Coconut Water: The Alleged Superfood Revealed
What is it?
The clear liquid tapped from the centre of young green coconuts.
The health claims?
- It is super hydrating and an ideal post-workout drink that’s high in essential minerals
- It’s a low-calorie, energy-boosting slimming drink
- It is a great detox drink and hangover cure
- It encourages clear skin and weight loss
The scientific facts?
- Coconut water is indeed a good source of minerals and nutrients that are essential in the body. As this study explains, the trendy health drink is high in magnesium, potassium and sodium, which are lost from the body after a sweaty workout. However, the body naturally regulates its mineral levels, so unless you’re a professional athlete or train like one (or suffer from a medical condition that causes low levels of potassium), there really is no need to replenish potassium and sodium after every single workout. Hydrating with water is all the average person needs.
- With around 52 kcals per 250ml of coconut water, this so-called super-food (or super-drink) is low calorie… but only when compared with sports drinks. Pitted against plain old water, a small glass provides an unnecessary 52 kcals and 11g of sugar. And it’s that sugar that accounts for the energy boost you may experience after drinking a large glass of coconut water.
- The health claim that weight loss is a benefit of drinking coconut water is more wishful thinking than scientific fact. Coconut water doesn’t have any known fat-burning or metabolism boosting properties. But it may help weight loss efforts if you drink lots of sugary soft drinks and replace these with coconut water.
- Similarly, the belief that drinking coconut water can cure acne and give you clear skin is a myth. This health claim is based on the false assumption that coconut water is high in lauric acid – a fatty acid that is effective at killing the bacteria that causes most cases of acne. Coconut flesh is a good source of lauric acid, but as fatty acids don’t dissolve in water, only trace amounts are present in coconut water.
Nutritional facts – Coconut water versus ordinary water:
It’s claimed that coconut water is a healthier alternative to plain old water. Here’s how they really compare (250mls):
- Kcals: Coconut water 52 v Water 0
- Protein: Coconut water 0.75g v Water 0g
- Carbohydrate: Coconut nectar 17.6g v Water 0g
- Sugars: Coconut water 11.75g v Water 0g
- Fat: Coconut water 0g v Water 0g
- Vitamins and minerals: Coconut water contains modest amounts of amino acids, sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, and small amounts of B vitamins that are absent from plain water.
Winner for hydration: Water – coconut water provides sugar and calories that are not necessary. Although it is a source of vitamins and minerals, the amounts provided are not high enough to justify the sugar load.
Worth the hype?
No. Coconut water has been very cleverly marketed as a nourishing and hydrating drink. Fortunately, a lot of the unfounded health claims made about it are now being banned by food agencies like the US’s Food and Drug Administration. There is no doubt that it is a much healthier alternative to high sugar fizzy drinks and sports drinks, but that’s really where the health benefits stop. And with a price tag of around £3.50 for a 1 litre carton of the popular brand Vitacoco, it’s one health trend I’m relegating to the health fad pile.