Coconut water vs regular water: which is healthier?

Is coconut water healthy? Find out the health benefits of and uses for coconut water

Coconut water should not be confused with coconut milk, which is obtained by blending the flesh of a coconut with water to form milk. Therefore, it’s high in fat, most of which is saturated, just like the coconut flesh it’s made from and contains lots of vitamins and minerals. 

In contrast, coconut water is very low in calories and contains almost no fat. That’s because it’s a completely different part of the fruit. Coconut water is the liquid that sits inside young coconuts. Most of its energy comes from the simple sugars it naturally contains. In tropical regions, and some trendy grocers and cafes, you can buy whole coconuts to drink with just a straw sticking out of them. 

Coconut water has reached superfood status alongside its insta-famous counterparts such as kale, acai berries, spirulina and matcha powder. Amid colourful cartons and cans laced with palm trees and flowers, it’s easy to understand why many people think coconut water is a healthy choice for hydration. It has been heavily marketed as one. 

But is coconut water healthy? Or have we fallen for another expensive superfood campaign? Read on to find out the research-backed answer. 

Coconut water health benefits

In comparison to drinks like soda and soft drink, coconut water is clearly a much better choice. Providing you choose a brand that doesn’t have added sugar, the sugar content will be much lower than soda. It also won’t have the copious amounts of additives that are often put into manufactured beverages.  

Potassium

Coconut water is best known for its potassium content. Many brands use the line “more potassium than a banana” to boast this. And this is true. Coconut water does feature more potassium than most other beverage choices. Although, a banana does offer some fibre and other nutrients to go along with its potassium and simple sugar content. But Coconut water does not. 

That said, potassium is an important nutrient that many people are deficient in. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends women get at least 2800mg of potassium per day, while men should aim for 3800mg. This mineral is important in keeping the cardiovascular and nervous system healthy. Therefore, coconut water can be a good way to help you reach the daily recommendation. A 250mL (8 flz oz) serving of coconut water has about 600mg of potassium. But avocado, spinach and sweet potato contain more. And these foods are usually cheaper, contain fibre and have a smaller percentage of simple sugars.

Hydration

Just like many brands claim, coconut water is a hydrating beverage. Although, research has failed to show that it can do this important task better than plain water can. Don’t fall for the claims of extra hydration that many brands promise. You can achieve this elusive result from drinking regular water – and much it’s much cheaper. 

If your 2L a day were comprised of coconut water, you’d be drinking around 80g of sugar. Although most people wouldn’t be silly enough to drink this much daily, it goes to show that water is always best. If you love the taste of coconut water, try to keep your fix to around one cup per day (250mL/8fl oz). 

Watch out for these label tricks!

Obviously, the healthiest (and tastiest) way to enjoy coconut water is straight from a fresh coconut. But if you don’t reside in the tropics, this might not be a viable option. Instead, brands package this delicious drink in cartons, cans and concentrate powders so we can enjoy it all around the globe. 

However, like with most packaged foods, these are a few things to watch out for. These can include:

  • Added sugar: these is probably the worst offender. Use the food label cheat sheet below (which lists the 60+ names sugar can appear on labels as) to determine whether sugar has been added to a coconut water product. 
  • Flavours: some variations of coconut water are combined with fruit juice and other flavours. But some brands use artificial, sugar-filled flavours to achieve these tropical products. The label will help you figure this out. 
  • Additives: some brands sneak preservatives and other additives in. A quick scan of the label will show this. 

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Coconut water health claims: are they true?

Some marketers of coconut water claim this beverage has lots of unique health benefits. It’s like these nutritional silver linings are supposed to make up for the steep price. Some of the popular coconut water health claims you may have come across come across could include:

“Filled with vitamins and minerals”

From the amount of potassium listed above, I wouldn’t exactly say coconut water is packed with nutrients. But the amount is definitely more than most packaged beverages. Fruits and vegetables are a better way to get these. 

“Promotes weight loss”

There’s zero research that shows adding coconut water to your routine without changing anything else will cause you to lose weight. 

“Hydrating”

This one is totally true. But water is also pretty darn hydrating. 

“Hangover cure”

If only. The hydration might help you recover a little bit – the same way water would. It might even help to replenish some mineral stores. But it’s definitely not a cure. 

“Energy-boosting”

Kind of, but in the same way anything with simple sugars can give you a pick me up. 

Coconut water as a sports drink

Many people have begun to realise that most sports drinks are in fact just water filled with simple sugars, sodium and artificial colours and flavours. It’s for this reason that coconut water is often seen as a natural alternative to manufactured sports drinks. After all, coconut water does contain water, simple sugars and electrolytes in the form of potassium and sodium. 

What the research says

This study found coconut water doesn’t improve markers of hydration during exercise, any more than plain water does. In fact, it found the exercising participants who could voluntarily hydrate with coconut water drank less than their plain water-drinking counterparts because of the taste. 

Meanwhile, this study found put 12 exercised-trained men on a treadmill for an hour to test the hydration power of different drinks. They tested coconut water, coconut water from concentrate, regular water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink. The researchers found all four were capable of hydrating the participants, and there was no significant difference in performance between the beverage choices. 

Also, most people rarely exercise hard enough to warrant needing a sports drink anyway. Sports drinks can play a role for athletes enduring prolonged and intense exercise. But you probably won’t be sodium and potassium deficient following and hour at the gym, a weights session or a jog. Most of the time, you’ll be fine to just drink regular water during a workout. 

So… Is coconut water healthy?

The answer isn’t that straightforward. Depending on your definition of healthy, the healthiest beverage you could be drinking is regular, plain water. That said, coconut water is healthier than most other manufactured beverage choices. Therefore it’s more than fine to drink coconut water in moderation as part of a healthy diet. 

What is coconut water good for?

Coconut water is a great replacement for soda and other sugar-filled drinks. Brands with no added sugar are usually much lower in sugar than fruit juice. It’s also a decent, natural source of potassium.

What isn’t coconut water good for?

Yes, coconut water is hydrating. But do you know what else is? Regular water. Coconut water should not be used to reach your 8 glasses a day. In fact, it’s probably better not to include it in your daily water intake tally. If you don’t like plain water, try drinking it cold and adding lemon, cucumber, mint and/or berries to liven it up.  

Let’s chat below! Are you a coconut water fan? Have you fallen for some of the coconut water marketing hype?

In the food label cheat sheet, you’ll learn: 

  • alternate name for sugar, salt and fat that food brands often use
  • how to tell if a food is actually healthy by its label – and not just being marketed as so
  • advertising tricks commonly used to make foods seem healthier

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