The health benefits of coconut water: why you need it in your life

Ok, let’s see what all this fuss is about coconut water.

Feeling hopeful, I strolled down my local supermarket aisles, reusable shopping bag in hand. After a short search my eyes locked on the prize – the elixir of life, the magical draught, my 1litre carton of coconut water. Ignoring the price, I whizzed it back home, keen to get to the bottom of this new trend and give it a try.

The benefits of drinking coconut water

Found in the centre of green coconuts, around 95% of coconut water is just, well, water. But there’s 5% in there that’s hiding some serious magic.

It’s bursting with electrolytes for that quick hydration fix after your workout (or night out) with a similar composition to sports drinks – making it a must-have according to many famous athletes. And when you take into account the artificial ingredients in most sports drinks, I’d take the pure coconut water any day.

The real hype though is about its longer-term health benefits.

Health benefits of coconut water

Studies have shown there are countless health benefits of coconut water, so let’s have a quick look at the top five.

  1. It’s packed with nutrients and electrolytes. Coconut water stands apart from other drinks and juices by providing five essential electrolytes: potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and calcium, as well as being a good source of fibre and Vitamin C. If your kids (or you!) are not fans of vegetables, this could be an easy way to slip some essential nutrients into their (or your) diet.
  2. It has antioxidant properties. A recent study (Manna et al., 2014) showed that coconut water reduces oxidative stress (the state your body is in when there are too many free radicals). Free radicals are unstable molecules that bounce around in your body, possibly causing heart disease, cancer and signs of ageing. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C found in coconut water fight back by lowering the risk of this damage.
  3. It keeps your heart happy and healthy. After 45 days of a coconut water dominated diet, a study showed a reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels that gave statins a run for their money. These properties could help reduce your risk of heart disease.
  4. Improves blood pressure. High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and brain, and potassium is a known way to help lower it. In another study (Alleyne et al., 2005), 71% of participants saw their blood pressure improve in comparison to another tropical drink.
  5. Helps prevent kidney stones. Although there’s only been one study on this so far, coconut water appears to reduce kidney stone formation, and if they do still form they’re less likely to stick to the urinary tract. That said, the most important thing is to keep hydrated, which coconut water conveniently does anyway.

Is coconut water healthy?

A 250ml glass of coconut water is only 47 calories. So, depending on what your usual coffee break go-to is, this could be a great way to cut down on calories. A high street latte, for example, has a whole 200 calories hiding in that cup.
When compared to a regular fruit juice, coconut water has about half the calories and much less sugar, with the extra benefits mentioned above. That said, the sugars that remain are ‘free’ (not bound to fibre), so will be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream without making you feel full. It’s also the much lower fat alternative to its milk counterpart, which is made by blending grated coconut meat and water.

How do I pick the best coconut water?

Of course, the best coconut water comes from a fresh coconut, in zero packaging, straight from the tree. But, if you don’t live on a Pacific Island, tropical Australia or have a good local grocer who stocks the fresh option, get ready to read some labels!

The nutrients and enzymes found in coconut water can’t withstand high temperatures – so anything that has been pasteurised or is from concentrate is probably a no go. Raw coconut water needs to be kept in a fridge, so I’d be suspicious of a carton with a long shelf life if I were you.

Young coconuts have many more health benefits than mature ones, and they’re also sweeter. Therefore, any artificial flavours or added sugars are probably trying to hide the fact that the producers have used mature coconuts instead, so avoid these too.

What is coconut water good for?

The short answer is just about anything that you want to make refreshing or slightly sweet.

Although coconut water is great to drink on its own, I’ve pooled some of my favourite recipes together to spice things up.

  1. Strawberry, basil and coconut popsicles. I don’t know who had the crazy idea to chuck an Italian herb into the freezer, but trust me they knew what they were doing. If coconut water wasn’t refreshing enough already it certainly is now.
  2. Coconut water curries. Lighten up your favourite curry by swapping coconut milk for coconut water and slash the fat content and calories. Perfect for the summer months.
  3. Coconut rice. If you’re into coconuts as much as I am, why not combine your coconut curry with coconut rice? Just swap the water you’d usually boil the rice in with coconut water. Simple but mind blowing.
  4. Coconut smoothies. Blend coconut water with lemon juice, lime juice, honey, ginger, sea salt and ice. This concoction can be left in the fridge for up to two weeks, but I doubt it will last that long.
  5. Grilled coconut chicken. Nandos know what they’re doing, but you haven’t had proper grilled chicken until it’s been marinated in lime, lemon, ginger and coconut water. Maybe even pineapple if you’re feeling excitable.
  6. Coconut infused muesli. Start your day right with a new take on breakfast. Soak your muesli overnight in coconut water and let it soak in all the juicy flavour to shake off those morning blues.
  7. Iced coconut coffee. Naturally sweetened coffee with added health benefits and a summery twist.
  8. Fruit slushies. Your favourite frozen fruit, coconut water and a blender. Need I say more?

In a (coco)nut shell

Coconut water is super diverse and bursting with loads of goodies, and could have lots of long term health benefits – but make sure to get the best coconut water that’s been the least processed. Although there are other sources for your essential micronutrients, coconut water is your one stop shop.

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Claire Coates

As part of the generation that will be most affected by climate change, Claire Coates is passionate about protecting our planet and campaigning for a sustainable way of life. Known by her friends as an eco-warrior, Claire runs a clothes swap scheme at her Sixth Form to recycle and reuse unwanted outfits. In her spare time she enjoys running her own radio show and playing for her local hockey team.

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