Health Benefits of Coconut Water:
Is it really good for you or just another health fad?
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the craze that is coconut water. Much to the chagrin of every other fruit juice, Zico and Vita Coco and about a million other brands began filling our local supermarket’s refrigerated shelves with their cardboard-boxed tropical product. Alongside the natural-looking packaging and refreshing taste came praise after praise extolling the health benefits of coconut water. Let’s examine the two most popular claims and see what coconut water really can (or can’t) do for us.
Coconut water is chock-full of nutrients?
Er, make that one nutrient: potassium. It’s true that one serving of coconut water has about 600 milligrams of the electrolyte, but then again, so does the average banana. Health professionals do recognize that coconut water is an accessible source of potassium, but they urge people not to take this nutritional fact out of context. Many fruits and vegetables – like potatoes, spinach, lentils, and papaya – also contain substantial amounts of potassium, but in addition to a host of other nutrients that our new favorite beverage lacks.
To be fair, coconut water is low in calories and virtually free of fat and cholesterol, which may seem shockingly reminiscent of its not-$3-a-bottle close relative: regular water! Coconut water is also low in sugar, which makes it look attractive compared to Gatorade, soda and juice, but many of the versions on the market contain added flavors and/or sugars that end up making it no less sweet than anything else on the shelves.
Finally, there are claims being flung from all corners of the Internet saying that coconut water contains chemicals responsible for curing everything from hangovers to cancer to aging. Any research supporting the water as a “cure” for anything is either very preliminary or very nonexistent.
Coconut water is the best thing to drink after a workout?
Ever since tennis player John Isner credited coconut water for giving him the energy to make it through a grueling 11-hour match, everyone and their mother can be seen chugging the stuff in the gym parking lot. Research supports the hydrating power of coconut water, putting it on par with – wait for it – your average sports drink! For light exercise, this beverage is fine, if you enjoy the taste and the price.
If you engage in prolonged, strenuous activity, coconut water may not be the best thing for replenishment. During intense exercise, our bodies lose electrolytes – mainly potassium and sodium – through our sweat. While coconut water does have potassium, a bottle of Gatorade packs a heavier sodium punch and also contains a higher amount of simple carbohydrates (read, sugar), another nutrient depleted during a workout.
Most people do not need to worry about replenishing their electrolyte and carbohydrate stores, and those athletes who do will often accomplish the task by eating something sweet or salty before activity. At that level of fitness, either Gatorade or coconut water should only be used as a supplementary source of nutrients, for neither has enough to provide any significant benefit by itself.
Grab a bushel of some ripe Chiquitas and a gallon of cold water with the money you were going to spend on one 16-ounce juice box of coconut water. Your body will never know the difference, but I’m willing to bet that your wallet will thank you.
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