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The Benefits of Coconut Water: Healthy or Hype?

August 21, 2012

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Coconut water is everywhere these days. A beverage once confined to tropical beaches and health food stores, coconut oil’s watery cousin has exploded into mainstream popularity in a big way.

Branded as a healthy alternative to commercial sports drinks, one cup of coconut water contains roughly 500 milligrams of potassium – about as much as a banana – and around 40 calories. Some companies have gone as far as to claim that coconut water, reportedly used as a saline solution during WWII, is identical to human blood plasma and can be safely injected into the bloodstream. But is coconut water as miraculous as marketers would like us to believe?

 

In a word, no. There are plenty of foods that contain potassium – spinach, potatoes, and lentils, to name a few – that also have the added benefit of being high in other nutrients and fiber. Moreover, coconut water is low in sodium, the mineral humans most need to counteract dehydration. Some researchers suggest that adding a bit of table salt to pure coconut water could do the trick, but as it exists naturally, coconut water isn’t a great choice for marathon runners or seriously sick patients.

What’s more, not all coconut waters are equal. Most people agree that fresh coconut water tastes much better than boxed – the majority of which has been flash pasteurized to make it safe to store for long periods of time – and chances are packaged coconut water is less nutritious, too. Researchers at ConsumerLab.com found that the nutrition values cited on coconut water labels were often inaccurate – popular brands Vita Coco and ONE contained as much as 82% less sodium and 35% less magnesium than the listed amount. (Only Zico Natural contained the stated amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and sugar.)

The truth is, most of us don’t exercise long or hard enough to need any kind of electrolyte replacement drink. As a general rule of thumb, unless you’re doing serious aerobic exercise for 90 minutes or longer, good ol’ water and a healthy diet is all you really need to stay hydrated and replenished. (If you are training for a big event, try our easy recipe for a do-it-yourself healthy sports drink!)

The bottom line is, if you enjoy the taste of coconut water, there’s no harm in consuming this natural beverage. It’s best from a fresh, young coconut when possible, but even then, it’s no miracle drink.