Coconut water is being marketed as nature’s perfect sports drink. What exactly is it? It is the clear liquid found in the center of a young coconut before it matures. Once mature, the water has solidified to become the coconut’s tasty white flesh.
Grown in tropical regions all over the world, coconut water can be drunk directly from the freshly harvested green fruit. Across the US, pasteurized coconut water is becoming more readily available in cans, bottles and tetra packs. Some health food markets also carry green coconuts in the produce department for a “fresh” source of this beverage. (Fresh would be best coming straight off the coconut tree.)
Health Benefits of Coconut Water
- Interestingly, the balance of electrolytes in coconut water is nearly the same as in human blood. In fact, coconut water has been used in IVs in third world countries when blood is not available.
- Excellent for re-hydration after diarrhea or other gastrointestinal tract distress.
- Composed of many naturally occurring enzymes that aid in digestion and metabolism.
- Low in sodium, offering approximately 160mg per serving.
- Rich in potassium; a typical serving offers more potassium than two bananas, helping to regulate blood pressure by counteracting the stimulating effects of sodium.
- Very good source of B-complex vitamins
- Contains small amounts of vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium , manganese, zinc and phosphorus.
- Is naturally low in calories and sugar. Containing simple sugars; an 11-ounce serving has approximately 60 calories. (Do check the ingredients label because, unfortunately, with its growing popularity, manufacturers are starting to produce fruit-flavored varieties of coconut water which have more calories and sugar due to added fruit juice and/or sugar.)
“The star behind coconut water is its high potassium content,” says Andrea Giancoli, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.”Most people aren’t getting enough potassium because they’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables.”
Coconut water is a great replacement for sugary juices and sodas. But is coconut water a good replacement for a sports drink? Well, yes and no.
Sports drinks generally consist of strangely-colored water loaded with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), table salt, sodium citrate, mono-potassium sulfate, modified food starch, artificial coloring, emulsifiers and artificial flavorings (Gatorades’ ingredient list). So coconut water is definitely a better alternative for you than soda-like sports drinks . . . . Yet, so is good ol’ W-A-T-E-R!!
Few of us hydrate adequately on a daily basis.* Water should be consumed regularly by everyone, and even more when you are out sweating in the summer heat or participating in sports that can drain your body of its natural fluids. Filtered tap water or coconut water is perfect for light workouts and everyday activity.
For those that participate in strenuous physical activity, according to Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC-Davis, the particular mix of electrolytes in coconut water isn’t ideal. Unlike sports drinks, which generally contain a lot of sodium and a little potassium, coconut water is the opposite. “Even though the belief is that when you exercise you need a lot of potassium, sodium is more important,” says Applegate. “When you sweat, you lose a lot more sodium than potassium.”
If you are involved in strenuous exercise, replenish with water and electrolytes minus the overload of HFCS and chemicals in sports drinks. Coconut water and a small pinch of sea salt (to add more sodium) is a tasty alternative to a sports drink, as is water with a large pinch of a sea salt (full of a variety of electrolyte minerals) and a squeezed lemon wedge (to mask the salt). While enjoying your after-workout beverage, munch on a banana or another piece of fresh fruit to replace carbohydrates as needed.
* Body weight/2 = recommended daily individual intake of water in ounces