In 2010, coconut water suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon. The likes of Courtney Cox and Jessica Simpson were being snapped by paparazzi mid-coconut-water-sip. Was it just a fashion trend or were they drinking it because they discovered that the answer to the question: "is coconut water good for you?" is a resounding "Yes!"? So do health benefits of coconut water exist? Is coconut water good for you?
Turns out the trend of drinking coconut water is based on the fact that yes, coconut water does have health benefits that may make it healthy to drink. Some might say even healthier to drink than water.
What are the health benefits of coconut water? It all boils down to it’s nutritional composition.
Comparing Health Benefits of Ordinary Water and Coconut Water
Looking at the USDA nutritional analysis of the drink we find the following:
- Protein content is higher in coconut water: Water contains 0% protein whereas coconut water contains 0.72g per 100g. Although this is a relatively small amount of protein (we need about 1g protein per every kg of our body weight), it still adds to our daily requirements. The protein in the drink also helps delay the absorption of the sugar in the drink so that although it contains sugar (2.6g per 100g), this doesn’t give a big sugar hit all at once. The fat content in the drink (a total of 0.2g fat per 100g) also helps slow down the sugar release.
- MCFAs are higher in coconut water: MCFAs stands for medium-chain fatty acids. Coconut water contains small amounts of several of these (8:0, 10:0, 12:0). Although these MCFAs are saturated fats, researched Bruce Fife says that not all saturated fats are made equal, and these are the “good guys” in the saturated fat family. “The health benefits of MCFAs in coconuts are many.” says Fife. “Each of the individual MCFAs exert somewhat different yet complementary effects on the body and all are important.” One of these functions for example, is antimicrobial function. In fact MCFAs are thought to be so beneficial that manufacturers have developed oils composed entirely of them, called MCT oils.
- Fibre is contained within coconut water: Water has zero fibre whereas coconut water can contain 1.1g dietary fibre per 100g. We need about 18g of fibre or more a day, so this certainly helps contribute towards our daily requirements.
- Calcium levels are higher in coconut water: Whilst some brands of water contain calcium, comparing one brand of mineral water (Evian) on USDA with coconut water revealed that coconut water was far higher in calcium, with 24mg per 100g vs Evian’s 8mg per 100g. We need about 1000mg calcium a day, so coconut’s water 24mg isn’t a lot, but it does make a step in the right direction.
- Iron levels in coconut water are higher than in water: Water often doesn’t contain any iron at all, whereas coconut water contains about 0.29mg per 100g. The daily requirement is 8.7mg in men and 14.8mg in women, which shows you that coconut water contains a pretty small amount of iron. Still, it’s better than nothing.
- Magnesium levels in coconut water are higher than in water: Water often does contain some magnesium. Evian for example contains 2mg per 100g according to USDA. Coconut water by contrast contains 25mg per 100g. Magnesium is a really useful mineral for many reasons and has a vast array of health benefits. We need at least 300mg a day (COMA RNI for men), so again, 25mg in coconut water isn’t a large amount, but it helps.
- Potassium levels in coconut water: Per every 100g of coconut water you get 105mg potassium. If you compare this with mineral water, values vary, but Evian, according to USDA contained zero potassium. This may sound like a lot of potassium in the coconut water but when you know that we actually need 3500mg a day (UK COMA RNI), it’s actually not a massive amount. For comparison’s sake, bananas contain 358mg potassium per 100g (USDA). Still 105mg in coconut water is better than potentially zero in some mineral waters.
- Traces of other minerals in coconut water including zinc and copper are also useful, albeit in small amounts.
- Fresh coconut water may contain bioactive enzymes which are good for our health.
Coconut water’s mineral composition attributes most of its health benefits, helping it hydrate your body better after exercise than water (because the electrolyte minerals function as they would in a sports drink to help take the water across your cells).
The bottom line
When I researched coconut water’s nutritional value I was slightly disappointed about the relatively low levels of nutrients it contains, which, if in a hypothetical situation this was your sole source of nutrition, would certainly not sustain you. But in the context of being part of a healthy diet, it strikes me that coconut water would make a great drink option. It would definitely help contribute towards the health benefits all its individual nutritional components will accumulate to have on our bodies.
Having said this, coconut water should not replace ordinary water completely because it does contain over 1 teaspoon of sugar per every cup. I mentioned above that this is balanced with proteins and fats to give a slow sugar release, however in spite of this, it would still give quite a high slow-release sugar intake if you’re drinking several glasses a day. For this reason, my opinion is that around 1 glass of coconut water a day would probably be a good compromise on gaining the minerals whilst not overloading on sugar. In any case, whether you were drinking 8 glasses of coconut water a day or just 1 glass a day, you’d still need to supplement coconut water intake with nutrients from other sources in order to fulfil your daily requirements.