Everybody’s Going Coconuts
Is coconut water as healthy as so many people claim?
Picture yourself sitting on the beach of a tropical island paradise, gingerly sipping at the brightly-colored straw that protrudes from half a coconut. The flavor is almost as refreshing as the breeze that rustles your hair and the fronds of the palm above you, a liquid escape from the heat of the bright afternoon sun.
This is a summer dream that many patients of gastric bypass in Detroit, Ypsilanti and Saginaw may have, but you don’t have to head all the way to the Caribbean to enjoy the taste of coconut water. Once little more than a novelty in the States, coconut water has quickly caught on for its taste and alleged effectiveness as “nature’s sports drink”. Marketed in cans and boxes, sales doubled in 2011 and are estimated to reach $110 million in 2012, while market research suggests that demand will continue to climb.
But are these tropical nuts really all they’re cracked up to be? Claims of their healthiness abound, but so do skeptics, making an in-depth look at the nutritional value of this trend necessary before introducing coconut water to your weight loss surgery diet.
The Nutritional Value of Youth
Long a staple of the diets of many countries where coconuts grow, coconut water comes from the young nuts, typically before they reach about 9 months old. This means that it doesn’t come from those that have the trademark hairy outer shell of our summer fantasies, but rather the vibrant green ones you’ll find on the packaging of many coconut water products. At this point in their development, they’re simply filled with water, but haven’t yet formed the white coconut meat used to produce coconut oil and milk.
This means that they’re devoid of the dietary fat that these older coconuts contain, but are at their peak of natural electrolyte content. They also contain high levels of two nutrients that help the body balance fluids: potassium and sodium. An average serving of coconut water contains twice the amount of potassium as a banana, a fruit commonly eaten by marathon runners to help prevent cramping. Potassium also helps with heart health and is important for regulating blood pressure and other body systems, while the sodium content will help restore what you lose in your sweat during a workout.
A Necessary Nut?
Nutrition experts note that anyone who follows a balanced diet will not need the high levels of these nutrients provided by coconut water. Also, though electrolyte-packed drinks are popular for their for workout recovery, most people don’t work out hard or long enough to actually need an electrolyte replacement drink. Unless you’re working out for 90-plus minutes at a time you really only need to hydrate with water.
In other words, if you like the taste of coconut water, you certainly won’t be doing yourself harm when drinking it, but at up to $3 for an 11 oz. box, the price may be a little steep due to heightened expectations of its healthiness. Though a refreshing summer beverage and a healthy alternative to sugary drinks like soda, coconut water may not be worthy of the supernatural reputation it has received.