Once requiring a trek to the health food store to find, coconut water has now gone global, and you'll find it stocked on grocery store shelves, sold in gyms and yoga studios, passed along to runners during races, all in nifty box containers or cans and touted as nature's perfect sports drink. But is it just a clever marketing scheme or does it really work miracles?
A taste for coconut water originated in the tropics, places like Brazil and India, where palm trees thrive and locals have been drinking the fresh clear water from young coconuts for ages, dubbing it "miracle water."
Scientists say the benefit is all about potassium (it contains more than a banana) and its naturally occurring electrolytes, along with the added benefits of having no fat or cholesterol and not many calories.
Coconut water, primarily from brands Vita Coco and Zico, has been hot in the US for years, with Rihanna as the face of Vita Coco and splashed on billboards all over the country. The Independent in the U.K. reports coconut water is the fastest growing category in non-alcoholic beverages in the U.K.. Vita Coco is already in more than 10,000 outlets in the U.K., and in around 16,000 across Europe, adds The Independent.
Meanwhile, the search for all those fresh, young coconuts is on. O.N.E. coconut water brand ran out of Brazilian coconuts in 2011 and has had to turn to the Philippines and Indonesia for supplies, while other brands are reaching out to Thailand, according to The Independent.
But do people really need all that coconut water? While some experts say it does a better job at keeping you hydrated than plain water, most people aren’t working out long enough or hard enough to seriously need it, nutritionist Monica Reinagel told National Public Radio in the US. "They really don't need an electrolyte replacement drink," she says, "all they need to rehydrate is water."
For hardcore fitness enthusiasts, she adds that the mineral they need most is sodium. Coconut water doesn’t have much of that.
Men's Fitness magazine spells it out: "If your taste buds just can’t take another sip of tap water, choose coconut water. If you’re heading to the gym for a light training session or going for a leisurely bike ride, grab coconut water. If you’ve just wrapped up an intense workout or logged more than an hour of exercise, a traditional sports drink will help replace the sodium you lose through sweat."
Earlier on HuffPost:
Low In Calories
Coconut milk is high in calories because of its fat content, but coconut water is a low-cal drink: <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3115/2" target="_hplink">a cup has just 45 calories</a>.
Coconut water is also virtually fat free, with just 0.5 grams per cup. It also provides a small dose of healthy omega fatty acids, with 4.8 milligrams of omega-6 fats.
A study published in the journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012 found that coconut water was <a href="http://eatthis.menshealth.com/node/186950" target="_hplink">equally effective at rehydrating</a> after a tough workout when compared to a sports drink.
Loaded With Potassium
There are 600 milligrams of potassium in a serving of coconut water, which is 17 percent of the recommended daily amout and more than what's found in a medium-sized banana.
With an estimated <a href="http://www.rawreform.com/content/view/408/127/" target="_hplink">glycemic load of just three</a>, coconut water is a good alternative to drinks that have added sugar and could cause a spike in your blood sugar when you drink them.
<a href="http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/information/question565.htm" target="_hplink">Electrolytes are used by your cells to carry electrical impulses</a> across themselves and to other cells. When you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes — specifically sodium and potassium — in your sweat, and they need to be replenished. Coconut water can help with this, as it contains both those electrolytes, as well as others like calcium and magnesium.
You will find some sodium in coconut water — about 250 milligrams per cup — and that's part of what makes it hydrating as it replaces sodium lost through sweat. But the sodium count is lower than what's found in many sports drinks, which is good news for those who are watching their intake.
Fresh or raw coconut water — and you can tap green coconuts and drink the water right from them— contains naturally occurring enzymes. It's believed that these <a href="http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-coconut-water" target="_hplink">enzymes could have antioxidant properties</a>, but there's no reliable research on this potential benefit yet.
A Source Of Other Nutrients
Along with potassium, a cup of <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3115/2" target="_hplink">coconut water has 15 per cent of the daily value for magnesium</a>, 17 per cent for manganese, and 10 per cent for vitamin C.
Watch For Added Sugars And Flavours
If you buy flavoured coconut water, be aware that you might also be getting extra calories. Avoid those with added sugars, which should be kept to a minimum in your diet.
You May Need More Sodium If You're An Intense Athlete
Low sodium might not be the right choice if you're an intense athlete, because you'll be losing more sodium through sweat than the average person. If that describes you, you might want to stick with a conventional sports drink.
Avoid If You're On A Diet With Restricted Potassium
As with other high-potassium foods, avoid coconut water if you have to restrict potassium for health reasons.