Celebrities are drinking it, yoga studios are selling it, and drinks companies are banking on it—coconut water is the latest health craze—but can it live up to the hype? It’s said to offer a range of health benefits, from hydrating the body to boosting concentration, though most of the claims rely on anecdotal evidence, as little scientific research has been done.
Coconut water is the fluid inside a young green coconut. It contains no fat or cholesterol and is very low in calories, most of which come from natural sugars. It’s also one of the highest sources of electrolytes found in nature. In fact, the concentration of electrolytes in coconut water is nearly identical to human blood plasma, and during World War II it was used in emergencies to give plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers.
Due to its electrolyte content, and in particular, its high potassium content, coconut water is often marketed as a natural alternative to sports drinks and as the “ultimate hydration drink”. However, its high potassium and low sodium content is not necessarily ideal for rehydration after exercise or yoga, because when you sweat, you tend to lose a lot more sodium than potassium.
If you just want a naturally refreshing, nutritious drink, coconut water can make a great addition to your diet. The potassium can help prevent muscle cramps and regulate many important body functions such as blood pressure and heart and kidney function.
The good news is that even with the rising demand for coconut water, the major Australian producers still mostly buy from small, family-owned plantations in Asia that rely on low-impact, traditional farming methods. And some brands, such as Kokomo, are FairTrade certified.
When buying fresh, young Thai coconuts, avoid those with mould under the plastic wrap, as it indicates that the nut is spoiled. For packaged coconut water, it’s best to choose products in opaque containers, as coconut water starts to degrade once it is exposed to oxygen or light.
Fiona Halar is a wholefood nutritionist and writer based in Sydney.