Coconut milk has been all the rage for years and now coconut water has stepped up to be the next great coconut fad. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
What Is Coconut Water?
Coconuts are associated with tropical parties and the white flesh that is often sprinkled on desserts. Coconut water is the clear liquid that is naturally inside of young coconuts and, as they mature, turns into the coconut “meat” or flesh.
Coconut water is richer in nutrients than coconut milk or flesh. It is so high in electrolytes that it has been used, in cases of emergency, as supplemental IV fluids because it is sterile when extracted directly from the coconut.
With a slightly sweet and earthy taste, coconut water is sold nearly everywhere now, sometimes with flavors or sweeteners added. The healthiest form is straight from the coconut, and second, would be without anything added to it.
The nutritional stats for one cup of coconut water are as follows:
- 46 calories
- 10 grams of sugar
- 0 grams of fat
- 1.7 grams of protein
It also contains numerous minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients, with higher levels of the following:
- Vitamin C
7 Health Benefits of Coconut Water
Coconut water is used for many health reasons, but these are the top research-backed ways that this beverage can support health and provide benefits.
Promotes Hydration and Supplies Electrolytes
Coconut water is high in electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium, making it a great way to hydrate the body and prevent dehydration.
When compared with sports drinks, it is also significantly lower in added sugars, artificial sweeteners, artificial food coloring, and synthetic vitamins.
For athletes and people working out, coconut water is a great post-workout beverage. Research shows that coconut water works equally as well as any other hydrating beverage of sports drink to restore electrolyte levels after working out or heat exposure.
Coconut water was superior, however, at fighting exertion-related nausea or feelings of being waterlogged after drinking the beverage.
Naturally Lowers Blood Pressure & Protects Heart Health
Coconut water is protective of heart health and can even decrease the risk for developing heart disease. This is because regularly drinking it can lead to lowered levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, while also reducing fat deposits in the liver. (source)
It even rivals the effects of statin drugs, which are used to lower cholesterol levels in people at risk for heart problems.
Coconut water is also excellent for helping to reduce blood pressure in people who have higher levels. This is because blood pressure is largely regulated by the kidneys, which rely on a balance of electrolytes.
Since coconut water is rich in electrolytes, it can regularly supply these vital minerals and lead to lower levels of blood pressure, improving levels in 71 percent of people, according to research. (source)
Not only does coconut water protect the heart by decreasing cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, but it also has anti-clotting effects in the body, which can decrease the risk for heart attack and stroke.
If a patient does have a heart attack or stroke, the nutrients in coconut water have been shown to promote a faster recovery thanks to the high levels of potassium and magnesium.
Supports the Body’s Natural Detox Outlets
The body rids itself of toxins thanks to the work of the liver, kidneys, intestines, and skin. But in order for these detox organs to do their jobs, they have to have the right nutrients and have to be properly hydrated.
When the body gets dehydrated, toxins are less efficiently eliminated because it relies heavily on water and fluid balance to complete the process.
Coconut water has such a unique nutrient profile that it’s actually very similar to the nutrient balance found in human blood, making it an ideal way to quickly replace lost fluids and nutrients.
In order for the liver and kidneys to eliminate waste, water balance must be restored, which isn’t as simple as just drinking water. Electrolyte minerals are also needed to facilitate the transport of nutrients in and out of cells.
Promotes Healthy Muscles & Supports the Body After Intense Exercise
Muscles are constantly in a state of contracting, which is how we are able to walk and how the heart can regularly beat. Muscles don’t do this automatically, however, and they rely on nutrients to supply them with the ability to do their job painlessly.
When the right nutrients are lacking, muscle aches and pains can develop, including cramps and even irregular heart rhythms.
After exercise or any physical exertion, nutrients need to be replenished so that the body’s muscles can go on contracting as normal.
Magnesium and calcium, two electrolyte minerals found in coconut water, also help to relieve muscle tension and can even address irritating muscular disturbances like restless legs or Charley horse muscle spasms.
Coconut water can even help to reduce stress-induced muscular tension, such as in the neck, head, or back. Magnesium in particular is associated with relaxation and is even used to promote better sleep, by helping the body unwind and calming the nervous system.
Supports Healthy Antioxidant Levels in the Body
The body is subject to a constant barrage of factors that can cause oxidative stress and damage in cells.
Free radicals are molecules in the body that lead to oxidative damage, and they’re typically produced in response to stress factors, inflammation, or injury. In order to protect the body from damage, you need antioxidants to counteract the effects of free radicals.
While more research needs to be done to evaluate exactly how coconut water antioxidants work in the human body, studies so far have been promising, and coconut water’s numerous other benefits certainly make it a healthy beverage to consume regularly.
Protects Against the Effects of Diabetes
While coconut water contains a small amount of natural sugars, its high antioxidant and electrolyte levels make it a therapeutic drink for diabetes. In fact, coconut water has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels and other markers in animal studies.
It can improve the body’s usage of glucose and insulin sensitivity, leading to more balanced glucose levels over time. It can also improve hemoglobin A1c, another lab test that is often run to assess blood glucose levels. A1c gives a snapshot of average blood glucose levels over a three-month period.
Diabetes isn’t only about blood sugar. It’s also associated with inflammation and oxidative stress in tissues and cells, and coconut water has been shown to improve these other markers of diabetes. (source)
More research is needed to confirm these long-term effects in humans, but with a low carb count, it’s safe to include in any diabetic or blood-sugar friendly meal plan.
Electrolytes, especially magnesium, promote a healthy and normal response to insulin, too, which can also improve blood glucose levels in anyone with pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or type 2 diabetes.
Protects Against Kidney Stones
The kidneys are responsible for fluid balance in the body and for excreting waste via the bladder. But when the body becomes dehydrated and runs too low in fluids, the waste that accumulates in the kidneys can result in painful crystallizations that are known as kidney stones.
Research shows that coconut water is as good or better than drinking water to prevent the formation of kidney stones from dehydration. In order to prevent the formation of crystals in the urine, regular hydration needs to be maintained.
While some are genetically prone to getting stones, others will develop them as a result of being too dehydrated for too long.
How to Buy Coconut Water
You can purchase coconut water in a number of ways.
Fresh from the coconut: Instead of choosing something packaged, select a whole, young coconut from the produce section. It might be a little more work, but the purity of the product will be well worth the effort.
To open a fresh, young coconut, all you need is a corkscrew and a hammer.
At the tip of each coconut are three darker looking spots that look like eyes, or holes on a bowling ball. Use the corkscrew to puncture two of the eyes, using the hammer to drive it in if extra force is needed.
Once the two holes have been opened, turn the coconut upside down over a bowl to collect the coconut water. It can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
Cold pressed coconut water: This is the next closest thing to fresh coconut water. Look for an organic version that is packaged with no other ingredients besides “young coconut water.” Fresh and cold pressed coconut water both retain the highest levels of nutrients.
Pasteurized coconut water: This type of coconut water has been processed with heat, meaning it has retained less vitamins and minerals. Still, if this is your only option, it’s better than nothing. Make sure it’s organic and free from other added ingredients.
Coconut water from concentrate: Avoid purchasing this type, as it is the most processed and the least rich in nutrients and health benefits. It often contains additional ingredients, flavorings, or sweeteners, too.
If coconut water tastes too bitter or unpalatable, it hasn’t come from young coconuts, but instead, has been harvested from mature coconuts. This coconut water would be lower in nutrients and would need more flavor additions to make it less bitter.
How to Drink Coconut Water
You can drink coconut water plain, but there are also other ways to make delicious homemade beverages with coconut water as the base.
Coconut water tastes great with fruits and can be used to make smoothies, kefir, or other health-boosting drinks.
The best fruits to mix with coconut water are:
To make a coconut water smoothie, start with 8-12 ounces of coconut water and add to a blender or a bullet with fruit, vegetables, and protein powder, if preferred.
For a refreshing summer treat, freeze coconut water into ice cube trays and use them in homemade juice drinks.
You can also make coconut water popsicles by blending it with strawberry or your favorite fruit, and freezing with popsicle sticks.’
Use coconut water as a natural electrolyte beverage for fever or illness, instead of store bought beverages that rely on artificial ingredients.
Coconut water is a nutrient-dense, highly nutritious beverage that is health-supportive in many ways. Not only does it support heart and kidney health, but it also helps balance blood sugar, defends against kidney stones, and even helps promote muscle relaxation.
While more research is needed to further verify all of the health benefits that coconut water has to offer, studies done so far are extremely promising.
When purchasing coconut water, don’t be afraid to try extracting it yourself from fresh young coconuts, or be sure to purchase an organic, cold pressed alternative for the best nutritional benefits.
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- Von Duvillard SP, Braun WA, Markofski M, Beneke R, Leithäuser R: Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition. 2004, 20 (7-8): 651-6. 10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.011.
- Von Duvillard SP, Arciero PJ, Tietjen-Smith T, Alford K: Sports drinks, exercise training, and competition. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2008, 7 (4): 202-8.
- Chavalittamrong B, Pidatcha P, Thavisri U: Electrolytes, sugar, calories, osmolarity and pH of beverages and coconut water. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 1982, 13 (3): 427-31.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.