Coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk (the milky-white liquid made from coconut meat), is the clear fluid from young, still-green coconuts. Coconut water was first marketed as a miracle drink able to fight viruses, kidney disease, and other ailments such as osteoporosis. The beverage claims to keep you better hydrated and be more beneficial than plain water. Global sales are hundreds of thousands per year and most consumers believe that the beverage has a wide variety of health benefits. It’s important for consumers to know that the drink’s marketers have sharply scaled back their claims.
The minerals found in coconut water prompted the early claims of curative power; however, the quantities of these minerals are quite modest and widely found in other foods. As an example, one banana has 422 milligrams of potassium, compared with 660 milligrams in an average container of coconut water. Coconut water’s big three minerals are potassium (19 percent of the daily recommended intake), calcium (4 percent) and magnesium (4 percent).
Vita Coco, a leading brand, once boasted that it had 15 times the electrolytes —sodium and potassium that are lost in sweat — in sports drinks. In 2011, a class-action lawsuit stated that some of the mineral contents on its packages were exaggerated. Vita Coco agreed to stop saying that it rehydrated better than sports drinks.
Coconut water’s biggest rival is plain old water. How do they compare? There is little research looking at the impact coconut water has on rehydration. And while scientific research findings vary, water looks just fine for most people. A study from 2012 (funded by Vita Coco) in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that neither coconut water nor sports drinks were better than water in hydrating young men after an hour long exercise bout.
In terms of hydration, plain water, coconut water, and sports drinks, when consumed in adequate quantities, are all comparable. For enhancing water absorption, there is little physiological basis for consuming drinks with added sodium if your diet contains adequate sodium. To stay truly hydrated, you need to drink a larger volume of coconut water compared to regular water.
For the majority of us who are trying to lose or maintain our weight and work out for 60 minutes or less under normal conditions (i.e., not in extreme heat and humidity), water remains the smartest, and most affordable, hydration choice. For those exercising vigorously for more than one hour or in extremely hot conditions, sipping on coconut water or a sports drink may promote fluid retention during exercise.