In this article:
- Coconuts are native to the Pacific Islands and Asia. They are popular around the world, and the fruit is used in several ways.
- The coconut palm has no bark nor branches; therefore, it is not classified as a tree. It is a woody perennial plant, and the trunk is the stem.
- Coconut water is touted in pop culture as a “superfood,” although there are many questions about how effective it is.
- Coconut water provides electrolytes and can be used as an alternative to sports drinks, but read the ingredients and choose those without added sugar.
Coconuts belong to the palm family Arecaceae. There are many different types of coconuts, classified as either tall or dwarf, but only one of the species of this plant produces coconuts.
Tall coconut palms are the most common type. There are two types of tall coconut palms: Niu Yai, which is domesticated, and the Niu Kafa, which grows wild.
The dwarf varietals rarely grow more than 12 meters tall. Four years after planting, dwarf coconut palms produce small nuts, which are easy to harvest due to their short height.
Cocos nucifera is grown in the tropics. People hailing from these regions have been enjoying coconut water for centuries.
‘Nam Hom’ is the variety of coconut that is most frequently used to yield coconut water, and the nuts are harvested at an early stage. ‘Nam Hom,’ which means “fragrant water,” is popular due to its aromatic flavor.
Every coconut contains 1-4 cups of coconut water. Coconut water is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut milk is made by blending or grating the meat of a mature coconut and creating an emulsion.
What does coconut water taste like?
Coconut water is slightly sweet and nutty. It has a bit of a coconut flavor but is relatively neutral in taste.
Is Coconut Really a Superfood?
Coconut water offers several health benefits, and it is often touted as a “superfood” and a miracle drink. Well, to call anything as a superfood would be to oversell it.
Some claim that coconut water can aid in weight loss, slow aging, reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, but all these claims are not supported by scientific evidence. This article will review these claims.
Nutritional Information on Coconut Water
Coconut water contains many vitamins and minerals, including electrolytes. The electrolyte content varies based on the maturity of the coconut.
One cup of coconut water provides 45 calories, no fat, 2 g of proteins, and 9 g of carbohydrate, of which 2.6 g is fiber. One cup provides 10% (6 g) of your daily vitamin C needs and 8% of your daily riboflavin requirement. (1)
Coconut water also contains several minerals. One cup of coconut water contains 600 mg of potassium (17% of the daily requirement), 60 mg of magnesium (15% of the daily value), 252 mg of sodium (11% of the daily value), 0.3 mg of manganese (17% of the daily value), and 57.6 mg of calcium (6% of the daily value). (1)
Benefits of Coconut Water
1. Serves as Nature’s Sports Drink
Coconut water does contain electrolytes, including potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Many of these electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium, are used in commercial sports drinks and fitness waters.
A study done in 2012 found that coconut water has similar effects to a commercial sports drink. (2)
Coconut water contains some naturally occurring sugars, but 100% coconut water does not contain added sugars as sports drinks do. It also has no artificial colors, dyes, or sweeteners.
There are coconut water products on the market that do contain added sugars, so consumers should be careful to read the ingredients label.
2. Provides Low Calories
Coconut water is loved by many as a refreshing and delicious beverage. One cup (8 oz) contains 45-60 calories with 11-12 g of naturally occurring sugar.
Compared with orange and grapefruit juices, coconut water has about 60% less sugar and half the calories. (4)
Coconut water is enjoyed as a refreshing beverage and contains electrolytes, which have been shown to aid in rehydration. Compared to water and sports drinks, coconut water may not rehydrate any better, but it does have less added sugar and calories than many commercially prepared sports drinks.
3. May Prevent Kidney Stones
One study found that coconut water resulted in an increase in urinary citrate excretion. Citrate can prevent calcium kidney stones from forming by competing with calcium. (4)
For those who suffer from recurrent kidney stones and have a condition known as hypocitraturia or low urinary citation excretion, potassium depletion is a risk.
Coconut water increases urinary potassium, chloride, and citrate and, therefore, may be beneficial for the prevention of kidney stones. (4)
While coconut water may be helpful for preventing kidney stones, more studies are needed to evaluate its efficacy and safety.
4. Controls Blood Pressure and Promotes Heart Health
Coconut water may help counter high blood pressure, a claim that has been validated by some preliminary studies. The antihypertensive effect of coconut water can be attributed to its substantial potassium content.
But solely relying on coconut water to fulfill one’s potassium needs might deprive you of other vital nutrients that are just as important for your body.
So, instead of loading up on just one potassium source, you should consume a variety of potassium-rich foods that contain other minerals and vitamins as well.
One study found that an extract from coconut helped reduce blood pressure in rats. (5)
It is also believed that coconut water may prevent heart disease due to potassium’s impact on lowering blood pressure.
In one study on rats, coconut water did show some cholesterol-lowering effects. (6)
While there is some evidence that points to coconut water’s beneficial effect on heart health and blood pressure, the studies were done on animals. Hence, further research is needed to determine coconut water’s effects on humans.
Common Questions About Coconuts
Will coconut water cure a hangover?
Coconut water is rich in electrolytes and water and, therefore, may help relieve the dehydration that accompanies drinking too much alcohol. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that it is a cure for hangovers.
Will coconut water slow aging?
In general, proper hydration is key to keeping the skin looking clear, soft, and smooth. As coconut water is hydrating, it is a healthy beverage choice, in addition to plain water.
However, there is no scientific evidence that coconut water, in particular, slows the aging process or reduces its effects on appearance.
Will coconut water speed up my metabolism?
Dehydration will lead to a slowing of the metabolism. Anything that is hydrating, such as plain water, broth, or coconut water, will help keep your metabolism ticking right along.
Whenever you eat or drink anything, there is a temporary increase in your metabolism’s speed, because your body has to work harder to digest.
However, increasing your metabolism consistently over the long term is a complex process.
There are many different variables, including diet and nutrition, hydration, meal times, sleep, exercise, and physical activity.
There is no single nutrient or food that will boost your metabolism in a meaningful way for a significant period of time. The best approach is to adopt an overall healthy lifestyle.
Is coconut water allowed on a keto diet?
Coconut water contains naturally occurring sugars and carbohydrates. Depending on your daily carbohydrate limit, some coconut water may fit. One cup (8 oz) of coconut water contains 9 g of carbohydrate.
Is coconut a fruit, nut, or seed?
Many people consider coconut to be a fruit, others a nut, and some a seed. Coconut is a one-seeded drupe, also called a “dry drupe.”
A drupe is a fruit that has a hard covering that contains the seed, such as olive or peach.
A coconut has three layers:
- Exocarp: The outer layer
- Mesocarp: middle layer, flesh
- Endocarp: woody layer surrounding the seed
Storage of Coconut Water
If purchasing coconut water in a can, bottle, or carton, check the date for freshness. Once opened, keep coconut water in the refrigerator with its container tightly closed.
It will keep for a few days after being opened. If coconut water has an unpleasant odor, appearance, or flavor, discard it immediately.
Safety and Side Effects of Coconut Water
Coconut allergies are rare, but many people can have skin reactions, such as contact dermatitis, in response to a product containing coconut.
Ingredients containing coconut, such as coconut diethanolamide, cocamide DEA, cocamide sulfate, and CDEA, are often used in skin and body care products.
These products include cosmetics, soaps, cleansers, shampoos, and moisturizers. Some people are also sensitive to coconut pollen.
Many people who are allergic to peanuts and nuts wonder if they are also allergic to coconuts. This is very rare.
Coconuts are very different from peanuts and tree nuts and are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. (7)
People who have high levels of potassium may want to limit their intake of coconut water, as it is also rich in potassium.
Additionally, people with kidney disease may want to limit or avoid coconut water, as their kidneys may not filter out potassium efficiently.
Consuming too many potassium-rich foods may lead to a dangerous buildup of potassium in their body.
Coconut water can influence blood pressure. Therefore, those preparing or recovering from surgery may want to limit or avoid coconut water.
Other Coconut Products
Coconuts are often entirely used and can produce beverages, fiber, food, utensils, instruments, and more. The flesh is often used in desserts and sauces.
Coconut shells: The shells are often made into bowls, musical instruments, and jewelry. Coconut leaves are also used to wrap foods to be steamed, such as tamales, or to serve food on top, similar to a plate.
Coconut milk: It is made from grated coconut flesh that has been pressed or squeezed. Sometimes the water is added.
Coconut milk is used as an ingredient in many dishes including curries, soups, desserts, smoothies, and other beverages around the world.
Coconut oil: Coconut oil has become very popular in the past few years. Coconut oil is purely fat, 80%-90% of which is saturated fat.
This makes coconut oil firm in cold or room temperature but liquid at warmer temperatures. It is extracted from coconut flesh.
Coconut oil is often used in processed foods because it is inexpensive and has a high smoke point, therefore allowing high heat to be applied to create crisp textures.
Desiccated coconut: It is the grated, dried, and generally unsweetened flesh of a coconut. It is often used as a filler or topping, especially in baked goods and desserts.
Good-quality desiccated coconut is white without any yellowing or discoloration. It should smell sweet and tropical.
Coconut flour: It has recently been gaining in popularity as consumers are looking for an alternative and gluten-free flours.
When purchasing coconut flour, read the label to ensure the only ingredient is coconut without added fillers or sugar.
Coconut flour may be used like regular flour, but due to its ability to soak up moisture, bakers may want to add 1-2 tbsp of additional liquid for every 2 tbsp (1/8 cup) of coconut flour used.
Bakers may also want to only substitute 20% of their wheat flour with coconut flour. Other gluten-free flours may be used in combination to substitute for wheat flour in a recipe.
Coconut flour is typically fat-free or low in fat, whereas desiccated coconut still has intact natural fat.
1. Tropical Refresher
- 1/2 cup 100% coconut water
- 3/4 cup 100% pineapple juice
- 1/2 tsp ginger juice
- 1 tsp honey
- Lime wedges
- Into a cocktail shaker or glass jar, pour the coconut water, pineapple juice, and ginger juice. Fill it with ice, and close the lid.
- Shake well. Taste a bit and add honey if needed, and then shake again.
- Fill a glass with fresh ice, and then strain the beverage into the glass.
- Add a squeeze of lime juice. Stir.
- Add a lime wedge and serve.
2. Coconut Lime Thirst Quencher
- 1 1/2 cups 100% coconut water
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
- Into a cocktail shaker or glass jar, pour the coconut water, lemon juice, lime juice, honey, and ginger. Fill it with ice and close the lid.
- Shake well. Taste a bit and add water if desired. Shake again.
- Strain into a glass and serve.
Note: This can be made by omitting the ice and just combining the coconut water, juice, honey, and ginger into a pitcher or jar, which can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
3. Tropical Smoothie
- 1/2 fresh mango, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup fresh pineapple chunks
- 1/2 banana, cut into chunks and frozen
- 1/2 cup coconut water
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup of ice cubes
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Pour into a glass and enjoy.
Coconut water is a natural beverage that is refreshing and enjoyed throughout the world. There are some health benefits to drinking coconut water, as it contains vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.
People with kidney disease or high levels of potassium in their blood should exercise caution when drinking coconut water. There is little scientific evidence to support many of the health claims that are made in popular culture.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Kathy Rollin, RDN
Coconut water is good for treating dehydration caused by diarrhea or exercise. It is also used to reduce high blood pressure and improve exercise performance. However, it does not enhance fertility in both men and women.
Coconut oil is not proven to promote weight loss. Although coconut oil contains MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil, which behaves differently in the body, it does not have the same satiating effect as MCT oil. (8)
Yes, it is safe to eat raw coconut. Coconut oil, derived from the kernel of mature coconuts, is also edible. (9)
Yes, coconut oil is an effective moisturizer for the skin.
Yes, it is safe to consume coconut oil. Evidence suggests that it can be taken in moderation and included as part of a healthy diet (also include unsaturated fats from sources such as olive oil, sesame oil, and fatty fish).
Coconut shells are pretty strong and are sometimes used to make charcoal and handicrafts.
Coconut oil is a tasty addition to cooking, especially when preparing Thai food. However, science has not provided enough evidence to support its use as a weight loss tool or miracle food. It does contain MCT oil, but the jury is still out as to the effect of this oil on one’s health.
Coconut oil is a wonderful addition to ethnic dishes when used in moderation. Do remember that it is considered high in saturated fats. Therefore, excess intake is not encouraged by many health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association.
About Kathy Rollin, RDN: Kathy is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and a Certified Personal Trainer who enjoys helping people get healthy through behavioral and dietary changes. She also encourages people to enjoy movement.
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