Coconut Water: Is It Worth the Hype?

by in Healthy Tips, December 29, 2009

Coconut water is popping up at the convenience store or in health-food markets more and more these days. Some claim it is a healthier replacement for sugary sports drinks, but is coconut water really all that fabulous?

What Is Coconut Water?
Not to be confused with the white coconut milk that comes from pulverized coconut flesh, coconut water is the clear fluid that comes from young coconuts. This coconut “juice” contains a combination of water, carbohydrates and electrolytes, which is why some folks are turning to it as a replacement for Gatorade, Powerade and other sports drinks.

Sports drinks are designed to replace the water, calories and minerals (electrolytes) lost from activity and sweating. Carbs provide us energy and electrolytes — for example, sodium and potassium — are vital to proper muscle function, including that all-important muscle, the heart. The body likes to keep its electrolyte levels balanced, so it’s important to take them in, but you don’t want to overdo it.

As far as flavor goes, coconut water only has some subtle coconut action going on. Some describe the taste as slightly sweet, sour or tangy. Some brands also have an unpleasant aftertaste. Coconut water sure is expensive, too! We shopped around and found 12-packs going for around $20.00 — that’s about $0.15 per ounce. Sports drinks usually go for about $0.05 per ounce (a third the price!).

Nutrition Facts
Coconut milk is high in fat where as the water contains virtually none. When compared to sports drinks, both coconut water and your average Gatorade have about 45 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup.

The biggest differences are the electrolytes. In a one-cup serving of an average sports drink, you’ll get 95 milligrams of sodium and 40 milligrams of potassium. An equal portion of coconut water has anywhere from 40 to 250 milligrams of sodium and 600 to 700 milligrams of potassium. The higher levels of electrolytes in coconut water doesn’t make it dangerous (a cup of orange juice has about 475 milligrams of potassium), but mega-doses of potassium can be dangerous over time, especially if you have kidney issues.

Just so you know — sports drinks have been optimally formulated for athletes, not couch potatoes. They are sweetened with sugar, but it serves the very important purpose of providing calories and carbohydrates for quick energy. The average person who doesn’t get much exercise doesn’t need them.

Bottom Line: Coconut water isn’t harmful, but it may not be worth the extra hit to your wallet. As a sports dietitian who works with athletes and active individuals of all ages, I recommend (when necessary) to stick to sports drinks, water and a balanced diet.

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Comments (11)

  1. cooper says:

    ya sports drinks may be cheaper… but they are usually filled with unnecessary sugars and high in calories! what i do to get more use out of my coconut water is fill up half of my water bottle w/ coconut water and the other half w/ water. my favorite is passion fruit coconut water zico

  2. Kerry says:

    OMG – how can a dietician recommend Gatorade on any level for any reason – it's chalk-filled with HFCS and artificial colors……hmmm. I would choose Coconut Water any day over…..sugary sports drink.

  3. Rusel Lane says:

    Hi Dana, I enjoyed reading your objective analysis. I would agree with what you are saying and the calories in the sports drinks are there for a reason. I drink coconut water all the time and this is mainly due to the fact that I like drinking it. Coconut water can have several beneifts and rehydration is just one of them. The one I have is called Cocofina and also one of the cheaper ones in the market.

  4. Natasha says:

    Each time I read an article about coconut water I have to give thanks that I live in a country that grows water coconuts so I buy a gallon of it for about US$5.00 per gallon….hmmm…so for me it's not that expensive. However i am happy to report that thanks to coconut water I no longer drink any form of sugary drinks….I drink only coconut water and plain water.

  5. laura says:

    is it not true that the sodium content in drinks should be much lower than the potassium, which is not true for the formulated sports drinks.. not only that but coconut water is proven to be much better then sports drinks to replenish your electrolytes..i think it is most def worth the extra money..
    there are so many other uses for coconut water other than what is mentioned here for example coconut water also is proven to help promote weight loss, or control your healthy weight aswell as many other things.. so im not sure knowing all these things how you can possibly recommend sports drinks? drinks with a higher sodium than potassium content, hasn't this been looked into that it causes Osteoporosis and major bone problems?

  6. Medschool says:

    This aritcal is not true coconut drink is best nature offers

  7. I'm from a small south american country my family has been drink coconut water for year, as a child they would give it to you if you were sick or to make you more "regular" i don't know if its worth it but i loved it when i was a kid.

  8. Zippy says:

    I rarely buy Gatorade anymore and would prefer that my kids drink Propel or water instead. Propel was a recommended food when my children had nutrition in their health class.

    As for coconut water, I like the added potassium in it since I take asthma medications which can create high blood pressure. Though my blood pressure is normally low normal, I enjoy a Coconut water a few times a week. It is an acquired taste for sure, but is refreshing if served cold.

  9. Dana White says:

    Hi Kerry -
    Thanks for your comment. I'm sure most sports dietitians would agree – there is a time and place for athletes to drink sports drinks (typically during intense activity). They are formulated with a specific solution of carbohydrate in order to be absorbed properly and to give quick energy.

  10. Dave says:

    Dana,

    You're certainly right about dietitians recommending sports drinks. However, I think that she's right to knock Gatorade for changing to HFCS. It's good, but it's not great, and I'd bet (though I'm not sure) that it's not the same Gatorade that we drank many years ago.

    I've tried making my own sports drinks from various things and gels from others — like honey and molasses without great success. I'm thinking of buying some maltodextrin, which is what I'd really like to see in Gatorade.

    Anyway, you've written a great article. I love coconut water for a post-exercise drink and general nice-tasting alternative to almost anything else. Living in Guam means I can find my own for free as well!

    Dave

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