coconut water, milk, and oil: are they good for you?

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

Coconut water is not some magical mystery tonic that can cure all of your ailments. However, it is extremely rich in vitamins, minerals, and health benefits that might make you pick up a bottle the next time you pass it in the grocery store. Coconuts themselves are loaded with healthy bits and pieces, and those who make coconuts or coconut byproducts a part of their daily meals tend to be a lot healthier than those who do not.

You might be wondering, what is up with all the hype regarding coconuts? Is drinking coconut water is good for you? Should you try coconut milk or coconut oil? Is it even worth your time to try something new? The answer is absolutely. Not only does it taste good, but coconut and its different varieties can help keep your cholesterol levels down, give you the potassium that your body needs, clear up your skin, and offer a host of other incredible benefits. Keep reading to see how coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle in ways that you might not have even considered.

Coconut water

Coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk or coconut oil, is a sweet and clear liquid that comes from the inside of a coconut. It is extracted from a center coconut that is still young and green. As the coconut matures and becomes brown, the liquid solidifies and turns into the coconut “meat,” or the white substance that you seen when you break into a brown coconut[1]. Of course, getting the freshest coconut water would require a perfectly green coconut and tapping into the fruit yourself, but that’s why bottled and packaged coconut water options are easily available.

There are some packaged coconut water options that are just as healthy and good to drink as getting it right from the coconut itself. When buying coconut water, you should try to find the unsweetened versions to avoid the high sugar and calorie count. You should also make sure that the bottle says 100 percent coconut water to make sure that it is not just a bottle of coconut water-flavored chemicals or a diluted knock-off brand of coconut water. Yet, before you venture to your local supermarket to make a purchase, take a look at what’s inside coconut water and how it can help your body.

Potassium

Potassium is essential to making sure your body keeps functioning. Potassium helps to regulate the amount of water in your body to keep you from becoming dehydrated or retaining too much water weight. It also conducts electrical impulses for your nerves, heart contractions, and skeletal muscle flexibility. How does potassium connect to coconut water? Well, just one cup of coconut water has 600 milligrams of potassium. It is suggested that you have 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day, so enjoying a glass of coconut water fulfills about 13 percent of the recommended daily amount[2,3].

There can be too much potassium in the blood, known as hyperkalemia, while not having enough potassium is called hypokalemia. Drinking about one to two servings of coconut water along with a balanced diet can help to prevent both hyperkalemia and hypokalemia. You can tell if you have a potassium deficiency if you experience fatigue, nausea, or muscle cramps. In contrast, if you have too much potassium, you might experience an irregular heartbeat, temporary paralysis, or tingling in the hands and feet. Coconut water is also considered a sports drink thanks to its nutrients, replenishing the body when it sweats and during physical activity. As a sports drink, coconut water is marketed as an isotonic type, meaning it provides the best amount of those much-needed carbohydrates during exercise, maintaining your body’s natural fluid balance[2,4].

Electrolytes

Coconut water is full of electrolytes. Drinking coconut water on a hot day or after completing a workout will refuel you with the electrolytes that your body lost when perspiring. Many people hear about electrolytes, but do you wonder what they are or what they do for your body? It turns out, electrolytes are natural minerals found in the fluids in your body, like plasma. They are free ions and carry an electric charge. They also balance the amount of fluids in your body, muscles, and nerve functions. When you sweat, have diarrhea, or vomit, you are actually losing electrolytes. You might start to feel dizzy, fatigued, confused, and experience muscle spasms, numbness, twitching, or even blood pressure changes[5].

Some of the electrolytes found in coconut water are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Each mineral plays a different role in keeping your body healthy along with being an electrolyte. Calcium and magnesium both work together to keep your teeth and bones healthy and strong, while phosphorous and potassium keep the proteins in your body and help with energy metabolism[5]. Not only can coconut water replace the fluids you lose due to vomiting, but it can also help prevent vomiting and diarrhea if consumed ahead of time, in case you start to feel ill[3,6,7,8].

Skin

Coconut water can also work wonders for your skin. While it’s safe to say that water is the most important way to keep your body hydrated, coconut water comes in at a very close second. Coconut water may not have the same effect that water does when it comes to making your skin appear to more radiant, but it can make your skin appear a lot healthier. Many of the calories in coconut water come from carbohydrates. Your body transforms these carbohydrates into glucose through digestion and metabolic processes, which are essential to the health and energy of your skin. Coconut water contains about 10 grams in a one-cup serving. If you do not have enough in carbohydrates in your body, it can affect the structure of your skin and its appearance[9].

Coconut water also contains vitamin C. One cup of coconut water contains 24 milligrams of vitamin C, a vital part of keeping your skin healthy. This means that one cup of coconut water gives you 40 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. In order to make collagen, you need a sufficient amount of vitamin C. Collagen allows your skin to have firmness and elasticity, and it aids in wound healing. Vitamin C is also key in protecting your skin against the damage of sun rays and dry skin[9].

Coconut milk and weight

While coconut water comes from green coconuts, coconut milk comes from brown, ripened  coconuts[10]. Coconut milk is pulled from the meat of the coconut and, although it stems from the same fruit, the health benefits associated with coconut milk are much different than they are for coconut water[11]. One of these benefits is weight loss. Studies have revealed that eating more fat–the good kind–can actually help you lose weight. Those who eat more healthy fats, like the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut milk, actually eat less than those who do not consume enough fat[12]. The fat in coconut milk helps to increase your metabolism and promote weight loss while following a reduced-calorie diet. It also makes your body feel full and satiates the brain receptors that control appetite[13,14,15,16,17].

For those looking to put on a few pounds, drinking coconut water might also be able to help you gain weight. Coconut milk is very high in calories and the amount of calories per serving can change depending on how it is is packaged. One cup of canned coconut milk holds 445 calories and 48 grams of fat, while coconut milk as a milk alternative in a carton holds 74 calories and 5 grams of fat if sweetened and 50 calories if unsweetened[18].

Cholesterol

Because it is high in saturated fat, coconut milk can increase the amount of bad cholesterol found in your body[19,20]. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), when it comes to saturated fat, one cup of coconut milk contains two and a half times the amount of saturated fat that you should have in a day. There are other foods, such as 28 ounces of beef sirloin or 14 ounces of pork chops with a fourth cup of butter, that contain less fat than a cup of coconut milk. Even if you ate five quarter-pound hamburgers, you would still be eating less fat than if you added a cup of coconut milk to a smoothie. Simply put, you should limit the consumption of saturated fats to 16 grams daily, according to the AHA[19].

Not all of the saturated fat found in coconut milk is bad for you, though. Most of the saturated fat is lauric acid, which can actually help increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the good cholesterol that reduces the risk of heart disease[21,22,23,24],]. Drinking coconut water, rather than milk, can lower your cholesterol further. Studies have shown that coconut water reduces the amount of bad cholesterol and raises the amount of good cholesterol in your body[25,26,27].

Coconut milk vs. cow’s milk

Upon reflection, you might consider switching from drinking dairy milk to drinking coconut milk. While dairy milk does have a lot of vitamins and minerals, switching to coconut milk is not a bad idea and can actually provide you with slightly more health benefits than dairy milk. Coconut milk is a better source of niacin, or vitamin B-2, than dairy milk: coconut milk contains 1.8 milligrams of niacin while dairy milk only has 0.23 milligrams. That fulfils 13 percent of the recommended daily value for women and 11 percent for men. Niacin allows the nutrients that your body receives to be metabolized so that they can be used for energy. Niacin can also help produce sex hormones for healthy reproduction processes and stress hormones[28,29].

Coconut milk is lactose free, so for those who are lactose intolerant, this can be a better alternative to dairy milk[30,31,32,33,34]. If you are lactose intolerant, drinking milk with lactose can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and gas. With coconut milk, you won’t experience these symptoms due to the lack of lactose. Coconut milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D is the best choice as a dairy milk replacement. One cup of coconut milk also has five grams of fiber, so if you are feeling constipated, coconut milk should be able to help[35,36,37].

Beauty benefits

Coconut milk can be used in beauty regimes as well. If your hair is dry and damaged, using coconut milk can restore the moisture back to your hair. Coconut milk has great moisturizing properties, and it can also be used as a tonic for a dry, itchy, or irritated scalp. Additionally, people have claimed to use coconut milk to remedy split ends and brittle hair[38]. Coconut milk can also promote healthy hair growth. Coconut milk can boost your hair follicles with just a five-minute rinse. If you want to add volume to your hair, condition it with coconut milk. It cuts down on grease and promotes thicker hair.

Not only will coconut milk moisturize your hair, it will moisturize you skin as well. You can mix coconut milk with honey to get rid of pimples and keep your skin clear. Rinsing your skin with coconut milk after being burned by the sun can help to soothe and heal your skin. Coconut milk in your hair can also fight against dandruff and other scalp irritations[39]. Using a mixture of coconut milk and olive oil can also remove waterproof makeup while moisturizing your skin.

Coconut oil

Finally, you also have coconut oil to consider. Coconut oil is great at preventing and reducing inflammation[40]. Like coconut milk, coconut oil contains many different kinds of fatty acids, such as lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, and caproic acid. Lauric acid specifically has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties[41]. Lauric acid then turns into monolaurin, an antibacterial and antiviral substance that kills disease-causing organisms in your body[42]. Coconut oil contains vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5, and B6. It also has minerals like calcium, selenium, and magnesium. Just one tablespoon of coconut oil has seven milligrams of magnesium.

Along with fighting inflammation, coconut oil can help prevent cancer in two different ways. The first is due to the ketones produced in the digestion of coconut oil. Tumor cells cannot receive energy from ketones and are dependent on glucose. Second, the medium-chain fatty acids eat away at bacteria walls, killing certain bacteria associated with stomach cancer[43].

Coconut cons

As with any new addition to your eating habits, there are some risks in eating or using coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil. When it comes to coconut milk, most brands use cans to package their product. The cans are lined with bisphenol A (BPA) in order to prevent corrosion. However, the chemical can seep into the liquid, causing it to be consumed along with the coconut milk. BPA has been associated with breast and prostate cancer[44,45].

Coconut water can also raise the amount of sodium in your body. A cup of coconut water contains 252 milligrams of sodium. For a healthy person, that does not seem like a lot, but for those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or on a low-sodium diet, coconut water should be enjoyed in limited amounts[46,47,48]. If you are watching your weight, then also moderate your coconut milk consumption, as it is high in saturated fat and drinking too much could have adverse effects[49]. Lastly, coconut water may simply be too foreign of a taste for some people. Opinions vary on if the sodium in coconut water is too strong while others believe the taste is too bland[50].

The sati line

Coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil all have different qualities and can be used in various ways. However, each form of the coconut can provide you more health benefits than you could have imagined. Whether you are eating it, drinking it, using it as topical lotion, or as a hydrating shampoo, the coconut and everything that comes from it can help improve your diet and your body.

There are many recipes that you can experiment with in order to add more coconut to your everyday eating. Using coconut water, coconut milk, or coconut oil can be a healthier substitute for a plethora of food items, due to being so rich in fats, minerals, and vitamins. Always watch your portions, though, as eating too much of coconut form can cause health issues. Consult with a medical professional and keep an eye on your weight as you make coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil a part of your new health routine.


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