In recent years coconut water has left the palm-treed shores of tropical islands where tourists on lounge chairs stick straws straight into the fruit, and exploded onto supermarket shelves—helped along by beverage giants such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
Marketed as a natural health drink, brands spout various health claims promoting coconut water. So before we drank the Kool-Aid, we thought we’d check in with the experts whether the nutritional claims stack up. Is coconut water part of a healthy diet or we should just stick to good old water from the tap?
We asked five experts if coconut water is good for you.
Four out of five experts said no
Here are their detailed responses:
Alessandro R Demaio, Medical Doctor
Stick to plain water. Coconut water is the “juice” of the coconut, not to be confused with its higher-fat cousin coconut milk. While it does contain some natural electrolytes—including potassium, sodium and manganese—there is no compelling evidence it is better for rehydration than normal water. While coconut water is lower in sugar than other juices and probably fine as a treat from time to time, it still contains unnecessary liquid sugar and calories so I would recommend sticking with plain water for both rehydration and everyday drinking.
Clare Collins, Nutritionist
Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside young green coconuts. Nutritionally coconut water does contain some nutrients, including the B vitamins Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, as well as trace amounts of thiamin (B1), Vitamin C, potassium, and sodium. It also contains some simple carbohydrates (sugars) and amino acids.
The energy content varies from 80 kilojoules (kJs) to 150 kJs per 100ml compared to zero for water. Some products on supermarket shelves are pure coconut water but many contain a mixture of coconut water with other ingredients added. These include coconut cream, sugar, other fruit juices, vitamin C, and added flavors which add to its kilojoule content.
Coconut water has been promoted as a sports drink but a 2017 study in ten males who completed a 60 minute cycling exercise followed by a 10km time trial on two occasions found drinking coconut water did not improve their markers of hydration or their exercise performance compared with drinking plain water. The hype does not match the research evidence. So unless you prefer the taste and have time to exercise to burn up the extra kilojoules coconut water provides, especially the flavored varieties, I suggest you stick with water.
Emma Beckett, Food scientist
I’m going to say no, because coconut water is overhyped. But, remember it’s not individual foods that are good or bad for us, it’s our overall diets that matter. Coconut water is advertised as low sugar. Which is true when comparing fresh, unsweetened coconut water to soda or fruit juice. But many coconut waters are sweetened—so a 330ml serving could have more than 15 grams of sugar.
Compared to other drinks, coconut water is high in the essential nutrient potassium. While this sounds good, most people aren’t low in potassium because we get more than enough from eating fruits and vegetables. One normal potato has as much potassium as 330ml of coconut water.
Enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients are the other ‘selling’ points of coconut water. But our bodies make the enzymes they need, and fruit and vegetables have antioxidants and phytonutrients. Bottom line—drink water and eat food, don’t get distracted by expensive beverages.
Rosemary Stanton, Nutritionist
The watery liquid from the centre of the coconut is refreshing. It has no fat, and less sugar, and fewer kilojoules than soft drinks. However, many brands have some dubious claims.
• ‘No added sugar’: true (check the ingredients), but it contains natural sugars. 500ml from young coconuts has 33g of sugar, made up of 36% fructose, 41% glucose, and 23% sucrose. This is less than most fruit juices and soft drinks, but the sugars do add up and 500ml has approximately 500 kJ.
• ‘Rich in electrolytes, including calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, and potassium’: correct only for potassium. Only insignificant quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Sodium varies, but is usually commendably low.
• ‘Good source of vitamins’: false. Most vitamins are absent and the few present are in insignificant quantities.
• ‘Superior way to rehydrate’: not according to reliable studies. One study found coconut water didn’t improve cyclists’ performance, and those who drank coconut water took in less fluid than those who drank water. Bottom line: fine for an occasional refreshing drink, but I’d recommend water.
Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds, Nutritionist
Coconut water is known as ‘dew from the heavens’ to Hawaiians. It’s made up of about 94% water, 4% sugars, 1% fiber, and has less than 1% protein, fat, and other chemicals. The other chemicals include vitamins, minerals (including the electrolytes sodium and potassium), and plant hormones like cytokinins (that may benefit the body in various ways).
Coconut water is a good thing to drink for overall health and can be useful for rehydration after lots of sweating, or diarrhoea and vomiting. That is, if you can afford it—it’s more expensive than cow’s milk, for example. Also, if you need to watch your body weight, prioritizing tap water may be a better idea (coconut water provides about 170kJ per 250ml serving). Also note coconut water usually comes in drink containers that have been transported from tropical regions such as Vietnam, which isn’t great for the environment—again, tap water wins in this respect.