Coconut Water: A New Health Food?
By Carolyn Richardson and Mary Hartley, RD
You don’t need to watch Tom Hanks in Cast Away to help you discover coconut water any more. Coconut water is popping up in high-end grocery stores nationwide, and business is booming with no signs of slowing down. Not to be confused with coconut milk, made from the white pulp inside the coconut, coconut water is the clear fluid found in young green coconuts. But before you go and buy a case of coconut water at Whole Foods, consider the truth behind the hype of this buzzworthy tropical drink.
Coconut water, unlike coconut milk, is not high in fat nor does it break the calorie bank. An 8-ounce serving of coconut water has 46 to 60 calories, whereas the same amount of coconut milk has 552 calories. Coconut water is loaded with minerals including potassium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. What’s more, the minerals in coconut water have the same electrolytic balance that we have in our blood.
Coconut water’s major nutritional claim is its colossal 600 mg of potassium per 8-ounce serving. That’s more than twice as much as in a banana. Potassium helps to balance sodium’s water-retaining properties. It also helps to prevent high blood pressure as shown in the DASH Diet trials. Heart patients, in particular, and kidney patients too, have to balance their potassium intake with their medications.
Coconut Water as a Sports Drink
Because of its high potassium content, some manufacturers are touting coconut water as a sports drink. But this may be misleading. Gabe Mirkin, MD maintains that healthy athletes don’t typically have a potassium deficiency because the kidneys conserve potassium and very little is lost in sweat. While the potassium in coconut water will help with hydration, it is actually a low sodium food with only 40 mg of sodium in 8-ounces. Coconut water, therefore, does not replace sodium, the main electrolyte lost by sweating during strenuous exercise; however, certain brands may contain more sodium to mimic the sodium in sports drinks. Nevertheless, because coconut water is a natural source of key electrolytes, it is a great alternative to some highly processed sugary sports drinks.
While the relative healthfulness of coconut water is debated, there’s no controversy over the fact it is not budget-friendly. One 8oz. serving of the liquid could run anywhere from $2 to $3. Buying cases will help alleviate the pocket pain, but if you’re a newbie to the scene, the admission to test your coconut water taste buds is steep. The reason is access. It’s generally shipped from Brazil, Thailand and other tropical regions where coconut trees abound. Also, you can only find coconut water available regularly at high-end health food markets like Whole Foods and Gelson’s, although I’ve caught it on sale in a few major grocery chains.
As the celebrity of coconut water increases, some stars and industry giants have lent their funds to its success. Vita Coco, one of the independently owned coconut water companies recently received an investment from Madonna. Zico, which is one of the few brands made from concentrate, has Coca Cola’s financial support. But one of the biggest stories is of O.N.E. Coconut Water distributed by PepsiCo. The brand is readying for the release of Jamba Juice branded coconut water/juice blends later this year. Other brands of coconut water include Naked, Amy and Brian’s Coconut Juice, and Taste Nirvana, which has been available at major chain grocers like Ralph’s. With so many new brands popping up, you can expect coconut water to become a staple very soon.
What’s the verdict on coconut water? Chug it or chuck it?