What was once a beverage we enjoyed during vacations to Hawaii or tropical countries in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia has become one of the fastest growing segments of the beverage industry.
Coconut water has been around for as long as the fruit has. But it has become more popular only in the past few years.
If you search the internet and go through YouTube, you’ll find a lot of information about this drink and coconut water benefits.
The question is: What are these benefits and should you be drinking it?
According to the N.Y. Times, coconut water has ballooned to become a $400 million a year industry as of 2014, and it is continuing to grow.
The business of selling coconut water in bottles has been so hot that two of the leading brands in the market, Vita Coco and Zico, have been bought into by some of the biggest firms in the beverage industry.
Soft drink giant Coca-Cola now owns part of Zico, while Red Bull China has bought 25% of Vita Coco.
What is coconut water? (vs. coconut milk)
The coconut fruit which is abundant in tropical climates like Hawaii, the Philippines, Brazil and Thailand has been used for a lot different things.
And among the different coconut products you’ve probably heard or are coconut milk and coconut oil.
Not to be confused with coconut water,
- Coconut oil is oil that can be used for cooking or topping food. It is processed by extracting the oil from the meat of mature coconuts (the brown hairy ones). Coconut oil is high in saturated fat (12 grams/tablespoon), and has some small amounts of unsaturated fats.
- Coconut milk, meanwhile, has a white creamy texture. It’s called “milk” because it resembles the physical appearance of cow’s milk. However, coconut milk is liquid from the flesh part of the coconut that has been pressed. Often enjoyed as a drink, it is high in calories and also high in saturated fat. It has a sweet taste that many people enjoy.
To differentiate itself, coconut water is the actual juice from immature/young coconuts. These are often the green colored ones, though some cultures also use mature coconuts.
- With coconut water, all you need to do is open up the coconut, often but cutting open the hard outer shell, and pouring out the juice. Or, sipping it using a straw.
In essence, coconut water and coconut juice are the same thing.
With store bought coconut water however, there’s some processing then bottling that happens before they hit store shelves. This is why you’ll notice that the nutritional labels and taste of these bottled products differ from one another.
An Alternative to Sports Drinks
One of the biggest uses of coconut water that’s also been recommended by many health experts is its function as a sports drink.
The components in the juice of coconuts make it ideal for replacing what you lose during a vigorous workout.
It contains the necessary electrolytes that help replenish what you’ve lost in sweat, and is 95% water which rehydrates you as well.
So how does it compare with popular sports drinks?
Here’s a table that compares natural coconut water with Gatorade, which is the leading sports drinks athletes use. We’ve included the natural coconut water (straight from coconuts); Vita Coco, which is a leading bottled coconut water brand; and sports drink Gatorade.
From the figures above you can quickly see that the coconut’s juice offers a worthy alternative as far as electrolyte replenishment is concerned. It contains a lot, and we mean a lot more potassium as well as sodium.
Plus you get less carbs, less calories and sugar. It’s also natural so you don’t have to worry about any flavoring.
Because of the electrolyte content, you can actually drink less of it to get the same amount found in sports drinks.
So what does science say?
A study done by the Miami Research Associates in conjunction with The University of Memphis’ Department of Health and Sport Sciences tested its effects of rehydrating by comparing:
- plain bottled water,
- pure coconut water (the Vita Coco brand),
- coconut water from concentrate and
- sports drinks.
What they found that was there was no difference in hydration or sports performance between the 4 drinks.
The researchers did note however that the 2 coconut water drinks did cause participants to feel more bloated and experience stomach upset compared to water and sports drinks.
Bottom line, you can use coconut water, if you prefer its flavor over water or sports drink during your workouts.
The Nutritional Value in Coconut Water
Above, we touched on some of the benefits of drinking coconut water.
Now, we take a more thorough look at its nutritional facts and why it can be something healthy you can enjoy on a regular basis.
According to the USDA nutrient database, 1 cup (240 grams) of the liquid of coconuts contains the following nutrients.
- Calories: 46
- Fats: 0g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Carbs: 9 grams
- Sugar: 6 grams
- Fiber: 3 g (11% DV)
- Sodium: 252 mg (11% DV)
- Potassium: 600 mg (17% DV)
- Vitamin C: 5.8 mg (10% DV)
- Magnesium: 60 mg (15% DV)
- Calcium: 57.6 mg (6% DV)
- Manganese: 0.1 mg (17% DV)
- Copper: 0.3 mg (5% DV)
From the nutrition facts above, can quickly see that the water from coconuts offers more than electrolytes.
It is a low calorie, fat free drink that includes magnesium, manganese, and some fiber along with the sodium and potassium.
When consuming this drink though, you do need to watch your intake, because while it may be low in calories, it does have a good amount of sodium and sugar.
Benefits of Coconut Water
In the past few years, along with the popularity of coconut water came all the incredible claims of health benefits. These included everything from being able to cure bacteria and viruses, fighting cancer, weight loss and lowering blood sugar to name just a few.
But when things sound too good to be true, they often are…
And so is the case for coconut water.
So which ones are the proven health benefits, here they are.
It has Rehydrating Ability and Helps in Preventing Dehydration
Coconut water has a light taste and is very refreshing, especially when served cold. It contains natural sugars that help give us energy and is packed with electrolytes that help rehydrate our bodies from the sweat lost during workouts.
The juice of the coconut contains 5 essential electrolytes needed by our bodies, namely, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium.
Together they not only help replenish the minerals lost during exercise but also help balance fluids and regulate our heart and muscles as well.
As seen above, one cup is particularly high in sodium and potassium, which are more than what you find in your leading sports drinks. Plus, it contains less calories, and it natural.
Coconut water as its name implies is made up of mostly water (95%), which make it fight dehydration as well.
A study by researchers at the Department of Physiology of Malaysia’s Universiti Sains Malaysia, found that participants who drank coconut water showed similar levels of rehydration and regained a similar percentage of body weight lost after exercise, compared to sports drinks and plain water.
Coconut Water Can Aid in Digestion
Aside from the electrolytes and minerals, the juice of the coconut also contains a number of digestive enzymes. These enzymes help in improving the balance of gut flora.
This helps in our digestive system’s ability to breakdown food as well as absorb nutrients from what we eat.
There are a number of claims that coconut water also aids in weight loss and metabolism. However, there aren’t any studies to back up those claims.
Like regular water through, it can be used to help with weight loss by drinking it before meals to help you feel fuller so you end up eating less.
Coconut Juice is Very High in Potassium
Potassium is a mineral that the body needs to work properly. It is used by our body’s tissues and organs.
Among its functions are regulating the electrical activity of the heart, building the necessary proteins our bodies need, building muscles and balancing out sodium.
Because of all its functions, not having enough of this mineral can result in abnormal heart rhythm because there isn’t enough potassium to help it beat properly. Or, you may also experience high blood pressure as potassium balances out the bad effects of sodium.
At 600 mg of potassium for each 8 oz. glass of water from the coconut fruit, you get 17% of your daily recommended dietary allowance. This gives you over 18 times the amount of potassium you get in 8 ounces of your favorite sports drink.
This is one of the reasons many athletes, especially those involved in endurance activities like runners and soccer players like drinking it.
It Helps Fight Magnesium Deficiency
Despite being one of the lesser known minerals, magnesium is one of the most important.
It is present in more than 300 enzymes in the body that regulate the different biochemical reactions like our heart muscles’ actions, blood pressure and bone formation.
However, magnesium isn’t always present in many of the foods we regularly eat. As a result a large portion of the U.S. population is deficient in magnesium.
By some accounts, that number is around 50% of Americans, who don’t get enough magnesium through diet.
Drinking coconut water is a natural way of getting magnesium. One 8 oz. glass of the fruit’s juice contains 60 mg of magnesium which gives you 15% of the daily RDA.
It Helps Reduce Blood Pressure
The high potassium content found in the juice of coconuts, along with other minerals in coconut water also help in lowering blood pressure levels.
A study conducted by The University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, found that participants who were asked to drink coconut water for 2 weeks experienced significant reductions in their systolic (-71% ) and diastolic (-29%) blood pressure figures.
Another study published in the International Journal of Medical Research & Health Sciences found that participants who were given coconut water for a 6 week period saw their systolic blood pressure go down by a mean of 10 mm Hg, and their diastolic blood pressure decrease by a mean of 6 mm Hg.
Drinking Coconut Juice Can Keep Skin Looking Younger
The most interesting among the components found in the juice of the coconut fruit are the plant growth hormones called cytokinins.
These hormones are present in complex plants and help promote cell division, aging and growth.
In plants, as well as other living things, cells go through a cycle of being created, growing, dying and being discarded.
Cytokinins, by promoting cell division allow for new cells to be created to replace dead or damaged cells.
For us, the value of cytokinins lies in their anti-aging properties.
Coconut water contains a number of cytokinins. Among these cytokinins, researchers have found that kinetin and zeatin, significantly help slow down cell aging by delaying the process. This gives them the ability to keep skin younger.
By delaying the aging process the fibroblasts in the skin continue to make elastin and collagen, which help keep skin supple, firm and tight.
These hormones have also shown promise in their ability to fight cancer.
It has Antioxidants that Help Fight Free Radicals
Because of our stressful lifestyle, the lack of exercise and less than desirable diets, our bodies are subjected to oxidative stress and inflammation.
One of the things that contribute to these harmful long term health problems is the presence of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules in our bodies that lack an outer electron.
Because of this, it tries to pair this electron by taking one from other healthy molecules in the body. Doing so damages the healthy cells, and result in even more free radicals.
The antioxidants in coconut water, help fight the adverse effects of free radicals.
Antioxidant molecules interact with the free radicals, and donate an electron to the free radical. This way the free radicals don’t do damage to healthy cells, thereby protecting us from their long term damaging effects.
The Water in Coconuts Can Help with Kidney Stones
If you suffer from kidney stones and are looking for a natural way to reduce or dissolve them, try coconut water.
Dr. Eufemio Macalalag, the Director of Urology at the Chinese General Hospital in the Philippines successfully uses coconut water to help treat patients suffering from urinary stones.
Patients who consumed water from coconuts 2 to 3 times weekly saw significant reductions in the size of their urinary stones. The mineral content in the fruit’s juice helps in dissolving the stones.
He also mentions that drinking the water from 1 mature coconut everyday almost guarantees prevention of stone formation in the urinary tract.
Our Final Verdict on the Benefits of Coconut Water?
Coconut water is a refreshing, healthy drink. It is low in calories, has no fat and contains electrolytes and minerals that rehydrate our bodies.
This makes it something you can drink because you like its taste or as an alternative to sports drinks to replenish what you lose from sweat during workouts.
As for all the hype and numerous health claims ranging from curing cancer, preventing disease and controlling blood sugar, unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the hype.
Do note that the claims aren’t all unfounded. Some were based on animal studies where experiments with rats and other small animals showed promise. They did not however translate accordingly when tested on human subjects.
With bottled coconut water, the question boils down to do you like its taste enough, and the benefits listed above, to pay anywhere between $1 to $6 for a bottle or a pack?
Most experts say no.
In a 2014 article published in Time Magazine, 4 out of 5 health experts gave coconut water (bottled) a thumbs down, saying it’s not worth the hype.
Of course, if you happen to have a coconut tree in your backyard or live near where there’s someone who sells fresh coconut, you can always enjoy the juice straight out of the fruit. It’s much cheaper that way. And what we prefer.
For those who hate the difficult task of opening the hard outer shell, try the Coco Jack. It’s much safer, and you easily get through the shell.