June 6, 2012:
Coconut Water: Health or Hype?
Why are so many people suddenly
guzzling coconut water? It’s in every supermarket, drugstore and gym
— even Rihanna’s out there endorsing one popular brand. And within the last five years, the coconut water industry has gone from
zero to $35 million in the U.S. alone! So should you be drinking it? Before you drop
2 to 3 dollars for a single-serve container, let’s find out what the heck is
really in that coconut water!
Not to be confused with coconut milk, which
is pressed from the meat of the coconut and is high in fat, coconut water is the clear, fat-free, nut-flavored liquid found inside young coconuts. Each coconut yields about 4
cups of water. Coconut palms are native to Thailand, Malaysia,
Polynesia and southern Asia, but they now grow in South America, India, the
Pacific Islands and Florida.
Coconut water has been nicknamed
“fluid of life” because it has an electrolyte balance that’s similar to human
blood. In fact, it was used during World War II by both sides for emergency
You can drink coconut water
directly from freshly harvested fruit. The tops of the coconuts are cut off or
drilled, and the water is consumed straight from the nut. Those of us that don’t live on a tropical island can pick up commercial
coconut water in bottles and drink pouches. This type is filtered and flash pasteurized by machines before packaging, giving it a
shelf life of one year without diminishing its taste or nutritional properties.
Is There Truth to the Extraordinary Health Claims?
Dubbed "nature's sports drink" and
"life-enhancer”, coconut water is marketed by beverage companies as a
superior source of hydration because it’s naturally rich in electrolytes like
potassium. In fact, it’s often pitched to athletes and
exercisers as a healthy, natural alternative to other sports beverages made
with added sugar and artificial colors. Another bonus? It’s low in calories relative
to other sweet drinks like soda and juice.
Coconut water can be a good choice for recreational athletes who exercise intensely for longer than an hour. In these situations, your body benefits from a small dose of carbohydrates and electrolytes that are lost through sweat. However, most brands of coconut water contain significantly less sodium than commercial sports drinks, and it’s important to replace sodium, the primary electrolyte lost through sweat, if you’re exercising for 2 or more hours in the heat or if you’re a heavy sweater. In these situations, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting adequate sodium from other sources like snacks, energy bars, or meals or stick with a traditional sports drink with higher levels of sodium.
Is It Kitchen-Worthy?
Sure, if you like the taste and don’t mind
gulping down (versus chewing) some of your daily calorie allotment; one cup will
cost you about 45 calories. Also, coconut water is advantageous for serious
athletes who exercise intensely for longer than an hour. In these situations,
your body benefits from a small dose of carbohydrates and electrolytes that are
lost through sweat.
That said, keep in mind that while electrolytes
like potassium and sodium do need to be replaced after intense exercise, the
truth is that most people don't exercise heavily enough to
need a special sports recovery drink. For moderate exercisers, good old H2O is
all you need to get your body back to baseline.
Now that you know what the heck
you’re drinking, sip strategically!
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