Coconut is one of the latest foods to gain popularity in the US, but its health benefits have long been established. Botanically, the coconut fruit is a drupe, not a true nut and its uses are quite versatile from commercial, industrial to domestic areas. The coconut fruit is linked to the following health benefits:
- Cardiovascular Health
- Immunity-anti viral/bacterial and fungal
In addition the coconut has a low glycemic index and is rich in fiber. It is gluten free, trans fat free, rich in MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides), and may help reduce sugar cravings. From eating the flesh of the coconut, to coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut milk and coconut water, the coconut can be eaten and used in a variety of ways. Sound fabulous? Well coconuts and their products are but…(you knew it was coming) coconut water may not be as fabulous as coconut oil or milk or other coconut products. Let me explain by outlining the positives and the negatives of drinking coconut water.
Coconut water is a refreshing alkalizing drink that is packed with simple sugars, electrolytes and minerals to hydrate and energize the body, especially after exercise. It is also composed of many naturally occurring bioactive enzymes that help in digestion and metabolism.
Coconut water is a clear liquid extracted from young, green coconuts and is labeled as “nature’s sports drink” due to its ability to replenish hydration levels after exercise. Electrolytes are important for muscle contraction and to generate energy in the body. Coconut water contains a high amount of the electrolyte potassium. 100ml of coconut water has 250mg of potassium (in similar volume measurement about 25% more than a banana) and contains about 100mg of sodium. It also contains vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, which is an antioxidant as well as a good source of water soluble B-complex vitamins. As for minerals, coconut water contains calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrients are found in fresh, raw, non pasteurized coconut water. The unpasteurized version also contains the enzymes that help to detoxify and repair the body.
Many individuals use coconut water as a sports recovery drink, yet it likely will not do the job; especially if the activity is high intensity. Sweating causes loss of two key electrolytes; potassium and sodium but we lose up to 10 times more sodium than potassium. Coconut water is richer in potassium as compared to sodium thus leaving a deficit in sodium if one chooses to rehydrate with coconut water after exercise. The lower sodium levels is the main reason coconut water should not be used as a replacement for sports drinks when it comes to sports performance. If your exercise is of mild to moderate intensity you can properly rehydrate yourself with just water, so again coconut water is not recommended or needed. (For protein and carb requirements post exercise- see Fuel for Pre and Post Exercise). If you medically need to restrict your potassium intake, you should absolutely avoid coconut water.
Another negative is unfortunately most of the commercial brands of coconut water sold in stores are pasteurized and/or from concentrate. Popular brands include Vita Coco or Zico, and are not as high in nutrients as the fresh, raw, unpasteurized version presented above. Many store bought brands also add sugar in addition to the natural simple sugars found in coconut water. While coconut water may not contain the evil HFCS (some do) or contain toxic food colorings and dyes that is found in Gatorade, it still contains calories from simple and added sugars. Always look for coconut water without added sugar. On average coconut water contains about 45 calories/8oz, whereas water is calorie free! If you are opting to drink coconut water as a beverage and not for rehydration after exercise, you are far better off with plain water!
Lastly, coconut water comes with a higher price point and it does not provide the right balance of electrolytes as compared to other sports drinks.
Bottom Line: Coconut offers health benefits and many uses in both diet and domestic areas however I recommend you reap these benefits not from coconut water but instead from other coconut products such as oil, flour, milk etc.
The information provided in this post is for education only and is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor should it be used as a replacement for seeking medical treatment.
Copyright © Jaime Coffey Martinez, Nutrition CPR, LLC