A “new” beverage has started to show up everywhere - not only at my marathons and at health food stores, but also in practically every mainstream grocery store. For years it’s been popular outside the United States, and now sales are skyrocketing here as well. Coconut water is the juice from the center of a young, tender, green coconut. Each nut contains about 200 to 1000 ml, and this clear liquid is sweet, sterile, and includes sugars, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids, cytokine, and phyto-hormones. Note that this differs from coconut milk, which is extracted from the meat of the coconut.
What are the health benefits of coconut water? It is very refreshing and its high levels of electrolytes make it great for rehydration. In fact, it has been used worldwide to replace fluid loss for those suffering from diarrhea, and reduces the need for intravenous hydration. It is also well balanced with calories and added nutritional value. It contains bioactive enzymes that aid with digestion and metabolism. It has a far better composition of minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc than does other fruit. It is a good source of vitamin B complex and is high in potassium, and has less sugar than other sports drinks, sodas, and fruit juices. It is also relatively low in calories, at about 46 calories per cup, and is fat and cholesterol free.
There are claims that coconut water is so similar to human plasma that it was used in the Pacific during World War II when supplies of regular IV saline solution ran short. This is not recommended by modern medical doctors!
Although coconut water is a tasty and nutritious source of hydration and electrolytes, it is high in potassium, so those with kidney problems and elevated potassium levels should avoid it. On the other hand, assuming that the kidneys are healthy, the potassium helps to lower blood pressure. Also note that coconut water has less sodium than, say, Gatorade, and vigorous exercise may require a drink with more sodium. Therefore, it may not be the ideal drink for heavy exercise.
My own opinion? Coconut water is a great alternative for hydration, electrolytes, potassium and taste. Give it a try!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: May 22, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 06