Coconut Water: Health or Hype?
Coconut water is the latest beverage trend and its health claims are many, from preventing cancer to curing hangovers. But does coconut water actually live up to all the health hype?
Coconut water is the clear liquid found in young coconuts. This differs from coconut milk, a thicker, white liquid made from adding water to pulped coconut meat. (Coconut cream is similar to coconut milk, but it’s made with a higher ratio of coconut to water.)
Coconut water has long been a popular drink in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, but only recently has it weaved its way into the beverages aisles and familiar food products. Today, sales of coconut water are booming. Coconut water is one of the fastest growing new beverages in the United States, according to Beverage World, with sales increasing by the millions annually. Sales at one of the major coconut-water companies, Vita Coco, jumped from about $4 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2009.
Food manufacturers have added coconut water to fruit juices, yogurt, sports drinks, sorbets, and even vinegar. For beverages, you can find pure coconut water or choose from many flavors, such as mango, peach, and passion fruit. Labels on these products boast the healthy sounding benefits, such as potent antioxidants and electrolytes.
Part of the reason for coconut water’s growth spurt may be linked to its many health claims. On nutrition websites and blogs, the health claims of coconut water are numerous, including its ability to prevent cancer. It is said to slow aging, promote smoother skin, regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol, prevent hangovers, break up kidney stones, and cure a range of digestive disorders.
Like all plant-based foods or beverages, coconut water contains phytochemicals and as well as minerals and vitamins. (See chart.) Yet some coconut water health claims are plain wrong and for others, right now the research is too limited to confirm.
When it comes to cancer, no major studies link coconut water to cancer prevention. Some of the compounds in coconut water, such as selenium, have antioxidant properties and fight cancer in the lab, but many common fruits and vegetables are packed with these compounds.
There are several animal studies suggesting coconut water can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but this research is too preliminary to make claims about it.
|Coconut Water, 1 cup (240 grams)||% DV (based on a 2000 calorie diet|
|Calories from fat||4||6.0%|
|Vitamin C (mg)||6||10.0%|
The most convincing studies appear to be focused on coconut water’s ability to rehydrate the body after exercise; in this, research suggests coconut water may help.
When someone exercises heavily, the body can lose electrolytes via sweat. Electrolytes are elements that carry a charge, either positive or negative. The natural balance of electrolytes keeps our body’s cells running smoothly.
Sodium, potassium and magnesium are electrolytes, and coconut water has them all especially sodium and potassium. The handful of studies on exercise and coconut water suggests that after vigorous exercise, coconut water has the same positive effect as a sport drink. But most people do not exercise at such strenuous levels that they would need to replenish their electrolytes.
(Reportedly, when intravenous (IV) solution was in short supply during World War II and Vietnam, doctors turned to coconut water as their IV supply.)
As for the host of other healing benefits attributed to coconut water, such as helping hangovers or smoothing wrinkles, there’s no hard research to back them up.
Even without all the cure-alls, coconut water can be a great beverage choice. If you like the taste of it, enjoy. Compared to many beverages, coconut water may be a healthier option; it contains nutrients and relatively few calories. It’s especially high in potassium and vitamin C. To cut calories, you could try replacing your higher calorie beverages for a coconut water drink.
The drawback to coconut water is that it’s high in sodium. In fact, the sodium content is higher than that found in a small 1-ounce bag of potato chips. Americans already consume sodium in excess, so if you are eating or drinking it regularly, make sure to watch how much sodium you are getting throughout the day.
Keep in mind there is no one heal-all Superfood. For cancer prevention and overall good health, there is no substitute for the three basics: an overall healthy diet, staying a healthy weight, and daily physical activity.