September 9, 2021/Nutrition

The Health Benefits of Coconut Water

Here’s why this drink is a nutritious option

Glass of milky coconut water next to half of an open coconut

The next time you’ve got to quench your thirst, consider reaching for coconut water. The trendy beverage is full of natural vitamins and minerals that aid in hydration and is frequently found in smoothies and other recipes such as salad dressings.

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But while some people swear by the benefits of drinking coconut water, is that really the best option when you’re thirsty?

Dietitian Maxine Smith, RDN, LD, explains what you need to know about coconut water and how to know if it’s a good option for you.

What is coconut water?

Coconut water, which is the clear fluid found inside coconuts, differs from coconut milk, which combines coconut water with grated coconut. Coconut water has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor, and is low in sugar and calories.

However, it also boasts electrolytes such as potassium, sodium and magnesium, all of which help to replenish lost nutrients. What that means is it’s something good to drink after exercise or during a mild illness — although, it may not be any better than water.

There’s also evidence in recent studies, though not conclusive, that when applied directly to your skin, coconut water can help fight acne.

What are the benefits of drinking coconut water?

Drinking coconut water can be a part of a healthy diet as it helps you stay hydrated while being low in calories and being free of fats and cholesterol. Before you crack open a bottle of coconut water, make sure you are aware of how it might affect those with high blood pressure and other conditions.

Aids in hydration

While comparable to sports drinks, which can be loaded with added sugars and flavorings, coconut water is low in calories and carbs. Those electrolytes of potassium, sodium and magnesium play a major role in coconut water’s appeal. “Because of the electrolytes some studies indicate that it can help with hydration specifically related to exercise,” says Smith.

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But Smith cautions that those studies use coconut water that is enriched with sodium, which may not be a great choice for most people and should be reserved for those who work out for an hour or more. “It can be helpful doing long exercise sessions,” says Smith. “However, the electrolytes vary in coconut water. A sports drink is a more reliable bet for these situations.”

A rule of thumb is for every pound of weight lost during exercise, you need to replenish your body with about 20 ounces of fluid, whether that’s coconut water, a sports drink or water. “Water is still the best way to hydrate,” says Smith.

High in potassium

Most people don’t get enough potassium in their diet. The mineral helps remove extra sodium from your body through your urine. Coconut water can even help lower blood pressure.

Preliminary research indicates that coconut water may lower blood pressure in those with high blood pressure. However, if you are on blood pressure medication, it may be best to avoid coconut water as it could lower it too much. It’s best to discuss this with your doctor.

It’s also recommended that you shouldn’t drink coconut water two weeks before any surgery as it can affect your blood pressure due to its high levels of potassium.

Low in calories

Other fruit juices can be high in added sugar, calories and carbs. Coconut water, on the other hand, is lower in calories, making it a good option for those who like sweet beverages.

“It has about 40- to 60- calories in 8 ounces — about 1/2 that of orange juice,” says Smith. “If you enjoy the taste, it can be part of a healthy diet.”

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Free of fat and cholesterol

Coconut water is 94% water and is fat-free and cholesterol-free. “For recreational drinking, you want to get one that is unsweetened and one that doesn’t have added sodium,” says Smith.

She also suggests checking the expiration date as the older coconut water gets, the more it loses its nutrients and may get an odd taste.

Kidney stone prevention

In the U.S. 11% of men and 6% of women have kidney stones at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Staying hydrated is key to preventing them. Smith says drinking coconut water, as part of a balanced diet, can offer some relief and help flush your system. A 2018 study showed that coconut water increased the removal of potassium, chloride and citrate in urine.

“There are many different types of stones,” says Smith. “But if your physician recommends you get more potassium into your diet, coconut water could be beneficial.”

Healthier skin

Coconut water may also aid in the fight against acne due to its antimicrobial properties, suggests a preliminary 2017 study. Research also shows that consuming coconut water may help your antioxidant system by neutralizing the effects of free radicals.

Tips for drinking coconut water

While there are many options when you’re looking for coconut water in grocery stores, here are a few things to note before trying it out.

  • Read the label. Go for options that are 100% coconut water and contain no added sugars or preservatives.
  • Drink after exercise to boost hydration.
  • Enjoy any time of day. Coconut water can be enjoyed on an empty stomach or with a meal.
  • Mix it with other drinks. If you don’t like the taste of coconut water, try adding it to sparkling water or use it in smoothies.
  • Use caution if you have chronic kidney disease or take ACE inhibitors as those individuals need to limit their potassium.
  • Avoid if you are pregnant. Smith says there is just not enough research on how coconut water affects pregnant individuals. To be on the safe side, it is best to avoid.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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