Cracking open a coconut and sipping it with a straw has long been a popular, low cost refreshment in tropical countries like Brazil, the Caribbean, India and south east Asia. Then, in 2004, coconut water was liberated from its natural container by a small group of entrepreneurs who packaged it for sale in the US. Since then, the coconut water industry has exploded into one of the fastest growing beverage categories globally. The major players in the industry – Vita Coco, Zico, and O.N.E – have grown by nearly 600% since 2009, and 2,759% since 2007.
Hollywood has most certainly played its part as well. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Rihanna and Jessica Alba have publically touted its benefits. Madonna, Demi Moore and Mathew McConaughey have even gone so far as to financially invest in the industry’s founding company, Vita Coco.
So what exactly is coconut water? Well, it is the clear liquid found in green, unripened coconuts. It is made up of 95% water. The other 5% is rich in potassium, a vital mineral that keeps the brain, nerves, heart and muscles in shape. We lose a lot of potassium when we exercise. This is why coconut water is most commonly marketed as Mother Nature’s sports drink.
A lot of dietitians contest its value as a post exercise drink however, because coconut water contains more potassium than sodium. We lose more sodium than potassium when we exercise so coconut water cannot replace it. In fact, a 2012 study (funded by Vita Coco) in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that neither coconut water nor sports drinks were better than water in hydrating young men after hour long workouts.
In addition to potassium and sodium, coconut water also contains other electrolytes like magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. The only sugars it contains are naturally occurring ones. However, coconut water still contains liquid calories and carbohydrates so shouldn’t be substituted for water when trying to lose weight. People with blood sugar problems should be wary of this also.
Despite being heavily marketed as nature’s newest wonder tonic, the common consensus amongst nutritionists is that the benefits of coconut water are highly overrated and the claims that coconut water can cure diabetes, keep cancer at bay and make you look years younger are unfounded.
The bottom line: coconut water is completely natural and void of the added sugars and additives in many sports drinks. Coconut water is also high is potassium, low in sodium, and low in calories and fat, but its health claims are drastically overstated.
Be mindful of what you’re putting into your body and don’t believe all the hype until you start researching all these “health” products for yourself.