Sara YinHuffington Post
Fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie, super-hydrating, naturally rich in electrolytes — the touted benefits of America’s latest health craze, coconut water, seem endless. Dubbed “nature’s sports drink” and “life-enhancer” by marketers, its no wonder why celebrities have replaced their acai berry drinks and Kabbalah water with a juice box.
But with a price tag of $2-3 for a typical 11 fl. ounce tetra pack (equivalent to about 10 sips), is it really worth paying top dollar for, well, top water?
For the uninitiated, coconut water is the clear, nut-flavored (or “sock-flavored”) juice stored inside young coconuts. It has long been a staple liquid of Southeast Asian nations, where the fruit is also harvested for its flesh, oil and milk.
In America, the beverage hit the stands five years ago through the two biggest players: Vita Coco, an independent manufacturer which sold $20 million of the juice in 2009 and expects to double that this year, and Zico, a brand backed by Coca-Cola. As fads go, the coconut water industry has burgeoned: Merrill Lynch notes that within five years, the U.S. coconut water industry went from zero to $35 million.
Coconut water’s headiest claim is that it is rich in potassium: a typical serving offers 569 mg, which is almost twice the amount in a banana. This mineral helps regulate blood pressure by counteracting the stimulating effects of sodium, of which it contains only 160 mg, and this in turn helps to prevent related issues like stroke, heart attack and hangovers. Compare this to 14 fl. oz. of Gatorade, which contains ‘only’ 52.5 mg of potassium and 192.5 mg of sodium.
But nutritionists say you should think twice before chugging the stuff, especially after heavy-duty exercise.
Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC Davis, told Mother Jones that coconut water’s high potassium and low sodium combination isn’t ideal after strenuous exercise. “Even though the belief is that when you exercise you need a lot of potassium, sodium is more important,” she said. “When you sweat, you lose a lot more sodium than potassium.”
Applegate says she has never seen any convincing scientific evidence to support anti-aging and kidney health claims. Still, she doesn’t dismiss coconut water entirely. “If you like the taste, great,” she told MJ. “If you’re doing a short workout, great.”
“The star behind coconut water is its high potassium content,” Andrea Giancoli, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told Fat Fighter TV. “Most people aren’t getting enough potassium because they’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables.”
“I wouldn’t believe all the hype — that it’s going to cure diabetes and cancer and hypertension, etc.,” she continued. “Unfortunately, that always ends up being the issue with some of these products — their actual health benefits get lost in the hype.”
In another interview with the Washington Post, Giancoi says salty pretzels might be better for you after a hard workout.
“Most people don’t exercise heavily enough to need a sports recovery drink. Water is just fine for most people,” she told WaPo.
Australian nutritionist Tania Ferraretto told Fiji Times, “While it’s a marketing advantage to say it’s natural, in the real world your body doesn’t distinguish between the electrolytes coming from coconut water or from a sports drink.”
“Although it does provide electrolytes and a little bit of carbohydrate, a sports drink is specifically formulated for athletes and the electrolytes and carbohydrates are at the right level,” Ferraretto added.
Is Coconut Water Good For You?
Coconut water is popping up everywhere in a variety of healthy beverages and you may be curious if it really lives up to the hype surrounding it. But, do the benefits stand up to its actual nutritional value? Is coconut water good for you?
What is coconut water?
Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside a young, green coconut which is usually about the size of a basketball. Ideally, young coconuts are harvested at 5-7 months of age, to contain the most water.
As the coconut matures, the liquid is replaced with coconut “meat”. The greatest nutrient health benefits of coconut water comes from drinking the water of the young coconut, not the mature coconut milk, which is generally lower in nutrients.
Coconut water has been consumed for centuries in tropical countries and is believed to treat a variety of health-related ailments. In Sanskrit, coconuts are called “kalpa vriksha” which means “tree which gives all that is necessary for living”.
In certain emergency situations, coconut water has been used for IV hydration due to its high electrolyte content and the fact that it is sterile if used directly from the inside of the coconut. People all over the world enjoy coconut water for its multiple benefits and sweet taste.
Recently, coconut water’s health benefits continue to be touted, as many marketers call it “nature’s sports drink” and a “life enhancer”. But, are the claims that coconut water is good for you really true?
Coconut Water Nutrition Facts
The liquid inside the coconut contains approximately 46 calories per cup, 10 grams of natural sugar, with little protein and it is fat free! It contains multiple vitamins, minerals, and phytochemcials that are ideal for human health. (1)
The primary nutrient in coconut water is potassium. It contains approximately 600 mg (12% DV) making it a high electrolyte beverage. Coconut water also contains a small amount of sodium, about 40mg and up to 10% of your daily calcium and magnesium needs. (2)
Electrolytes are critical to maintain blood volume, heart health, and well as to prevent dehydration. Maintaining electrolyte levels can help reduce fatigue, stress, and help maintain muscle relaxation.
There has also been some interesting research regarding the cytokinin content of coconut water which in the future may show some anti-cancer properties. Cytokinins are naturally occurring plant hormones that may help reduce the growth of cancer cells, although more research is needed at this time. (3)
With these nutrition benefits is coconut water good for you? The answer is yes! If you really like the flavor, it can be a low-calorie, low-sugar alternative to soda. It is pretty refreshing to consume on a hot day, to help re-hydrate.
Other health benefits of coconut water include:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Increased athletic performance
- Boosted energy
- Lowered cholesterol
- Reduced cellulite
- Relax muscle tension
Coconut water is a safe, healthy beverage for most people. Those with kidney disease should limit consumption foods that are too high in potassium, including coconut water. Now let’s explore the research and science-backed benefits of coconut water.
Health Benefits of Coconut Water
1. Electrolyte Replacement: Coconut Water vs. Gatorade
Because coconut water is high in potassium, and such a great electrolytereplacement, it has even been used for IV hydration in certain emergency situations.
It is also lower in carbohydrates compared to other sports drinks. Coconut water is only about 4.5% carbohydrates whereas other sports drinks can contain 6-8% carbohydrate concentration. This is good for athletes trying to watch their sugar intake and hydrate after an event. For most casual exercisers coconut water is a great low-sugar hydration choice for after a workout.
A 2002 study, compared water, coconut water, and standard sports beverages to determine which beverage was best for post-exercise hydration. The eight subjects exercised in the heat and then were rehydrated with either water, coconut water, or a sports drink.
Researchers found that there was no difference in sodium levels, urine output, or fluid balance between the three beverages, meaning all three beverages were equally hydrating. But, there was significantly less nausea or fullness with the coconut water allowing the participants to drink more of the beverage. (5)
Overall, coconut water can be an alternative to sports drinks, but it may depend on the type of sport and the intensity. Some long-distance endurance athletes may need more specialized products that contain more sodium and carbohydrates. But, for most casual exercisers, coconut water is a great option.
2. Lower blood pressure
A 2005 study found that when subjects were given coconut water for two weeks, their systolic blood pressure was 71% lower and their diastolic blood pressure was 29% lower than those who drank plain water.
The high potassium content of coconut water has led researchers to investigate the potential benefits for reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
Potassium counteracts the effect of sodium in the body, helping lower blood pressure.
3. Lower cholesterol and triglycerides
A 2006 study found that rats given coconut water had a decreased chance of having a heart attack. The coconut water helped decrease their total cholesterol triglyceride levels, and LDL cholesterol, specifically the cholesterol found in the heart.
Additionally, the health benefits of coconut water helped the rats recover faster if they did have a heart attack. Researchers believe that the benefit may be related to the potassium, calcium, and magnesium content in the water, all electrolytes that play a role in helping maintain heart health.
4. Cleansing / Detox
Our bodies have an amazing natural ability to cleanse and detox on their own, if provided the correct nutrients and hydration. Inadequate hydration leads to the build-up of toxins in our bodies because the liver and kidneys, the detoxifying organs, are unable to function properly without adequate water.
Dehydration resulting from water or electrolyte loss leads to fatigue, irritability, confusion, and extreme thirst. These symptoms result from the inability for the kidney to adequately flush toxins out of the system. Adequate fluid intake, ideally 8-10 cups per day, can help prevent dehydration and maintain the body’s natural detoxification ability. Although water is great, during very hot weather or strenuous exercise, more than just plain water may be necessary.
Coconut water contains a similar electrolyte profile to human blood, making it an ideal beverage to replace fluids and help remove toxins from the body. The electrolyte potassium, specifically, can help counteract some of the negative effects of a high sodium processed diet.
5. Reduce stress and muscle tension
It’s almost as good as a massage! Some of the electrolytes found in coconut water, specifically calcium and magnesium, may help with stress and muscle tension. Many of us are missing these critical minerals in our diets, making stress management even more challenging. Other than maintaining strong teeth and bones, calcium helps with smooth muscle relaxation. Adequate calcium intakes may help keep our all our muscles relaxed, including our heart muscle, lowering the risk of heart attacks.
Magnesium has been nicknamed the “relaxation” mineral. Its primary function is in the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that helps us relax. It also helps with the formation of serotonin, the feel good hormone.
Magnesium and calcium work together to help maintain muscle relaxation. Coconut water contains both of these minerals, so drink up on a stressful day to help you stay calm and stress-free.
Coconut Water vs. Coconut Milk
Many people confuse coconut water with coconut milk. Higher in fat and calories, coconut milk is extracted from the flesh of the coconut and is thicker, sweeter, and more dense. It also is packed with nutrition and healthy saturated fats, but it is also very high in calories. A cup of coconut milk is about 552 calories compared to a cup of coconut water which is only about 46 calories! Whew!
Coconut milk has many health benefits as it is a rich source of potassium, manganese, magnesium, folate, calcium and selenium.
One note too, while it is high in fat it is important to remember that the medium chain fatty acids of the saturated fat in coconut oil and coconut milk are very good for you! They can be used by your brain without going through your digestive tract and so they are easily accessed by your body.
Because of its great taste and texture it is a great dairy substitute for baking and cooking!
The Best Coconut Water To Buy
If available, look for coconut water in a fresh, green coconut, instead of the packaged variety, it may be difficult to open, but is really fun to drink! It also contains no added sugar, preservatives and is not pasteurized. It is the healthiest and most delicious choice by far.
Fresh coconuts are perishable and you may find them in the refrigerated section of health stores. If they are opened, the coconut water should be kept cold and consumed within 3-5 days.
If you cannot find a fresh, green coconut, your second best choice is cold pressured coconut water, which is only lightly processed via high pressure processing instead of heat. This exposes the coconut water to high pressure to eliminate bacteria, but maintains a greater level of vitamins and minerals.
If coconut water does not need to be refrigerated, it usually means it has been pasteurized to maintain its freshness. During the pasteurizationprocess, liquids are heated to a high temperature to kill any bacteria, but this also destroys many of the natural vitamins and minerals in the product.
Avoid coconut water that is from concentrate. Generally, if any fruit or vegetable is made into a concentrate, it loses nutrients in the process therefore it is always best to choose options that are not from concentrate.
In order to make coconut water more “flavorful” many companies are adding sweeteners or other flavors to coconuts. Many companies also use flavors to cover up the fact they are not using young coconuts in their coconut water, but instead are using mature coconuts that have a more bitter and acidic taste.
Avoid coconut waters with added flavors or sugar. The primary ingredient should be 100% coconut water, there should not be any added fruit juices, natural or artificial ingredients, or anything that may indicate that the coconut water was modified in any way.
The best store bought brands of coconut water include: Harmless Harvest, Juice Press and Exotic Superfoods.
Ways to Enjoy Coconut Water
Combining Coconut Water with Probiotics
If you looking for a great way to boost your digestive and immune systems, then eating and drinking probiotic foods is the way to do it. And if you have a dairy sensitivity, then coconut kefir water is a great option!
Kefir is traditionally a cultured dairy product that is one of the most probiotic rich foods available. It has multiple health benefits due to its high probiotic content, for people with gastrointestinal issues as well as those who have been over prescribed antibiotics.
Traditionally, kefir has been made by adding kefir grains to dairy, such as milk. Kefir grains are not actual grains, but are small kernels that contain a specific balance of yeast and bacteria.
Although most people are generally able to tolerate kefir, even if they can’t tolerate dairy, some people may be sensitive to it or have a dairy allergy. Luckily, coconut water can also be made into kefir to help everyone reap the benefits from this amazing beverage. Here is a great recipe for coconut water that you can make at home!
Coconut Water Kefir Recipe
(Recipe adapted from Cultures for Health)
- 1 quart coconut water
- 3 tablespoons water kefir grains
- Optional: 1 cup fresh fruit of your choice
- Activate grains by using sugar water first. Generally, this is done by adding ¼ cup sugar to 1 quart water and adding the grains and soaking for 24-48 hours. Once the grains are activated in sugar water, you can then use them with coconut water.
- Place the kefir grains in the coconut water into a large jar with a lid. Cover the jar and allow it to sit for 24-48 hours.
- Remove the grains before drinking.
- To add fruit, blend the coconut kefir and the fruit in a blender.
- You can continue to reuse the grains if you refresh them in sugar water between uses.
Recipe: Super Hydrator Juice
If coconut water alone is too plain for you, try mixing it with other fruit juices. Here is a recipe for my Super Hydrator Juicedrink that contains coconut water as well as other fruit and vegetable juices for optimal hydration.
- 4 ounces coconut water
- 4 celery stalks
- 1 whole cucumber
- 1 peeled lime
Add all ingredients together into a juicer. Gently stir and drink immediately.
Coconut water has so many amazing health benefits, consider adding it to your daily routine as a beverage for ultimate hydration. It should not replace plain water, but it can be a great alternative to other beverages that is low in sugar and calories.
Be careful when buying commercial coconut water brands as many can lack the nutrients found in the natural water. Many brands have a significant amount of added sugar or preservatives that can modify the health benefits of this amazing treat. When buying store bought coconut water the brand I personally consume is harmless harvest coconut water.
Coconut water is good for you, it has multiple health benefits and may be cardio-protective as well as help prevent cancer and other diseases. So drink up!
Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world…
Top 10 Ways Your Body Benefits From Coconut Water
Between coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut water, it seems the world is going nuts for coconuts … and rightfully so! In general, coconut products are packed with powerful nutrients that benefit the body in many ways. As more and more research confirm their benefits, it seems more and more people are eager to stock up products made from this tropical fruit! Today, we’re going to focus on coconut water, a trendy and refreshing beverage you should definitely try.
So What The Heck Is Coconut Water?!
Coconut water is a clear liquid that’s found inside a young, green coconut. Typically, coconut water is taken from a coconut that’s around five-seven months old. The younger the coconut, the more water it contains.
As a coconut matures, the liquid inside of it is replaced with coconut “meat.” That matured meat is then squeezed to create creamy coconut milk, a dairy alternative that’s also gaining a lot of popularity.
While coconut milk and coconut water may sound similar, they are very different in texture, taste, and nutritional value. While coconut milk is loaded with healthy fats and protein, coconut water is fat-free and contains very little protein. Despite that, it still packs a powerful nutritional punch. It’s approximately 46-calories per cup, has 10 grams of natural sugar, and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals that the body needs.
People in tropical countries have been cutting open young coconuts and drinking their water for centuries. While the drink has been used to treat health-related ailments for quite some time, today, researchers are confirming the claims. Below are the top 10 ways your body benefits from coconut water!
1) Perfect For Athlete’s Needing To Rehydrate
Coconut water is often referred to as “nature’s perfect sports drink” and a “life enhancer.” This is mainly because it’s high in calcium, potassium, and sodium. All three of the nutrients I just mentioned are powerful electrolytes, which the body needs to function properly. Athletes lose electrolytes through their sweat. You can also lose electrolytes if you don’t drink enough fluid and become dehydrated. To keep your body balanced, you need to replenish those electrolytes as soon as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to sip on coconut water.
Coconut water’s rehydrating benefits have been proven so powerful that in certain emergency situations, coconut water has actually been used intravenously. People in remote areas of the world have reported great success from using coconut water as a short-term IV hydration fluid. *Note: You shouldn’t attempt this at home. Instead, stick to drinking the coconut water.
In one 2002 study, researchers compared the hydrating benefits of water, coconut water, and standard sports beverages. They had eight participants exercise in the heat and then drink one of the three beverages. They found no difference in sodium levels, urine output, or fluid balance. However, participants reported significantly less nausea after drinking the coconut water, which allowed them to drink more of it. For this reason, researchers call coconut water the best option!
Additionally, doctors point out that coconut water is a much better choice than many sports drinks on the market today because it’s not full of refined sugar. Sports drinks, on the other hand, are loaded with sugar and other chemicals that have been linked to various health issues.
2) Boosts Energy
Fatigue is one of the main signs of electrolyte imbalance. So if you find yourself sluggish by noon and don’t have time for a nap, try sipping on some coconut water. Just one serving of coconut water in the afternoon could help put that pep back in your step. That’s right, with coconut water there’s no need to chug down a sugary Red Bull or 5-Hour Energy shot! Plus, along with cutting back on sugar and other chemicals, coconut water won’t give you the jitters like energy drinks often do.
3) Reduces Muscle Tension
Coconut water is rich in both calcium and magnesium, two electrolytes that have been shown to relax muscles throughout the entire body. This is just another reason it’s the perfect beverage for athletes. Along with relaxing your leg muscles after a long run or arm muscles after an intense iron-pumping session, though, these nutrients can help soothe the muscles around your heart.
4) May Support Heart Health
We heart coconut water and coconut water loves our heart! Since this popular tropical drink is rich in electrolytes, it’s also been shown to support heart health. Researchers say one way it does this is by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
One group of researchers conducted multiple studies on rats. Once they found evidence that consuming coconut water could lower both cholesterol and triglycerides, they decided to do a longer study that compared the refreshing drink to powerful statin drugs. After 45 days of the rats eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol, the researchers found similar effects between coconut water and the drugs. For this reason, researchers say coconut water has lipid-lowering effects.
May Reduce Blood Pressure
In a 2005 study, researchers divided 28 people with hypertension into four groups. They were either given plain water, coconut water, mauby, or a combination of all three. At the end of the study, the group that saw the most significant decrease in blood pressure was the coconut water group. Their systolic blood pressure was 71 percent lower and their diastolic blood pressure was 29 percent lower than those who drank plain water. Researchers attribute this effect to the drink’s high potassium levels. According to the American Heart Association, potassium can help control blood pressure because it lessens the effects of sodium.
May Reduce Heart Attack Risk
Given the fact that coconut water can help to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, you probably assumed that it could potentially decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Researchers have done studies on rats and the findings are promising. Additionally, researchers say giving coconut water to rats recovering from a heart attack helps speed up the recovery process.
5) May Help Prevent Kidney Stones
If you’ve ever had kidney stones then you know how painful they can be. They can cause abdominal pain and serious discomfort when trying to urinate. Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and other compounds that stick together in concentrated urine. While drinking regular water can help pass kidney stones (and prevent future ones from forming), coconut water is said to be even more beneficial.
In one study, rats were divided into three groups and fed either a standard rat diet, regular water mixed with ethylene glycol, or coconut water. Researchers found the coconut water helped break up the kidney stones, reducing the number of crystals found in the rat’s urine.
6) May Help Fight Diabetes
If you or someone you know is diagnosed with diabetes then you may want to stock up on coconut water. While more research is needed, so far, studies on diabetic animals show the drink could improve blood sugar levels.
In several studies where diabetic rats were fed coconut water, researchers found they had an easier time managing their diabetes. In one study, researchers attributed this effect to L-arginine, an amino acid found in coconut water. L-arginine helps improve insulin sensitivity.
Additionally, coconut water is a good source of magnesium, which is also said to improve insulin sensitivity as well as lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 Diabetes.
7) Helps Fight Free Radicals
Without getting too scientific, free radicals are molecules that form in the body during metabolism (when food is converted into energy). When there are too many free radicals, the body is put under oxidated stress. This can damage cells and lead to disease. One way to fight free radicals is by eating antioxidant-rich foods. That’s because antioxidants are molecules that can interact with free radicals and modify their reaction so they aren’t harmful. Since coconut water contains antioxidants, researchers say the tropical drink can even help keep your body functioning properly at the cellular level.
8) May Improve Digestion
One of the main causes of constipation is dehydration. If your body doesn’t have enough water then your stool will become hard and difficult to pass. Staying hydrated helps keep your intestines smooth and flexible. It also helps keep the food you eat moving through your intestines, and ultimately allows food waste to exit the body. While doctors say drinking 8-16 oz of regular water every two hours can help beat constipation, coconut water is another great option.
9) May Fight Migraines
Migraines are another sign of dehydration. Rather than reaching for regular water to rehydrate, though, sip on magnesium-rich coconut water. Magnesium has been known to fight headaches and migraines.
10) Helps Relieve Hangovers
While grabbing drinks with some friends can be fun, the next-day hangover certainly isn’t! To help relieve your pounding headache, reach for some coconut water. The electrolytes will quickly help to rehydrate your body. Plus, the antioxidants will help fight any oxidated stress caused by the alcohol.
How To Choose The Best Coconut Water
With the recent popularity of coconut water, bottles of the tropical drink are popping up in grocery stores around the world. In fact, you can find them in just about any health food store or regular grocery store. They’re even sold in Walmart and Target! With so many different options available to us, picking out the “healthiest” brand can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help you pick out the best one:
- Read the ingredient label carefully to make sure there aren’t any added sugars.
- Go organic
- Choose plain, unflavored coconut water (there will be a slightly nutty flavor as is)
- Make sure it has no more than 50 calories per serving
The Best Option
If you’re looking for convenience then bottled coconut water is just fine. However, if you really want to reap the health benefits (and feel like you’re on an island getaway), then opt for a fresh, green coconut! This will assure you are drinking coconut water with no added sugars or preservatives. Fresh coconut water also hasn’t been pasteurized, making it, hands down, the healthiest option. Many health food stores sell fresh coconuts in their refrigerated section. They usually keep for about 3-5 days.
How To Add Coconut Water To Your Diet
- Ice (make ice cubes from coconut water rather than regular H2O)
- Oatmeal (cook your morning oats in coconut water)
- Steam veggies in coconut water