Coconut water is becoming increasingly more popular these days, with new flavour creations popping on the supermarket shelves each week. Does coconut water really have more potassium than a banana, is it superior to regular sports drinks or is it more hype than health?
Coconut water is the clear or slightly milky juice found inside fresh green coconuts. Not to be mistaken with coconut milk which comes as the coconut matures and dries out. While the fresh variety is available if you search deep for it, most of the coconut water available today has been processed and sterilised inside bottles or cans for convenience. No coconut cracking is required! Often seen in the hands of celebrities who say that it’s helped them to lose weight or detox, coconut water is trendy with all things coconut being marketed as the latest ‘superfood’.
Coconut water is quite low in calories at around 20 calories per 100ml, so a typical sized portion of 330ml would provide approximately 66kcal. Naturally this depends on the actual ingredients and whether they have added sugar or juice. Some brands contain around 100kcal per 100ml due added sugar, so it’s important to always check the label and buy “no added sugar” branded products. On the topic of sugar, coconut water contains about 4-6% sugar which is less than fruit juice and sweetened fizzy drinks. However it’s worth noting that this drink is generally more palatable when combined with juice (which increases both the energy and sugar content). The nutrition composition of commercial coconut water does however differ from that inside the fresh green coconuts. From an energy perspective, coconut water could be a better choice than juice or sweetened soft-drinks. It also provides trace amounts of various vitamins and minerals. Every 100ml provides about 20mg of Vitamin C which will help get you a 5th of the way towards your daily recommended intake.
Does coconut water really contain more potassium than a banana? Potassium is a mineral that, among other things, helps your muscles contract, helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells and helps maintain normal blood pressure by blunting the effect of sodium. Potassium may also reduce your risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly bone loss as we get older. Potassium is found in unprocessed meats and milk but the main sources are fruit and vegetables. Athletes involved in exercise greater than one hour in duration may require larger quantities of potassium rich foods. The potassium content of coconut water ranges from approximately 190mg to 250mg per 100ml depending on the brand and additional ingredients. The portion size is where coconut water has the potential to provide more potassium. Take your average large banana (136g) containing 487mg potassium. If you drank an entire 330ml can of coconut water, you could consume up to 825mg potassium – but this is expensive potassium as it will often cost significantly more than the price of a regular banana.
As natural sports drink, some small trials have found that coconut water was as effective as isotonic sports drinks for rehydrating, particularly when enriched with sodium (sodium is naturally quite low in coconut water). Less stomach upset and nausea has been reported with coconut water in some studies but other research journals found increased tummy troubles. Best not to try it for the first time on the day of a competition in case it doesn’t agree with you! Sports scientists have concluded that potassium, sodium and carbohydrate are all important for rehydration. So if you are using it as a sports drink, go for varieties that have added sodium. However, realistically, unless you are an elite athlete or are hitting the gym and training for more than a 90 minute session, water is adequate.
Personally I find it needs a dash of juice for palatability. However, if you like the taste and are looking for something relatively low in energy to sip on other than water then it is an option. Avoid coconut water if you have kidney disease due to the high potassium content.