Coconut Water Health Benefits: Is It All It's Cracked Up To Be?

Is Coconut Water All It's Cracked Up To Be?

A few years ago the only time most of us would drink coconut water was lounging on a beach somewhere exotic.

Fast forward to now and it's everywhere - splashed on billboards, in celebrities' handbags and even stocked in the local newsagents.

It's certainly become the drink du jour - some even say it's better for you than water - but, in reality, just how healthy is it?

We spoke to nutritionists and health experts - nutritionist Karen Poole, British Dietetic Association spokesperson Gemma Critchley and Alice Mackintosh, nutritionist at The Food Doctor - to find out whether coconut water really is all it's cracked up to be.

Coconut water is the liquid in the cavity of the coconut; when you crack the nut open, out it pours.

But, nutritionist Karen Poole warns that not all coconut water is created equal. "People are always keen to try something new and en trend," she says. "But if you are going to indulge make sure you read the label as some brands aren't as pure as others."

Some brands (Vita Coco, Biona, Chi, Harmless Harvest) use 100% natural coconut water, while Cocoface allows you to drink straight from the nut itself.

Coconut water is heralded for its nutritional content - it's low in calories, low in fat and contains high doses of important vitamins and minerals. Some even go as far as to tout it as an alternative to water on account of its perceived rehydrating properties.

But while coconut water is relatively low in calories (around 20kcal per 100ml), most of these come from sugar - the new nutritional bad guy.

Although these sugars are naturally-occurring (depending on the brand), sugar is still sugar and consumption should be monitored.

Natural coconut water contains 1 tsp per 100ml, which adds up to more than 3 tsp for a 330ml serving, and flavoured coconut water will contain extra calories and sugar.

To put this in perspective, guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend adults cut sugar consumption to 6 tsp (5% of their daily intake).

Coconut water is also famed for its high levels of potassium (190mg to 250mg per 100ml), which is a vital mineral that keeps the brain, nerves, heart and muscles in shape.

But, Alice Mackintosh, nutritionist at The Food Doctor, says that we shouldn't be putting coconut water on the potassium pedestal just yet.

"Most big coconut water brands would have you believe that coconut water is the only source of potassium on the planet, when in fact it is one of the most abundant nutrients found in most fruits and veg," she says.

"If you eat good quantities of fruit and veg you likely have enough, and will also benefit from the host of other nutrients they contain, many of which aren’t present in coconut water."

Additionally, coconut water contains some sodium (about 250 milligrams per cup). While this is actually far less than the average sports drink, those following a low-sodium diet, who may have high blood pressure or heart disease, should be sure to check the label.

Many believe - in large part due to the potassium and sodium levels - that coconut water is better at rehydrating the body than water.

So when should you drink it?

For many, coconut water is their go-to drink after a workout or yoga session. And small scale studies have concluded that it is great for rehydration.

"It is said to replace essential electrolytes (potassium and sodium) lost during a high energy exercise session and boasts no added sugar or fat and has a low carbohydrate content, so I guess it makes sense to those looking to improve their fitness levels and achieve efficient weight management," says Karen.

But, that said, Karen won't be reaching for the coconut water just yet...

"I have tried it and found it quite pleasant but my post workout routine is water and a balanced meal with a good mix of vegetables and lean protein to promote muscle repair and replenish energy," she reveals. "Personally, I am more likely to go for a cheaper and more easily available option with a lower carbon footprint."

Gemma Critchley from the British Dietetic Association spokesperson agrees: "Unless you are an elite athlete or are hitting the gym and training more than 2 hours a day, water will be sufficient."

But Alice says there is one occasion when coconut water may be a better option than water.

"If you are malnourished or have been unwell and can’t stomach food, then coconut water may be a better choice given it offers potassium and other nutrients as well as energy. It is particularly good if you have been vomiting or had diarrhoea, as it may help rebalance lost electrolytes quickly," she says.

But Gemma says that more studies need to be done to conclude whether it does help with stomach problems.

"Less stomach upset and nausea has also been reported with coconut water in some studies but then others have found increase tummy troubles," she says

In conclusion, coconut water isn't bad for you but it also isn't the wonder drink everyone gives it credit for.

It's certainly better than the fizzy drinks or sugary juices people quaff, that's for sure. But if you're eating a balanced diet - you'll be getting all of its health benefits already.