Healthy Or Hype?
By Jen Hazen, Designed by Gabriela Alford
Mmm, coconut water. Super-hydrating! Potassium-rich! All natural! There’s no shortage of talk about Mother Nature’s tropical cocktail these days, but any “healthy” drink that gets so much buzz — and is so ridiculously tasty — makes us wonder if it’s too good to be true. Depending on who you ask, coconut water is a miracle beverage…or barely better than soda. So before you reach for another bottle of Zico or Vita Coco, here are the facts on coconut water.
Not to be confused with coconut milk (a concoction of coconut water and freshly grated coconut), coconut water is all-natural carbs, straight up. A clear, sweet liquid with a nutty taste, it’s found inside young, green coconuts; the sterile water is usually harvested at the nine-month point. If you’re lucky enough to have access, fresh is best, says Barbara Mendez, RPh, MS, a NYC-based nutritionist and registered pharmacist. “Fresh coconut water has not been pasteurized, therefore it contains enzymes that help to detoxify and repair the body,” she explains. Most of what you’ll find in stores is pasteurized or from concentrate. (“It’s still a great way to hydrate yourself and it will still contain minerals, but it’s pasteurized, therefore, not raw,” she adds.)
Devotees of coconut water frequently praise its ability to keep the body well-hydrated. “Coconut water is a great source of electrolytes, such as potassium, necessary for proper hydration,” Mendez states. “Electrolytes are also necessary for proper muscle contraction and to generate energy in the body.” And, she adds, even if you’re a Bugles-munching couch potato, the potassium in coconut water can counteract the potential hazards — hypertension, for instance — of a high-sodium diet of processed and refined foods. (If you medically need to restrict your potassium intake, however, avoid coconut water.)
Camille Eroy-Reveles, a Brooklyn-based fitness trainer, gives coconut water a thumbs-up, too. “It’s been used in tropical climates for ages to rehydrate the body,” she explains. “Some of my clients prefer the naturally occurring coconut water to sports drinks, as it doesn’t have the added sugar and artificial flavoring and colors that other sports drinks have.” Yet, marathon runners and strenuous exercisers may want to keep nursing their neon Gatorade. “Sports drinks typically have more sodium, which is extremely important for maintaining water balance. They also have a greater carbohydrate content,” Eroy-Reveles adds.
So, what’s the catch? (You knew one was coming.) Check the ingredients before you start chugging. “It’s important to read the label for added sugars,” says Stacy Rothschild, MPH, RD, dietitian and founder of New Leaf Nutrition in Paramus, New Jersey. “Choose the unflavored, natural varieties; otherwise, you might be consuming all that added sugar that you would get from fruit juice or a soda.” As an example, a 14-ounce bottle of plain Zico coconut water has 12 grams of sugar, but the same serving of chocolate Zico has 18 grams. Someone looking to cut calories may want to avoid guzzling gallons of coconut water, too. “Consider the added calories that coconut water provides — generally 46 calories per cup — while water has zero calories,” says Rothschild.
Bottom line: For flavor, potassium, and hydration, coconut water is a healthful choice. But, if you are trying to lose a few extra pounds, sipping on plain water is undoubtedly a better option. Nothing nutty about that.