The health benefits of coconut water
Coconut water burst onto the scene a couple of years ago, touted as an all-round miracle drink. Registered nutritionist Jo Lewin explains these health claims.
What is coconut water?
Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside green, immature coconuts. Young coconuts are favoured for their water as it is tastier, more plentiful in volume and easier to access. Varieties of coconut yield slightly different-tasting water, depending on where they are grown.
Coconut water also differs in taste and nutrition to coconut milk and oil, both of which are made from the flesh of the coconut.
Nutritional profile of coconut water
A 100ml serving of coconut water (ready to drink) provides:
- 18Kcal / 75KJ
- 0.2g Protein
- 0.0g Fat
- 4.1g Carbohydrates
- 4.1g Sugar
- 165mg Potassium
Commercial products will vary in nutritional composition, with sugar levels ranging from 3-6g (about 1 tsp) per 100ml. It’s not unusual for a 330ml serving of branded coconut water to provide over 15g sugar (roughly 3 tsp).
Top 5 health benefits of coconut water
1. Natural source of minerals
Coconut water is a natural source of minerals, including potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium. Many of us don’t get enough of these important electrolyte minerals, which play a key role throughout the body, including for heart health and skeletal and muscle function. In fact, some claim coconut water is on par with the electrolyte balance found in many isotonic drinks.
However, it’s worth remembering that although about 165-250mg of potassium is contained within a 100ml serving when compared to an average banana or potato, it is not a large amount. There are plenty of potassium-rich foods that are likely to be cheaper and more locally sourced than coconut water.
2. May have antioxidant properties
Research on animals suggests that coconut water contains compounds that have a protective antioxidant effect. Two of the known phyto-nutrients in coconut water that have these effects are shikimic acid and caffeic acid, with the benefits in the animal studies ranging from decreased cholesterol markers to improvements in liver health.
However, to date there have been no human studies to replicate these findings, so it’s too early to say whether the same benefits may be enjoyed.
3. May help manage blood sugar levels
Animal studies suggest that coconut water may help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress associated with conditions like diabetes. Being a source of magnesium may also contribute to coconut water’s benefits, because magnesium helps manage blood sugar levels, especially among those with diabetes.
Although animal studies appear encouraging, more research is needed to evaluate these effects in humans.
4. May help prevent kidney stones
Adequate fluid intake is important to avoid kidney stone formation; stones are created when compounds like calcium and oxalate combine to form crystals that can combine together to create stones. Studies suggest that drinking coconut water not only reduces the number of stones, but also appears to prevent them from sticking to the kidneys and urinary tract.
5. May support athletic performance
It has been suggested that consuming coconut water may improve endurance and athletic performance. This is because it contains carbohydrate in the form of glucose (a simple sugar) combined with the electrolyte minerals sodium and potassium – two key components also found in commercial sports drinks.
One study found that drinking coconut water prior to exercise improved the capacity to exercise in a high-temperature environment. Another study found that coconut water drunk post-exercise helped rehydrate in a similar way to a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink, but didn’t have any significant impact on exercise performance.
As a good source of electrolytes, coconut water may be a useful post-exercise drink; however, given the research to date is inconsistent, most recreational exercisers are likely to achieve as much benefit from plain water.
More controlled studies involving humans are needed to confirm many of these properties, but if you wish to improve hydration while adding an additional source of potassium to your diet, coconut water may be a useful addition.
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Is coconut water safe for everyone?
For the majority of people, coconut water is generally recognised as safe. However, if you have renal failure or a kidney condition that requires you to manage your potassium intake, it may not be an appropriate source of regular hydration.
Furthermore, coconut water is a source of simple carbs, so if you’ve been diagnosed as pre-diabetic or diabetic, check first with your GP or registered dietician before adding significant quantities to your diet.
Allergic reactions to coconut are rare, although contact dermatitis and sensitisation to the tree pollen is more common.
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This article was last updated on 4 November 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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