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Coconut Water Benefits - Fact Or Fiction?

Updated on September 21, 2012
Coconut water - miracle of nature or another over-hyped fad?
Coconut water - miracle of nature or another over-hyped fad? | Source

The benefits of coconut water - a great mixer and hangover cure, or is there more to it?

Where do you start? The reported health benefits of coconut water range from it being fat-free to rich in electrolytes to low-calorie. And of course, it tastes great in a cocktail, and has the added bonus of being a great hangover cure the next morning. Does mother earth provide anything better than that? An all-in-one great mixer and tasty hangover cure.

But joking aside, what is the truth about the health benefits? Most people know it tastes good; that is indisputable. But what of the actual nutritional and health benefits of coconut water?

Let's take a look.

Coconut water nutrition facts

To get stuck in to analyzing the health benefits, let's first examine the nutritional content. Based on a serving of one cup of 240 grams, the main nutritional contents are shown in the table below:

Of note are the rows in bold. These are in bold because they are positives for coconut water's health benefits. The one exception is Sodium, as this is a relatively high value. However, in the right circumstances, it is a usefully high quantity as we will see a little later.

Coconut water nutrition facts

Nutrient
Quantity
% Daily Value (based on 2000 calories)
Calories
46
2%
Fat
0.5g
1%
(of which saturated fat)
0.4g
2%
Protein
1.7g
3%
Carbohydrates
8.9g
3%
Fiber
2.6g
11%
Sugars
6.3g
 
Vitamin C
5.8mg
10%
Thiamin
0.1mg
5%
Riboflavin
0.1mg
8%
Niacin
0.2mg
1%
B6
0.1mg
4%
Folate
7.2mcg
2%
Calcium
57.6mg
6%
Iron
0.7mg
4%
Magnesium
60mg
15%
Phosphorous
48mg
5%
Potassium
600mg
17%
Sodium
252mg
11%
Zinc
0.2mg
2%
Copper
0.1mg
5%
Manganese
0.3mg
17%
Selenium
2.4mcg
3%
Cholesterol
0
0
Water
228g
 
 
 
 
Young green coconuts where water is often harvested from
Young green coconuts where water is often harvested from | Source

Did you know?

During the second world war, coconut water was given as a plasma transfusion to soldiers in the pacific due to it containing the right electrolytic balance and being sterile! In some countries, this practice continues to this day when they do not have access to alternatives.

Coconut water's high potassium content

One of the first things that jumps out from this table is the high potassium content of coconut water. In fact the high potassium content is possibly the main claim to fame for coconut water. The high potassium content is useful as the majority of people do not get enough potassium as they simply don't eat enough fruit and vegetables.

Of further note is that potassium is useful after a heavy workout, with sodium along with it. Whilst the relatively high sodium content may be seen as a bad thing if coconut water is consumed in large quantities, taken after a very heavy workout, the combination of potassium and sodium in coconut water, along with the other minerals it contains, is ideal for recovery.

In fact it is mirrored by sports drinks which aim to replace electrolytes lost during strenuous exercise. But which would you rather have? A manufactured sports drink or water straight from a coconut?

So far so good then. Coconut water is a good source of potassium, and helps restore electrolytes after heavy exercise. This may also explain why some people say coconut water is a good hangover cure - it replaces minerals lost due to the effects of over-indulgence in alcohol.

A sprouting coconut
A sprouting coconut | Source

Coconut water and weight loss

Coconut water, unsurprisingly, has become popular with celebrities obsessed with maintaining a slim figure, and this has of course helped it gain momentum as a dieting aid. It's easy to see why though: it is low in calories and low in fat.

But there is another possible surprise benefit which again is attributable to potassium; potassium is reported to help with bloating due to water retention that comes with weight loss. This fact is reported in many sources across the dieting world, and so once again it appears that coconut water does have yet another health benefit, and yet again connected to its high potassium content.

Coconut water is rich in vitamins and minerals

Overall, coconut water has a good mix of vitamins and minerals. For example the table above shows that a cup will give you a healthy dose of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, manganese and vitamin C. Whilst you could find other fruit and vegetables that contain higher amount, it is the variety of nutrients that makes coconut water stand out. And don't forget, this is additional to the super amounts of potassium already discussed.

Did you know?

The word coconut comes from the spanish and portuguese word 'coco' and means 'monkey face'. Presumably because of the 3 holes making 2 eyes and a nose.

What other health benefits are there?

As with so many natural products, there are often exaggerated and unproven claims for health benefits. Does coconut water help prevent or cure cancer? Maybe, but there is absolutely no proof that it does. The internet is full of claims to other health benefits which are mostly unproven. But really, I think the benefits discussed so far, which range from the simply pleasurable to the life saving, are good enough to safely say that it is a great product:

  • High in potassium
  • Useful for recovery after exercise
  • Good all-round nutritional content
  • Useful for people dieting
  • Can save lives though plasma infusions
  • Makes a good cocktail mixer
  • Makes a good hangover cure

Not everyone has access to coconut trees instead of packaged products.
Not everyone has access to coconut trees instead of packaged products. | Source

Is coconut water worth the money?

This is where things start to go a little wrong. If you are lucky enough to have access to a coconut tree and can harvest them yourself, or you can buy them freshly cut from vendors nearby, then of course they are worth the money. But most people don't have that luxury.

Coconut water is packaged, sometimes with added nasties like sugar, and sold with clever promotional and advertising strategies - particularly in America where it is gaining popularity. In the United Kingdom it is rare to see coconut water products in the shops. Potentially up to $3 per cup (I am told), it doesn't come cheap.

So it's up to you to check that you are not buying a product with unwanted extras that dilute the nutritional content of the original water. And of course, it is up to you to decide whether to spend your hard earned cash on it.

Cutting a Coconut to drink the water in Bangalore

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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Ethan green,

      As a diabetic I have been drinking coconut water for several decades now with excellent effect for rehydration. Thanks for the article.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Ethan Green profile image
      Author

      Ethan Green 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Peter - I did come across some points about coconut water for diabetics, but it was more of a warning because of the relatively high sugar content, especially in some packaged forms sold in shops. I didn't include it though as I was unsure exactly how to quantify at what point it would be a problem or not for diabetics. I guess you are living proof that it is not all bad for diabetics though.

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Ethan green

      You are quite right, you need to be very careful that you are buying true coconut water, not the ones blended with fruit juice or added coconut milk. I buy mostly those from Brazil or from Southern India. There are huge differences in flavour ranging from woody to characteristic sweetness. There must be nothing added otherwise you are wasting your time if trying to use it therapeutically.

      Again thanks for an interesting article.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Ethan Green profile image
      Author

      Ethan Green 4 years ago from England

      Thank you for this additional advice Peter; it should be useful for any other diabetics reading this in the future.

      Ethan

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      Then a coconut water could be recommended for those who have been afflicted with hypokalemia because of its high potassium content. I will suggest that to my brother-in-law, who was once struck with that condition.

      Thanks for the very informative article. Up and useful.

    • Ethan Green profile image
      Author

      Ethan Green 4 years ago from England

      Thanks for the comment Iguidenetwork - though I hope your brother-in-law doesn't need to use it if he is better now!

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