Coconut waters have hit the grocery store aisles in the last year or two. Every time I walk by them, there are more brands, more flavors. So are they a good choice? Certainly relative to a soft drink filled with phosphoric acid, caramel colors and sugar or artificial sweeteners I would have to say they are an improvement. And most certainly in terms of hydration a coconut water is an improvement over the ever popular sports drinks laden with sugars, artificial sweeteners and food coloring. But is it really all it is marketed to be? Let’s take a look….
Coconut water is found in nature, inside of a green, young coconut usually harvested when it is 5-7 months old when it contains the most water. These coconuts are about the size of a basketball! As the coconut matures on the tree, the coconut meats increase and the water decreases.
The coconut water from a young coconut is truly nutritious and has been consumed for centuries in tropical countries. The elixir is so rich in electrolyte content that it has been used in emergency situations for IV hydration. Directly from the coconut, these waters are about 46 calories per cup and 10 grams of natural sugar. Potassium rich, it is in fact an excellent electrolyte beverage and offers about 600mg per 8 ounce serving. It also has a little bit of sodium, calcium and magnesium too as well as a small amount of many other minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients.
Coconut water, because of these nutrient values, can help to lower blood pressure, support weight loss, increase athletic performance, boost energy, lower cholesterol, and relax muscle tension. For those with kidney disease, it should be limited because of the high potassium content.
Knowing what comes out of the young coconut right out of the tree vs what lands in the store in a container becomes the main concern. What happens in “man”ufacturing? What should you be looking for when you buy coconut water in the store?
- Ideally, buy a fresh, young coconut and extract the water from it. This is the real thing that nature created. Because the fresh coconut water is very perishable, you may find raw, fresh coconut water in a refrigerated section of a health store.
- Second best choice if fresh is not available is to look for “cold pressured” coconut water which is very lightly processed with high pressure rather than heat, which helps to eliminate bacteria while maintaining a greater level of the vitamins and minerals.
- If coconut water does not need refrigeration, you will likely discover that it has been pasteurized, meaning that a high temperature has been used to kill bacteria but it also destroys most of the natural vitamins and minerals in the product.
- Coconut water made from concentrate should be avoided as it is the most processed form with little, if any, nutrition left in it short of sugar.
- Because coconut water has a unique taste, many companies are now enhancing the taste with flavors or to cover up the fact that they are not using young coconuts but older more bitter coconut waters. Avoid coconut waters with added sugars and flavors. The primary ingredient should be 100% coconut water.
While hydration is important as the summer months approach, by taking a few simple steps, you can stay hydrated and electrolyte-balanced.
- Eat whole real food with plentiful vegetables and fruits which are a good source of water, fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients.
- Eat foods that provide optimal levels of potassium, such as leafy greens, broccoli and cabbage, sweet potatoes, squash, bananas and avocados. Coconut water counts here IF the criteria above are met.
- Eat hydrating foods just prior to and during activities in the heat such as celery, watermelon, cucumber, kiwi, bell pepper, citrus fruits, carrots and pineapple.
- Drink enough water to result in urination every 3-4 hours at a minimum. Be sure to replenish the body with water following vigorous exercise especially in very warm or hot weather when increased sweating tends to occur.
My favorite alternative to real food as a hydration product with electrolytes is Vega Sport Hydrator.