Coconut water is a delicious and healthy beverage, and it is good for you. If you drink it after going to yoga class or before a jog, you will be hydrated and receive nutritional benefits.
Many people do not like coconut water. Those people have simply not yet acquired a taste for the subtle, loamy, vaguely seminal potation of the gods.
It is true that some companies selling coconut water have vastly overstated the benefits of the drink. It will not make you younger. It will not fight kidney disease or osteoporosis. It is not an ideal choice of fluid for people doing extremely strenuous exercise. The New York Times debunked some of those claims this summer, as they should have.
It was a stupid move for these coconut water peddlers to market lies, but don't throw the delicious, healthy beverage out with the exaggerated claim bathwater.
Coconut water is not a miracle drink, but it has good stuff like potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride, aka electrolytes. When you drink it, your body will absorb those nutrients. Hell yeah.
Yes, you could opt instead to eat a banana to get potassium and magnesium. That does not mean coconut water is BAD. It means it is as good as a banana! (If not better: a cup of coconut water contains 600 milligrams of potassium, while a medium banana has 362 milligrams.)
If you are thirsty, eating a banana will not make you feel less parched. If you want to kill two thirsty, potassium-deficient birds with one glorious natural beverage, coconut water is where it's at.
Coconut water is more expensive than bananas, but the coconut water industry, while not perfect, also has far less blood on its hands than the banana industry, so buying Fair Trade-certified coconut water like Naked or Coco Libre is arguably more ethical than buying a bunch of Chiquita bananas and chugging some regular water.
Ethics aside, nobody's saying bananas suck as a fruit and nobody should say coconut water sucks as a beverage. Just because it's not a cure-all elixir doesn't mean it's not good for you, or that you shouldn't buy it.
I asked Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, what she thought about coconut water. Unsurprisingly, the nutritionist does not think it is trash juice.
"Coconut water can be a healthy and good beverage choice," she told me. "It can provide a natural way to stay hydrated and fill nutritional gaps. It can provide potassium a key nutrient that is often lacking in Americans diets due to an inadequate intake of fruits, vegetables and dairy."
"It has five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. Whenever you get cramps in your muscles, potassium will help you to get rid of the cramps," Dr. Chhandashri Bhattacharya said, presenting a paper on coconut water's benefits to the American Chemical Society. "It's a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout."
Bhattacharya made sure to point out that vigorous exercisers would be better off choosing a sports drink with higher sodium than coconut water to replace the amount they sweated out. If you're doing a very intense, sweaty workout, you will replace your sodium more efficiently with a sports drink than with coconut water. Sheth also stated the same thing, that coconut water is not an ideal choice for intensive athletics, as it's too low calorie and low sodium to effectively replace the carbs and salt your body uses up during major workouts.
Still: "Bottom line, coconut water can be a good choice if you enjoy the taste, and can afford it. It offers hydration in the form of a healthy, low calorie, high potassium beverage," Sheth told me.
Coconut water is a smart choice of drink for people doing light or moderate workouts, or just going about their daily lives looking for something healthy to put in their mouth holes.
So if you're an ultramarathon man looking for a super drink, coconut water is not for race days. But if you're just a normal person who maybe doesn't always make the best food choices and you want to drink something healthy, tipple away at that earthy island nectar. Go cuckoo for coconuts.
Art by Jim Cooke