Coconut Water Question

The following answer is dedicated to a few of our Clients and Boot Campers.  You know who you are!!!

Q: Is coconut water really good for you, or is it just another nutrition fad?

A:  Coconut water has become big business in North America. People are calling it “nature’s Gatorade” and talking about it’s amazing restorative powers. Cocktail blogs are posting recipes for coconut water newbies, discussing this delicious new chaser that’s actually good for you. Ask anyone from the tropical islands and they’ll tell you – y’all are WAY behind. Coconut water has been a staple in cultures around the world FOREVER, for exactly these reasons!

The first question I had was whether coconut water is just another character in the never ending parade of trendy foods and supplements. From my perspective, the determining factor would be found in the research. Following is some material that I discovered while researching the merit of this product.

  • Several studies indicate coconut water may lower cholesterol levels in an animals. In one instance, the lipid reducing effect was comparable to that of the cholesterol lowering drug lovastatin (Mevacor). The cardiovascular benefits weren’t isolated to the reduction of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. There was also a decrease in triglycerides and an increase in the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Another animal study from 1995 demonstrated a 46% increase in HDL cholesterol, a 26% decline in total cholesterol and a 41% reduction in the overall “atheroslerosis index”. (1,2,3)
  • A very important aspect of cardiovascular health is proper management of blood pressure. There is preliminary evidence coconut water may lower hypertension. A 2005 study published in the West Indian Medical Journal found that 71% of volunteers with high blood pressure saw improvements after drinking coconut water twice-daily for 2 weeks. 29% of the coconut water participants exhibited “significant decreases” in their diastolic blood pressure readings. (4) A possible reason why coconut water may help reduce hypertension is because of its high potassium content. Commercially available coconut water often contains in excess of 600 mg of naturally occurring potassium per 11 oz serving. The “water” is also low in sodium and high in antioxidant vitamin C, with one brand claiming an impressive 230% of the RDA for this vital nutrient. This is particularly relevant because higher dosages of vitamin C have been linked to lower blood pressure. (5,6,7). However, an independent study analyzing the potassium content of commercially available coconut water products meeting label claim would be of particular interest.
  • A recent study of young coconut juice (YCJ) also opens up the door to further research with regard to women’s health. A group of Kuwaiti scientists recently examined a proposed estrogen-like effect of coconut water in several groups of “postmenopausal” rats (having no ovaries). The rats that were administered coconut water over the course of 10 weeks demonstrated estrogen levels comparable to or higher than rats that still had their ovaries. Another interesting finding was that the ‘coconut water rats’ were afforded protection against “neuronal cell death”. In fact, the brain protecting effect of coconut water was even greater than in rats receiving hormone replacement therapy (estradiol benzoate injections). The authors of this groundbreaking research concluded that, “This study confirms the argument that YCJ has estrogen-like characteristics, and it also adds more evidence to the observation that hormonal imbalance could induce some brain pathologies in females”. (8)  Although groundbreaking, more long-term research is needed to make any substantial health claims.

Health benefits aside, one the most promising applications for this tropical beverage is re-hydration. Some studies attest to this fact, including one from 2007 that found that coconut water may be superior to standard “sports drinks” for post exercise hydration. (9,10,11) Some physicians go so far as to recommend this nutritional liquid in cases of diarrhea or other situations were re-hydration is a medical necessity. (12) However, there are a few things worth noting. Caution should be used in people with: a) poor kidney function; and b) those who require higher glucose and sodium content as part of the re-hydration process. (13) The relatively low levels of sodium and sugar in coconut water are generally considered positive attributes, but may not be ideal in all circumstances.

Coconut water is sold in cartons, bottles and cans at grocery stores. Also I’ve discovered, not all coconut waters are equal. Price, potassium content and flavour can vary wildly. You may be interested in drinking coconut water for it’s health boosting properties. Maybe you’re dying to try one of the cocktails I mentioned previously. Over this past weekend I tried a number of different brands I purchased at Whole Foods on Cambie Street. Let me tell you which varieties of coconut water are worth buying at your local grocery store.

Zico has managed to establish itself as one of the go-to brands for coconut water. Zico sells flavoured coconut waters (pina tropicale, lima citron, pomberry, passion fruit, and mango) but they also sell Zico Natural, which is 100% coconut water. It tastes just as pure and perfect as you’d like. Their product is sold in cartons and bottles.

VitaCoco is delicious and refreshing – and if you’re new to coconut water, it’s a great way to go. I liked this one better than the first!

Naked 100% Naked Coconut Water was refreshing. Post-workout, this would be a great, potassium-restoring thirst quencher.

Those are the brands I’ve tried, but I know there’ll be more in store. Celebrities and tastemakers are loving this stuff, and big companies like Coke and Pepsi are now investing.

In closing, I think coconut water can play a meaningful role in some health routines, is a great alternative to sodas and sports drinks, and can be an added source of potassium post exercise. If you choose the pure coconut water option, it’s low sugar and carbohydrate.  Just remember that potassium is only one of the electrolytes your body needs, the other important ones being calcium, magnesium and the already abundant sodium.  If you are okay with the $6 per carton price tag, give it a try, and see if notice a difference in your fitness and health program.

  1. V.G. Sandhya and Dr., Professor T. Rajamohan. Journal of Medicinal Food. Fall 2006, 9(3): 400-407. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.9.400.
  2. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Volume 46, Issue 12, December 2008, Pages 3586-3592
  3. Effects of coconut juice on the formation of hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis. Zhonghua Yu Fang Yi Xue Za Zhi. 1995 Jul;29(4):216-8.
  4. West Indian Medical Journal. West Indian med. j. vol.54 no.1 Mona Jan. 2005
  5. Nutrition Journal 2008, 7:35 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-35
  6. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 1, 64-69, January 2008
  7. American Journal of Hypertension (2008) 21 67–71; doi:10.1038/ajh.2007.1
  8. Dr. Farid Saleh, Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, Health Science Centre, Kuwait University, P.O. Box: 24923, Safat 13110, Kuwait
  9. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2007 Jul;38(4):769-85.
  10. Journal of PHYSIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY and Applied Human Science
    Vol. 21 (2002) , No. 2 pp.93-104
  11. Indian J Public Health. 1994 Apr-Jun;38(2):87-8.
  12. Trop Geogr Med. 1992 Jan;44(1-2):149-53.
  13. J Am Coll Nutr. 1993 Apr;12(2):190-3.

About T'ai Erasmus

T’ai is the Founder of the Vancouver based companies Pro FIT, Professional Fitness Coaching Systems and My Adventure Boot Camp, Inc. T'ai has been involved in fitness his entire life, and enjoys transferring his knowledge to others.
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