Coconut Water: Is It Healthy?
Everyone from celebrities and athletes to causal exercise enthusiasts is buzzing about the benefits of this “natural” alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade. Do the health claims about coconut water live up to the hype?
Not to be confused with high-fat coconut milk made from pureed coconut flesh, coconut water is the clear liquid that comes from the inner chamber of immature coconuts. It’s low in calories (an 8 fluid ounce serving has about 42) and naturally contains numerous nutrients including important electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Most labels of coconut water will also list vitamin C, but this is due to the addition of the preservative absorbic acid; coconut is not a natural source of the vitamin.
There’s nothing about coconut water that is “bad for you,” per se, but when considering it as replacement for sports drinks, it leaves a bit to be desired. When you crunch the numbers, the calories and carbohydrate content (important for energy replacement during and after workouts) are equal with about 45 calories and 14 grams of carbs in 8 ounces. The biggest difference comes in the sodium and potassium content. Since these are the two primary electrolytes lost in sweat, it’s important to replace them. Since the loss of sodium outweighs potassium during exercise, you want a beverage with a higher sodium content – this is where coconut water falls short. In an 8-ounce serving of a sports drink you’ll get 110 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium. Coconut water comes in at 28 milligrams of sodium and 485 milligrams potassium. This high amount of potassium can also be problematic for folks with kidney and blood pressure conditions so some should consider that before drinking large quantities.
While coconut water is certainly not harmful, it lacks the nutrient composition that some heavy exercisers may need for proper electrolyte replacement. Its hefty potassium content should also be considered.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »