Simply hearing the word "coconut" can bring peace of mind, evoking thoughts of relaxing on a tropical vacation in your favorite bathing suit. So it's no surprise coconut products have recently become all the rage - they're exotic, refreshing and delicious. And as an added bonus, coconuts are actually quite healthy. One of the most popular ways to enjoy this palm fruit is to drink it's "water," which is the slightly sweet and mildly sour liquid from inside. But is this really worth $2-3 a pop, or more?
Coconut water is naturally free of fat and cholesterol and is low in calories, carbohydrates and sodium. The lack of those unwanted components leaves lots of room for important nutrients like potassium (twice the amount as in a banana), magnesium, calcium and phosphate. All of the great qualities contribute to stronger immunity, better circulation and a reduction in the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Some believe that coconut water is a hangover remedy and natural treatment of erectile dysfunction. Pretty amazing huh?
This nutrient rich beverage can be enjoyed fresh from a cracked coconut by sipping through a straw, or pre-packaged in cans, tetra paks or plastic bottles. There are several name brands to choose from, such as O.N.E., ZICO, and Vita Coco. The coconut water industry has become so successful (zero to $35 million in 5 years) that big companies like Coke and Pepsi have bought out some of the small brands. Unfortunately the success has led to some misleading marketing. For example, coconut water is often marketed as a natural alternative to sports drinks because it is full of electrolytes, high potassium, loaded with minerals content, quickly hydrates the body and boosts energy. While it's certainly a better alternative to the sugary, fluorescent, artificially flavored beverages, it is not recommended as a recovery drink after hard-core training because it is low in carbohydrates and sodium and contains very little protein.
Ultimately, coconut water is a wonderful naturally sweet treat with the added bonus of some nutritional content. However, it is not meant to be a dietary supplement or ultimate athletic recovery drink - it should be part of a well-rounded diet. As with all food products, buy it organic whenever possible and/or drink from a freshly cracked coconut (healthier because it's unpasteurized). Note that coconuts usually travel long distances to get to your grocer, often coming from Brazil, Latin America or Asia, which has a toll on the environment. If you can resist the temptation, buy it sparingly.
Image credit: elcapitan