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Coconut water: Healthy or Hype?

Coconut water is the new trend in beverages, with companies claiming many health benefits from this natural drink. But does it really support our health, or is it all a lot of hype?

Coconut water is the new trend in beverages, with companies touting it as the best natural, rehydrating, anti-aging, good-for-athletes beverage out there.  There are claims that coconut water is better than water for rehydrating and better than commercial sports drinks for athletic performance.  But is coconut water really a miracle drink?  Let's take a look...

What is coconut water?

Coconut water is different than coconut milk.  Coconut water comes from the liquid found inside a coconut, while coconut milk comes from grinding up coconut milk and pressing out the liquid.  Coconut milk is much higher in calories and fat, and is often used in cooking and baking.

The facts…
1 cup of coconut water provides about 45 calories and 10 grams of sugar (depending on the brand), so it’s definitely a better option than sodas and fruit drinks (fruit drinks = not 100% juice).  If you hate drinking plain water and don’t like seltzer either, coconut water could be something worth trying.  If you're watching your weight, though, remember to account for the additional calories you're consuming through these beverages.

It’s also got a whopping 400 to 500 mg of potassium per cup, which is essential for healthy hearts and muscles.  Getting enough potassium each day and reducing your sodium intake, along with an overall healthy diet, can help lower your blood pressure too.  That being said, potassium is found in fruits and vegetables which provide other nutritional benefits like fiber and phytochemicals.  Coconut water is also a bit expensive, running about $2 or $3 per carton or bottle – versus $2 or $3 for a whole bunch of bananas.

What about athletes?
If you’re an endurance athlete, coconut water alone generally shouldn’t be used as a replacement for sports drinks/gels during tough workouts.  When you exercise longer than an hour, you need to provide your body with carbohydrates and electrolytes to keep functioning properly.  Many brands of coconut water provide less than ideal amounts of carbohydrate, and not enough sodium.  And some independent consumer lab tests have shown some brands contained even less sodium than the labels claimed.

A few small studies have shown coconut water may be appropriate as a rehydration beverage after exercise, but note that it should contain a higher sodium content to be on par with standard sports drinks.  Some athletes may like that it is a more natural option, and some athletes experience less nausea and stomach upset when using coconut water as a rehydration beverage compared to other options.

The bottom line:
It's not a miracle beverage, and it's expensive.  But if you're looking for a natural way to get more fluid and don't like plain water, you may enjoy coconut water.  If you're an athlete looking for a natural alternative to sports drinks, keep in mind that many brands of coconut water don't contain the ideal amount of carbohydrate and sodium.  Compare labels to find the best choice for you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Eric Esterling March 25, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Agree with everything you said. Well done! Now I don't have to write this post. -Eric Esterling, MS, RD
Nicole Partridge March 28, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Great article! I like to use coconut water for stir-frying vegetables, instead of oil. Thanks for the good read! Nicole, "veganmama" http://nicole-veganmama.blogspot.com/
Chrissy Carroll April 03, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Thanks Eric! I've read your posts on here as well - nice to see a fellow RD putting out good info :)

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