Several years ago, when I was racing my bike in the hot, humid St. Louis summers, I was looking for an effective electrolyte replacement drink. Those temps in the high nineties combined with super high humidity would certainly make you lose lots of fluids and electrolytes.
Being a health fanatic, there was no way I was going to resort to drinking those corn syrup sweetened, artificially colored and flavored “Sports drinks”. No way!
What I did discover was coconut water. Totally natural and full of thirst-quenching electrolytes. The perfect drink.
Coconut water—not to be confused with high fat coconut milk—is 95% water. Coconut water comes from the liquid from the young, green coconuts.
Even though coconut water only recently exploded in popularity here in the US, it’s been consumed for years in the tropical areas where it grows, around the world. In traditional natural medicine, coconut is believed to help treat dehydration, digestion, and other health matters.
1. Natural Electrolyte Replacement Drink
Coconut water contains a lot of potassium, some magnesium, and a small amount of sodium. And it’s low in calories and sugar. Compared to typical sports drinks, coconut water has fewer calories, no added sugars, less sodium, and higher amounts of potassium.
Coconut water contains more the 10 times the potassium as most sports drinks. Potassium is a vital mineral that helps maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body and help the heart pump blood. When you sweat, one of the electrolytes lost in your sweat is potassium, so it’s important to replace this as soon as possible.
Potassium also helps to balance our sodium levels and while we lose sodium in our sweat as well, consuming potassium helps to balance out these levels, and even help to lower blood pressure. Potassium helps to prevent muscle cramps during and after a hard workout.
Coconut water also contains small amounts of magnesium which helps to aid the muscles, helps with energy production, and prevent muscle cramping and spasms. While coconut water contains more calcium and magnesium than most other sports drinks, it does not contain large quantities. Coconut water contains less than 5 percent of your recommended amount of both calcium and magnesium.
If you are a serious athlete, coconut water may be a little too low in sodium, especially if you are exercising over an hour in the heat. But for light recreation and a refreshing drink coconut water may be just what you need to rehydrate.
2. Improves Heart Health and Blood Pressure
Drinking coconut water may help reduce heart disease risk and cholesterol. In a study from 2008, researchers fed test subjects a diet rich in fat and cholesterol. One group also was fed high doses of coconut water. After 45 days, the coconut water group had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, similar to the effects of taking a statin drug.
Another study shows that coconut water is beneficial to lower blood pressure, most likely due to the blood-pressure lowering effects of the potassium in the coconut water.
Potassium, one of the electrolytes in coconut water, can help lower blood pressure, according to American Heart Association. The AHA states that potassium-rich foods help lower blood pressure because the electrolyte reduces the impact of sodium, which can raise blood pressure.
Another study on coconut water and blood pressure, published in the West Indian Medical Journal, found that 71 percent of those who drank coconut water for two weeks experienced a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure (top number), as compared to those who only drank bottled water. Additionally, 29 percent had a significant decrease in their mean diastolic blood pressure (lower number).
3. Kidney Stone Prevention
One of the best ways to help prevent kidney stones is to drink plenty of fluids—especially plain water. However, two small studies show that drinking coconut water may be the best fluid to help prevent kidney stones.
Kidney stones can be created in the body by a variety of substances and there are four types: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. Some people are more susceptible to kidney stone formation than others.
In a 2013 study in rats with kidney stones, coconut water prevented the crystals from adhering to the kidneys and the resto of the urinary tract. It also reduced the number of crystals formed in the urine.
Another small study from 2018 found that coconut water flushes the kidneys, which also helped the body clear potassium, chloride, and citrate in individuals, thus helping prevent kidney stone formation.
4. Helps Manage Diabetes
Coconut water, which is very low in natural sugars, can also help to lower blood sugar levels and lower other biomarkers of diabetes including HbA1c.
In this study from 2015, diabetic subjects treated with coconut water maintained better blood sugar levels than the control group. The same study also found that coconut water lowered levels of hemoglobin A1c, the long-germ marker for blood sugar). Another study from 2021 also found similar results lowering blood sugar.
Another added benefit of coconut water for diabetics is that it’s a decent source of magnesium which helps to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar.
Do keep in mind however, coconut water does contain some carbohydrates and calories, so beware about drinking too much of it.
One interesting natural ingredient of coconut water is L-arginine (a precursor to nitric oxide) known for its antidiabetic and antithrombotic effects.
5. Full of Antioxidants
Coconut water also has a good share of antioxidants that help to fight free radicals which cause damage to our DNA. Free radicals can come from environmental toxins in the air or water, chemicals in processed foods or even from hard exercise.
When your body has an overload of free radicals, you can be at a higher risk for other chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s and more.
In one 2012 study, insulin-resistant rats consuming a high fructose diet were treated with coconut water. Free radical activity decreased, as did blood pressure, triglycerides and insulin levels
While these studies are interesting, it’s important to note these studies used animals as test subjects, so results on humans need further studies.
6. Reduces Stress and Tension
Some of the electrolytes in coconut water, especially the triad, potassium, calcium and magnesium, can help reduce stress and muscle tension.
So many people are often short of these critical minerals in their diets. Calcium, magnesium and potassium actually work together to maintain bone health, muscle health, and our heart.
While magnesium gets called the “relaxation” mineral, it has over 300 functions in the body. One of its primary functions is in the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that helps us relax. It also helps with better sleep, and contributes to the creation of serotonin, our “happy hormone.”
7. 100% Natural, Low in Sugar, Low in Calories
Natural coconut water is low in sugar and low in calories, making it a great drink, especially for replacing electrolytes and quenching your thirst. And it’s 100% natural with no added chemicals, coloring, etc.
Coconut water—with no additional sugar added, is only about 10gms of sugar, and 60 calories per serving. Beware though, many coconut waters come in a tall can that contains 2 servings, making that a 120 calorie drink. While that is still less than many sports drinks or sodas, those calories can add up quickly.
Funny story of my own—when coconut water hit the store shelves, I was a big fan. Riding my bike in the sweltering summers of St. Louis, Missouri, I needed a good electrolyte replacement and coconut water fit the bill. Before I knew it, I was drinking about 3 of those big cans a day. I was hydrated! I also noticed after about a month of chugging the coconut water, my clothes were a bit tight. I had gained weight. Thinking through my recent diet, I thought, “I haven’t been eating any more than usual, so why would I be gaining weight?” Then it dawned on me and I grabbed a can of coconut water to check out the calories I was guzzling a day. About 360 extra calories or so…so yes, too much coconut water can be fattening. Go easy on this stuff.
Best Coconut Juices to Buy
The very best kind of coconut water or coconut juice to consume is fresh from a young, green coconut. And you’ll know exactly what’s in it. Nothing but pure coconut water. However, fresh coconuts may be harder to find and purchase and may have to be shipped for miles and miles if you don’t live in a tropical area.
The next best choice would be cold-pressed coconut water which is not super processed. Other coconut waters are usually pasteurized, which kills off many of the beneficial enzymes, vitamins, minerals and nutrients. When coconut water does not need to be refrigerated, you can bet it’s probably pasteurized to prevent it from spoiling.
Many companies add sugar, fruit juices or other ‘flavorings’ to the coconut water, but this only adds sugar and calories and should be avoided. The primary ingredient in coconut water should be 100% coconut water or coconut juice, which is the same thing.
Coconut water is delicious in smoothies, diluted with water or sparkling water or with a squeeze of lemon or lime added to it.