In 1994, when I was in Jamaica, I got my first taste of coconut water. A man on the street was selling green coconuts and when someone wanted one, he would cut off the top of the coconut just enough for a small hole, and insert a straw. I needed both hands to hold the coconut, and I drank the liquid inside the coconut and then tossed it. This is coconut water. It wasn’t sweet, cold or particularly enjoyable, but I wanted to try it and these things you do when you are in such places.
Coconut water is different from coconut milk. Coconut milk is the product of pressing, squeezing, and otherwise pulverizing the “meat” of the coconut, or the white part of the inside of a coconut that most people are familiar with. As a kid, the first time I had the meat of the coconut and wondered why it wasn’t sweet. I don’t eat coconut often, but when I do, it is usually mixed with egg whites and covered in dark chocolate, but I digress. Canned coconut milk has about 50 grams of fat, most of it saturated fat, and over 450 calories in one cup. But most people don’t drink coconut milk straight.
Two years ago it was difficult, if not impossible, to find coconut water without buying an actual coconut. Today, you can find several brands at the grocery stores: O.N.E., Zico, and Vita Coco to name a few. Plain coconut water has about 45 calories and no fat in one cup; very different from coconut milk.
What is the benefit of coconut water?
While 45 calories is much more than the zero calories of plain water, it is about the same as some of the flavored waters (such as Vitamin Water or SoBe Life Water). Coconut water is also a source of the electrolytes sodium (25-50 mg/cup) and potassium (~480 mg/cup) – making it a choice for active people (athletes) who would like to replace electrolytes lost during exercise. However, comparing sports drinks specifically made for athletes, one cup has 50 calories, 110 mg sodium, and 30 mg of potassium.
Now, many people will “argue” that the sports drink is a lot of calories/sugar. As you see the calories are pretty much the same. As for the source of those calories – all the calories in coconut water comes from sugar (all naturally occurring) just like the sports drinks (though this sugar is “added”). For an ATHLETE, the sugar from either beverage is necessary for him/her to stay hydrated and refuel. The difference is that the coconut water has much less sodium and much more potassium than the sports beverage. While this is good for the general consumer, most athletes lose a lot more sodium during exercise than potassium (though both are necessary).
Bottom Line: While coconut water certainly isn’t harmful, plain water is the best bet for everyday hydration (cheaper and no calories). However, if you need help with staying hydrated, and you don’t drink water, this could be an alternative. If you are an athlete, you would do better with a sports drink specifically made for athletes that has a better sodium/potassium ratio.
As for my consumption of coconut water – I have tried it again, filtered and cold. I find it tastes much better this way. I prefer plain, but only drink it once in a while.
No affiliation with O.N.E., Vita Coco, Zico, any sports drink company, or the man in Jamaica. Calorie content obtained from CalorieKing.com.