Coconut: Health Fad or Heart Glad?

Find out which products deserve a place in your pantry
coconut products

Are your friends swapping coconut oil for creamer in their morning coffee? Or guzzling post-workout coconut water concoctions? Coconut products are touted as metabolism, electrolyte and general health boosters. Is this coconut craze really heart healthy, or just hype? Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation, weighs in on when to go coconut:

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Sports drinks vs. coconut water

Many avid exercisers have tried coconut water, the liquid from the center of a coconut touted as a “natural sports drink,” for workout recovery.

Coconut water has a similar nutrient composition as traditional sports drinks, but contains fewer carbohydrates and less sodium, which are the key nutrients depleted when exercising longer than an hour. Sodium is the main electrolyte that is lost through sweat and carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the body during extended exercise and replenish energy levels post-workout.

Coconut water contains potassium and has small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which sports drink lack. While beneficial to the body, these additional nutrients do not directly benefit sports recovery.

Coconut water contains an all-natural form of sugar and is free of dyes, which many sports drinks contain. Conversely, sports drinks have been researched extensively, and their unique blend of sugar is formulated to ensure optimal absorption and energy gain during exercise.

How to hydrate

The intention of a sports drink, whether “natural” or traditional, is to provide energy and replace electrolytes (primarily sodium, as well as potassium) lost through sweat during prolonged exercise.

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Exercising<60 minutes: Plain water is sufficient to rehydrate.

Exercising 1 hour or more: A traditional sports drink, is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who advise consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise.

High intensity exercise in high heat: When sweating more than typical in a high-heat workout environment, a traditional sports drink is best.

If you are a physically active water drinker looking for an all-natural, flavor-packed alternative, then coconut water is worth a try. Be aware of the extra calories and be sure to choose the unsweetened version. During or after a long workout, reach for a traditional sports drink to ensure proper hydration and maximum performance and recovery.

Busting coconut oil myths

Like coconut water, coconut oil burst on the scene along with many health claims. While there is some merit to heart healthy benefits, there are also special considerations and moderation to keep in mind.

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Myth or fact: Coconut oil will help you lose weight.

Myth: Coconut oil contains a form of medium-chain fatty acids that the body burns faster than their long chain counterparts, which are found in meat and dairy products and are more likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oil is still relatively high in calories, and excess intake of calories in any form can be stored as fat.

Myth or fact: Coconut oil has more positive impact on cholesterol levels than other oils.

Myth: Saturated fat from animal and plant-based sources, including coconut oil, can raise the bad LDL cholesterol, but coconut oil also can raise the good cholesterol-HDL. To lower bad
cholesterol, saturated fat intake should be limited to no more than 6 percent of calories. For perspective:

  • 6 percent of a 2,000 calorie diet = 13 grams saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil = 12 grams saturated fat

Use coconut oil sparingly, as it is easy to consume greater than the recommended amount of saturated fat. While coconut oil is a viable option in a heart healthy diet, it is not worthy of “super food” status.

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