Is coconut water a miracle drink?

BRONWYN WILLIAMS
Last updated 13:17 02/07/2012
Alessandra Ambrosio
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GIVES HER WINGS: Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio sips on coconut water at last year's Coachella festival.

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Rihanna, Ed Westwick, Karolina Kurkova, and Anna Paquin are all drinking it, it's the latest and greatest new health craze, and in some New York convenience stores it's even outselling milk. So why the hype about coconut water, and what is it?

Coconut water is not the milk from the coconut meat, but rather the water that is held inside a green coconut.

It is being touted as nature's miracle product, with claims being made that it hydrates the body, burns fat, speeds up the metabolism, lowers blood pressure, slows down the ageing process and have more potassium than a banana. 

Coconut water's electrolyte makeup is said to be similar to our own, so it is readily absorbed into our body in order to hydrate efficiently.

Celebrities and hangers-on are guzzling it by the litre, and nutritionists are agreeing it's a healthier option than many other drinks.

"When compared to other bottled drinks, coconut water has similar or fewer carbohydrates and calories in an 8-ounce (230ml) serving.

"However, coconut water has more potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium than most juices," Mayo Clinic nutritionists Dr Jennifer Nelson and Dr Katherine Zeratsky reported in a recent article on their site.

And it's not just good from a nutritional point of view; coconut water has reportedly saved lives.

It's the second purest liquid after water, is naturally sterile, and is the only known natural liquid on earth that can be substituted for blood in human blood transfusions.

Interestingly, though it may have taken till 2012 to cotton on, coconut water's benefits were known and utilised more than 30 years ago by New Zealand doctors working in the Pacific.

A group of doctors were using coconut water to treat severe dehydration caused by cholera in the Pacific, and had the water analysed back in New Zealand.

They found that it was high in glucose and potassium, and with the addition of a small amount of table salt for extra sodium was perfect for recuperating patients. Their findings were published in the NZ Medical Journal way back in 1979.

Seems like a miracle drink, no? Sort of. Sarah Hanrahan, dietician at the NZ Nutrition Foundation warns that there is no such thing as a "miracle" food or drink.

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"The most effective way to get healthy and lower blood pressure is related to a change in lifestyle. It's nice to think that there's a magic bullet, but it won't happen.

"The idea that one single drink that can do all these things is not sound, particularly that many people's daily diet can be so off track."

Consumers need to be aware that while coconut water may speed your metabolism up very slightly long term, coconut water does contain calories - between 45-60 per 250ml drink. If you're on a reduced-calorie diet then you'll need to take this into account if drinking a lot of it.

And that's just for the pure coconut water; not all coconut water is created equal. Many types have the addition of fruit juices and sweeteners for added flavor, which often means more hidden calories.

What's strange, though, is our sudden obsessive need for potassium. Hanrahan can't understand it.

"Nobody ever talks about the great potassium deficiency in New Zealanders," she laughs. "Most of us get more than enough potassium in our diet, we don't need any more."

If it's the potassium you're after, Hanrahan suggests eating fruit and veges.

"Coconut water is a nice fluid that's high in potassium, but there are many fruits and veges that are high in potassium."

And as for hydration? Hanrahan suggests saving your money.

"Coconut water may be a nice tasting fluid, but water is just as good, and it's free," she says. 

A lot of us are drinking coconut water to hydrate our way through the 3pm slump, and many personal trainers are also recommending their clients replace their sports drinks with coconut water. But does it replace a sports drink?

"The answer is probably no, at least for vigorous exercise," say Nelson and Zeratsky.

"When you're working hard and really sweating for longer than an hour ... coconut water falls short in terms of carbohydrates and protein, according to sports nutrition standards.

"Both are essential to recovery and replenishing your muscles."

Have you tried coconut water?

- Stuff

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