdered green tea when I first moved to New York City back in 2015, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for cafes that offer the delicious Japanese drink.
So, it’s no wonder that when I discovered not one, but two, coffee shops next to my new office that carry the Instagram-worthy sip, I became a frequent consumer. And by frequent, I mean every day. As soon as I woke up (often tired despite trying to snooze for the recommended eight hours each night), I looked forward to ordering my favorite coconut matcha latte at Ground Central, a beloved NYC coffee chain, to wake me up.
With matcha being widely known as one of the most desirable ingredients among the Instagram-happy wellness set, and hearing that coconut milk was considered by some to be a healthier alternative to cow’s milk, I felt like I was making a healthy decision by starting each and every day for the past seven months with coconut-infused green goodness.
Then I stepped on the scale.
A Wake-Up Call
Ever since starting a new job as a beauty editor, I had watched in dismay as my body changed before my very eyes. I used to step on the scale and see the same steady numbers (even throughout college); but now I was wincing at the 30-pound weight gain that I’d steadily packed on since accepting the job. Despite being told that I carry the weight well due to my height and that the gain has gone unnoticed, I continued to find it not only confidence-crushing, but confusing, too. After all, I make healthy(ish) decisions and I’ve been eating the same diet for my entire time in the city, so why now? As always, my mom had the answer.
“Haven’t you been drinking your matcha with coconut milk every day?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes. Initially, I didn’t understand why she needed to know about my morning beverage choices as I was maneuvering the New York City subway system, but as I sat listening, it clicked.
It turns out that one of her coworkers, a healthy man in his mid-twenties, has the same hankering for the coconut-infused green drink. And, oddly enough, he too had been gaining serious weight without making the correlation. After speaking with his aunt, who is a nutritionist, he learned that coconut milk — which so many people believe is a super healthy swap — is actually only a good choice in moderation.
Which I am pretty certain 16 ounces every day surpasses.
It was time to get to the bottom of my seemingly healthy habit — and the not-so-healthy weight gain.
A Nutritionist Weighs In
I dialed up Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.” I sat in anticipation hoping that my phone call with my mom had all been some kind of cruel joke. I mean, how could coconut matcha lattes be bad for you? How could they be to blame for a 30-pound weight gain?
So many foods today have health halos that make them seem like they’re healthier for you than they actually are.
As soon as I filled Taub-Dix in on my story, she was on the case. She explained that matcha alone, with its high concentration of powerhouse antioxidants, can boost your immune system. But when you start adding it into today’s trendy cakes, cookies and yes, coconut lattes, you’re actually diluting the benefits by adding other ingredients that actually may be harmful for your health.
According to Taub-Dix, so many foods today have health halos that make them seem like they’re healthier for you than they actually are.
“Coconut is one of those foods that seems super beneficial with its health halo, but that comes from recent findings about saturated fat,” says Taub-Dix. “We used to think eating saturated fat was like eating poison; now it seems like it may not be as bad as we thought — but that doesn’t mean it’s always good for us.”
It’s important to know the facts: If you’re making coconut-based recipes at home, one cup of coconut milk (from a can) clocks in at a whopping 450 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat, and just one tablespoon of coconut oil has 120 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. While saturated fats may not have quite the bad rep that they used to, the American Heart Association still recommends keeping your daily intake at just 13 grams (for a 2,000 calorie diet). Clearly those coconut-containing food and beverages are putting you well over that daily limit, especially if you aren’t measuring portion sizes carefully.