8 science-backed reasons you should start drinking coconut water

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

Coconuts are a pretty remarkable plant used by cultures in the tropics for just about everything. One of the biggest uses of coconuts — coconut water — has turned into a full-blown craze in the West and for good reason. The drink is tasty, refreshing, nutritious and offers many health benefits, nine of which we will describe in detail below.

Coconut water has been enjoyed by tropical southeast Asian cultures like Polynesians, Indians and more for millennia. It is just one of the many products created from the coconut’s hairy hulls, which include rope, charcoal, oil, vinegar, dried flesh and more. Tropical cultures even make wine from the coconut palm’s sap!

When drinking coconut water fresh from the source, a green, unripe coconut is selected. It can then simply be cut with a machete until a hole is formed and then drank fresh. Today’s packaged coconut water is manufactured on an industrial scale, but actually uses quite a similar process. Harvested fresh and from a quality source, coconut water is sterile, allowing it to be minimally processed.

In other words, coconut water is a healthy, tasty and natural drink that is just one of the many uses of a remarkable plant. If you have ever wanted to learn more about coconut water, including how it helps coconut seeds grow and the nine biggest health benefits of coconut water, read on for a complete guide on the revitalizing drink that is taking the world by storm.

What is coconut water

Coconut water is liquid naturally formed in a coconut as a young, fertilized flower ovary turns into a coconut fruit. Immature coconuts have this liquid when they are still in their softer, smaller green phase, usually around six months after the seed initially forms. Over time, the liquid settles and thickens against the sides of the coconut, forming the thick white “flesh” used for making shredded coconut and other products.

Because the liquid is meant to form the basis of a new coconut seedling’s initial sprout, it is highly nutritious. You could compare it to the flesh of a corn kernel or the “meat” of a nut. These substances are technically called “endosperms.” While coconut flesh that has solidified has a high calorie density, coconut water does not.

Tropical cultures would generally drink coconut water as a source of refreshment. If fresh water was not nearby, the young coconuts could even provide a source of hydration since seawater is not drinkable. Over time, this custom of drinking fresh coconut water turned to large scale production as demand for coconut water grew.

In fact, coconut water products have exploded in popularity in recent years. Demand around the world for coconut water increased by 168 percent in just three years from 2010 to 2013 [1]. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of different products available also increased five-fold. North America has one of the highest demand markets and the most active, attracting celebrity endorsements for coconut water brands and acquisitions from huge soft drink brands.

How is coconut water different from coconut milk

Coconut water is a slightly salty, slightly sweet and mostly clear but cloudy liquid. It is thicker than water, but overall has a composition that is 95 percent water. The water comes from immature, green coconut seeds as they just start to harden and form thick white flesh.

Coconut milk is an entirely different product that must be processed to be made. Traditionally, white coconut flesh is hand-grated to create a “juice” that is thick with fatty coconut oil and parts of fibrous coconut flesh. Water is still a large component, but the thick oil and plant parts mean that coconut milk usually settles into a thick sediment on the bottom and a thin liquid on top over time.

Coconut milk is derived from the flesh of the coconut.

Coconut milk has a number of nutrients in it found in higher concentrations than coconut water, such as iron, protein, magnesium, vitamin C and more, but it also has a relatively high saturated fat content and calorie content. A single cup of coconut milk can have more than 400 calories and 45 grams of saturated fat!

People trying to make healthy diet choices should therefore use coconut milk sparingly as a sauce thickener, substitute for milk or substitute for fats like butter and vegetable oil. On the other hand, coconut water can be enjoyed a few times every day thanks to its very low calorie content, which we will discuss more in the health benefits below.

How is coconut water made

As we mentioned above, the way coconut water is made is surprisingly natural! In traditional production methods, green coconuts are harvested manually using a long bamboo pole. Some coconuts are even harvested by trained monkeys! [2] Workers then gather them and transport them to a factory. The coconuts are split open on a clean metal table that guides all the liquid towards a capture funnel [3].

Raw coconut water is usually filtered and pasteurized — heated to a high temperature — to trap unwanted particles and kill any possible bacteria in the juice. Coconut water is normally sterile, but contaminants can be introduced and regulations in America and other countries require pasteurization, with few exceptions.

How do I ensure my coconut water is healthy and ethical

Some coconut water producers add in a small amount of sediment or even some particles of mature coconut meat to add more flavor and texture to the drink. If you want a bit more substance to your drink, these additives are generally fine and add minimal calories, but be wary of other additives!

Sweeteners, salt, artificial flavors and other substances are often added to certain coconut water brands to make them more like a soft drink, ruining their nutritional value in the process. If you want to buy healthy coconut water, look for labels that indicate “100% pure” coconut water, and read the ingredients label to spot additives.

Those who want to enjoy coconut water while being responsible to local economies and the environment can look for certain designators from their brand. Try to find organically grown coconut water that is either locally sourced on your continent or that is designated “Fair Trade.”

If you are able to find coconut water that is 100 percent pure, you can enjoy many health benefits, especially when comparing the drink to alternatives like sugary sports drinks. You can read about the eight biggest health benefits of coconut water below.

1. Encourage you to stay hydrated

Our bodies are around 65 percent water in total [4]. 92 percent of our blood is water, 85 percent of our brain tissues are water, and even our bones are 22 percent water. We need enough water in our bodies to ensure that our tissues can work properly. Without water, we cannot digest food, filter out waste, move important nutrients around our cells and sustain other vital functions.

Despite these benefits, only 25 percent of Americans get their recommended 10 cups of water a day [5]. Dangerous complications can result. One of the first noticeable effects of dehydration is fatigue. The body slows down its metabolic process, making us feel sleepy and less energized. Our blood pressure rises as our blood makeup gets thicker, resulting in increased stress [6].

Eventually, our kidneys stop being able to function properly, leading to possible bacterial infections and an accumulation of unwanted substances in the body. These substances are often stored in fat, and our bodies refuse to break these fat cells down because the released toxins would not be eliminated, leading to weight gain. Our bodies also have trouble digesting, leading to constipation and malnutrition.

Long-term effects of severe dehydration lead to coma and death, but you do not have to get to this point to experience long-term complications. Therefore, everyone should be certain to drink the recommended number of fluid ounces per day. Since coconut water is mostly water and it is deliciously flavorful, it can encourage people to drink more water throughout the day, making us all healthier!

2. Low in fat, sugar and calories

Although it does not have zero calories like pure water, coconut water is still surprisingly low in calorie content despite its delicious flavor. A typical serving slightly bigger than an eight oz cup has just 46 calories [7]. It also has just 0.5 gram of total fat, 4.8 mg of which are beneficial omega-6 fatty acids.

Additionally, this serving would have six grams of sugar. While this is certainly more sugar than plain water, it pales in comparison to the average sports drink. A certain popular brand of sports drink has 14 grams of sugar in an eight ounce serving, and some can go even higher [8]. These sports drinks also lack the naturally-derived nutrition coconut water boasts, like potassium.

3. High in potassium

Coconut water is packed with nutrition, and one of its biggest benefits is how much potassium it offers. A little over an eight ounce serving has 600 mg of potassium, or 17 percent of your daily recommended value [7]. Compare that to a banana, which has only 420 mg of potassium on average.

Potassium is a key component in muscle contractions, meaning it helps us with every movement, every breath and every heartbeat. Having too low of potassium can lead to weakness, fatigue and an irregular heartbeat [9]. Drinking coconut water can therefore help you replenish energy after a workout and help keep your heart healthy!

4. Very nutritious

In addition to potassium, coconut water boasts many other vitamins, minerals and nutritious substances. An 8.1 ounce serving contains 1.7 grams of protein, for instance, making coconut water a great alternative to sports drinks or even plain water after a workout [7]. The drink also provides 2.6 grams of dietary fiber, which helps aid in digestion and keeping your metabolism high.

Other nutrition benefits include a high concentration of magnesium. An 8.1 ounce serving has 60 mg of magnesium , or 15 percent of the daily recommended value. Although our body only needs a small amount of magnesium per day, it is a critical mineral for many biological processes. For instance, magnesium is used in synthesizing proteins, digestion and blood pressure regulation [10].

Coconut water also has a small amount of other beneficial vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C (5.8 mg, or 10% DV), folate, choline, calcium, phosphorous, selenium, zinc, copper, and many more. While coconut water may not be an excellent source of any one of these nutrients, it does have far more than sugary sports drinks, soft drinks or plain water.

5. Great after workouts

As mentioned several times above, coconut water has several main components that make it the perfect alternative to drinking sugar-laden and not-nutritious sports drinks. Notably, you absorb less calories from pure sugar and far less acids than are typically used to flavor a sports drink, avoiding ingestion.

Just as it is important to eat the right foods before a workout, it is important to drink coconut water before a workout.

Additionally, coconut water has a small amount of protein, helping to grow and strengthen muscle tissues. The aforementioned potassium content can replenish electrolytes needed to avoid feeling sore or fatigued after a workout. You can also obtain a small amount of fat and carbohydrates, which are beneficial for restoring calories more slowly than sugar after a workout.

6. Rich in antioxidants

Studies in animals have found that substances in coconut water can act as antioxidants, helping control free radicals [11]. Free radicals are types of unstable molecules that tend to mutate or damage cells as the interact with them. They are produced in higher amounts when our bodies are stressed, such as when we are sick or have been injured.

At least one study discovered that coconut milk can help prevent free radical damage in rats with injured livers, helping them make a more complete recovery and avoiding complications [12]. Antioxidants in coconut water may also help prevent free radical activity in those who have excessive sugar in their diet [13].

7. May help manage diabetes

A number of studies have identified possible benefits to managing critical health markers for those with diabetes. For example, one study found that adding coconut water to the diet of diabetic animals could help them lower their blood glucose levels [14]. Another study found that coconut water could improve insulin response and help diabetic rats manage blood sugar levels overall, in addition to improving levels of hemoglobin A1c [15].

Other, previously mentioned benefits can also have advantages for those living with diabetes. A low calorie, sugar and carb content allow coconut water to be introduced easily into a diabetic diet. As a good source of magnesium, coconut water can also help decrease blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity [16]. The antioxidants in coconut water may also help control free radicals created during periods of metabolic stress.

8. May reduce blood pressure

One of the more unexpected health benefits to coconut water is that it may help people manage their blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that one in three adults live with, and it can cause severe complications including an increased risk of stroke or a heart attack [17].

A study of individuals with hypertension found that adding coconut water to their diet could significantly improve their condition. 71 percent showed improvement to systolic blood pressure [18]. Another study, this one in animals, found that coconut water could help prevent blood clots, preventing common complications for those with hypertension.

The Sati line

In sum, there is a great reason cultures all over the world have been enjoying fresh coconut water for several millennia. Whether drank by itself or used as an ingredient in things like smoothies, It makes for an amazing, refreshing beverage with many potential health benefits. Just to recap, the health benefits of coconut water include:

  • Encourage you to stay hydrated
  • Low in fat, sugar and sodium
  • High in potassium
  • Very nutritious
  • Great after workouts as a substitute for sports drinks
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • May help manage diabetes
  • May reduce blood pressure

So if you are worried about staying hydrated, ensuring your kids get enough water for the day, maintaining nutrition or any other number of concerns, you can look to coconut water to improve your diet. Throw some in your gym bag, pack it in a sack lunch, or just keep a few in the refrigerator for a cool, refreshing treat when you get home. Enjoy!