Coconut water is a popular beverage, dubbed “Mother Nature’s sports drink,”1 and has been endorsed by many celebrities — actress Gwyneth Paltrow,2 music icon Madonna3 and basketball player LaMarcus Aldridge,4 to name a few — because of its outstanding health benefits.
There’s no doubt that a tall glass of pure, organic coconut water is one of the most refreshing beverages you can enjoy, whether it’s after a workout or simply to quench your thirst during a hot summer day.
In this article, you can learn more about coconut water, including its composition, where it comes from, its uses and benefits, and why it has become one of the most sought-after health beverages today.
What Is Coconut Water?
The scientific name for coconut water is “coconut liquid endosperm”5 — it is the clear liquid found in the center of young, green coconuts and is made when the endosperm tissues of a coconut fruit go through nuclear mode of development, as described below in a Molecules journal 2009 study:6
“[T]he primary endosperm nucleus undergoes several cycles of division without cytokinesis (the process in which the cytoplasm of a single eukaryotic cell is divided to form two daughter cells). Cytokinesis then occurs, progressing from the periphery towards the center, thus forming the cellular endosperm layer.
At first, the cellular endosperm is translucent and jelly-like, but it later hardens at maturity to become white flesh (coconut meat). Unlike the endosperms of other plants (e.g., wheat and corn), the cellularization process in a coconut fruit does not fill up the entire embryo sac cavity, but instead leaves the cavity solution-filled.”
The “solution” mentioned above is coconut water. It’s described as having a refreshing and nutty flavor.7 It’s mildly sweet, but not overly so, unlike other fruit juices available on the market. It’s astringent and mildly acidic when fresh, which is then lost as time goes by.8
Tropical regions around the world have consumed coconut water not just for its flavor, but also because of its superb health benefits. Coconut water is 95% water9 but, at the same time, it offers a unique chemical composition that features vitamins, minerals, amino acids, natural sugars and phytohormones.10
Its electrolyte content is another noteworthy element. Not only is this liquid an ideal rehydrating drink, but the electrolytes in coconut water are also said to be similar to human plasma, which is why doctors have used uncontaminated raw coconut water intravenously, injecting it into the bloodstream to help avoid dehydration.11
Coconut Milk Versus Coconut Water
Many people, usually those who are not accustomed to having coconut in their diet, often refer to coconut water and coconut milk interchangeably. But these two drinks are actually different. Coconut water is the raw, clear liquid — which develops naturally in the fruit — that you get when you open a fresh coconut.
Coconut milk is a manufactured product made by grating the coconut meat, adding water and squeezing out the juice. This results in a white and creamy liquid, not too different from dairy milk.12 It is used in many ingredients, such as curry and sauces.
Health Benefits of Coconut Water
I’ve always stressed the importance of making pure, filtered water your primary beverage of choice. However, drinking coconut water is something I also recommend.
Not only is it one of the best rehydration drinks available on the planet, thanks to its electrolytes and natural salts like potassium and magnesium, but coconut water offers numerous nutrients that are beneficial for your body. Among these useful components are its cytokinins, a class of phytohormones that boast of antiaging, antithrombotic and anticarcinogenic effects.13,14
This liquid offers inorganic ions, B vitamins and minerals such as iodine, selenium, zinc and sulfur that all provide support for your antioxidant and overall system.15 Here are some of the benefits of drinking coconut water daily:
Provides cardioprotective effects — A 2003 animal study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that tender coconut water (TCW) may have cardioprotective effects as it helped decrease concentration of total cholesterol, VLDL + LDL− cholesterol and HDL cholesterol among rats that had induced myocardial infarction.
The researchers noted that these benefits may come from the nutrients in the liquid, namely calcium, potassium, L-arginine and magnesium.16
May help boost kidney health — Coconut water may reduce the risk of kidney stones. In a 2013 study, coconut water helped inhibit crystal deposits in renal tissues of rat subjects. It reduced the amount of crystals in their urine, as well. What’s more, the researchers noted that this liquid “protected against impaired renal function and development of oxidative stress in the kidneys.” They noted that it can be used for phytotherapy against urolithiasis.17
May help in the management of diabetes — Coconut water was found to have hypoglycemic and nephroprotective activities. Results of a 2015 study noted that rats given coconut water had better blood glucose maintenance compared to rats in the control group.18 According to the researchers:
“Our results indicate that CW has multiple beneficial effects in diabetic rats for preventing hyperglycemia and oxidative stress caused by alloxan.”
A separate study also noted that the L-arginine in coconut water is responsible for its antidiabetic and antithrombotic effects, and is mediated through the L-arginine-nitric oxide pathway. Diabetic rats that were treated with mature coconut water L-arginine had reduced concentration of blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c.19
Offers rehydrating effects after exercise — A 2007 study compared the rehydrating effects of water, coconut water and a sports drink. The authors noted that drinking coconut water is “as good as ingesting a commercial sports drink for whole body rehydration after exercise-induced dehydration but with better fluid tolerance.”20
May protect against oxidative stress — Coconut water is loaded with antioxidants that are known to help fight free radicals that may lead to oxidative damage. One study found that shikimic acid (SA), an active phytoconstituent in coconut water, can help protect the liver cells of mice subjects, protecting them from hydroperoxide-mediated oxidative stress.21
May help maintain healthy blood pressure levels — A study involving 28 hypertensive subjects looked at the potential effects of coconut water on blood pressure levels. Those who were given coconut water had significant decreases in their mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure.22
The high levels of potassium in coconut water may be a contributing factor to this benefit as well. A 1998 study in the Hypertension journal notes that this mineral has a “modest blood pressure-lowering effect.”23
May help maintain bone and teeth health, as well as muscle strength — MedicalNewsToday notes that coconut water contains calcium, which is needed by your bones and teeth for repair, as well as magnesium, which not only brings potassium and calcium into the muscles for contraction and relaxation, but also helps with energy production and better organ function.24
Coconut water can be used intravenously. When extracted fresh from the fruit, the liquid is sterile and free of parasites, bacteria and germs. During the Vietnam War and World War II, it was infused into the bloodstream of patients whenever doctors had an insufficient supply of IV fluids.25 It’s said to be similar in composition to human blood plasma.
Is Coconut Water Good for You?
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, you’ll be impressed to learn that this healthy beverage has culinary and cosmetic uses as well. Just like coconut milk and coconut oil, it’s a very versatile product. Just take a look at these coconut water uses that you can try today:
- Hair Health — Simply massage raw coconut water into your hair and comb through. Let dry under the sun, and then leave on for a few hours. Wash out afterward.26
- After-Shampoo Treatment — Style Craze recommends diluting the coconut water with three to four mugs of tap water, and then using it as your final rinse to add shine to your hair.27
- Skin Benefits — If your skin is feeling taut and grimy, apply coconut milk squeezed from the grated pulp to your skin directly to cleanse and eliminate excess oil and dirt. This also gives it instant hydration.28
- Digestive Issues — The potassium in coconut water may help with poor digestion. If you’re suffering from constipation, coconut water and prunes can be mixed together to make an anticonstipation drink. Simply get a glass of hot water and soak the prunes in it for 10 minutes. Once soft, drain the water, allow the prunes to cool and then puree together with coconut water in a blender.29
- Culinary Uses — Coconut water is delicious when ingested fresh from the fruit, but if you’d like to add variety to some of your other dishes, try replacing other fluids with this ingredient. From coconut water smoothies to vinaigrettes and even ceviche, it can have a plethora of uses in the kitchen.
Coconut Water Recipes You Can Try
Just like coconut oil, coconut water is a very versatile ingredient you can use for a wide array of dishes. Just remember that heating this liquid may affect its nutrients. Here are healthy recipes using coconut water you can try.
Braised Chicken in Coconut Water
Serving size: 5 to 10
|✓ 10 pieces or about 3 pounds chicken drumsticks
||✓ 5 garlic cloves
||✓ 3 shallots or small onions
|✓ 4 cups coconut water
||✓ 1 teaspoon salt
||✓ 2 teaspoons ground ginger
|✓ 1 teaspoon white pepper
||✓ Juice from 1 lime
||✓ 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- Put all ingredients except coconut oil in a medium-sized pan.
- Put over medium heat, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, at least one hour. If you want chicken that falls off the bone, increase the cooking time by another 45 minutes.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and drizzle with oil. Place the pieces on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken turns a slightly golden color. Flip it once.
- Serve it with fluffy cauliflower rice or any side dish you like.
(Recipe adapted from Crafty For Home30
Quick Coconut and Chia Seed Pudding
- In a small bowl or half pint Mason type glass jar, add coconut, chia seeds, coconut milk, coconut water, vanilla and salt. Mix until very well combined.
- Place in the refrigerator and allow to rest for at least two hours.
- Serve with fresh raspberries or other fruit of your choice.
(Recipe from The Healthy Foodie31)
Chilled Melon and Lavender Soup
Serving size: 2
|✓ 1 large ripe melon, chopped small
||✓ 3/4 cup pure coconut water
||✓ 2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
|✓ 1/2 teaspoon culinary lavender
||✓ Blueberries, shredded coconut and mint leaves for garnish
||✓ Other topping options: black sesame seeds, hemp seeds, coconut whipped cream and cacao nibs
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Serve chilled and top with blueberries, coconut and mint leaves.
(Recipe from Sprinkled With Love32)
Refreshing and Healthy: How to Make Coconut Water Sports Drink
While I consider pure filtered water as the primary beverage of choice when it comes to staying hydrated, coconut water is a great alternative you can turn to, especially if you’re looking for something with a bit of flavor. It’s far safer and healthier than all of the sports drinks and energy drinks available today.
While you can drink coconut water as is, a splash of flavor from citrus juices like orange, lemon or lime won’t hurt. Check out this DIY sports drink recipe from Coconuts and Kettlebells:33
DIY Natural Electrolyte Drink
|✓ 1 cup coconut water
||✓ 1 cup filtered water
||✓ 1 tablespoon raw honey
|✓ 1 lemon or 1 1/2 limes (squeezed juice)
||✓ 1/8 teaspoon unprocessed sea salt
- Mix all of the ingredients together and chill before drinking. Place in the refrigerator — it will keep for four to six days.
Coconut Water Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams)34
|Calories from Fat
|| 0.176 g
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Can You Drink Coconut Water During Pregnancy?
According to Baby Center, coconut water is a natural and nutrient-rich isotonic drink that’s safe for pregnant women.35 Pregnant women may reap the benefits mentioned above, along with some others; for example, it’s believed that sipping coconut water with lemon juice may help ease morning sickness.36
However, make sure you consume coconut water in moderation. Too much may pose negative effects on your health, whether or not you’re pregnant.
Coconut Water Side Effects: Will Consuming Too Much Put You in Danger?
Drinking coconut water in moderation will not produce any negative effects. However, WebMD notes that if ingested in very large amounts, this liquid can cause potassium blood levels to become too high, potentially causing kidney problems and irregular heartbeat.37
A 2014 case study entitled "Death by Coconut," published38 in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, gives an example of how too much coconut water can disrupt your potassium levels. A healthy man who consumed eight 11-ounce bottles of coconut water in a day experienced fainting and abnormal heart rhythms due to the dangerously high levels of potassium in his body. His blood pressure and heart rate were very low, and he reported feeling weak and lightheaded.
This condition is known as hyperkalemia, or high potassium levels. It can lead to life-threatening heart rhythm changes, such as ventricular fibrillation: a condition wherein the heart’s lower parts rapidly flutter instead of pumping blood. If not addressed, hyperkalemia can cause the heart to stop beating, resulting in death.39
Remember that even something as healthy as coconut water can still lead to negative consequences when consumed in excess. As such, make sure to moderate your consumption of this drink so that you will only reap the benefits and none of the side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Capers
Q: What does coconut water taste like?
A: Coconut water is described to have a mildly sweet, refreshing and nutty flavor.40
Q: Is coconut water healthy?
A: Yes, coconut water is healthy. If consumed regularly and in moderation, it may provide cardioprotective effects, help in diabetes management, ensure rehydration, help boost kidney health and help protect against oxidative stress, to name a few of its benefits.
Q: Why is coconut water good for you?
A: Aside from its high electrolyte content, coconut water contains natural salts such as magnesium and potassium, as well as nutrients, including selenium, iodine, zinc, sulfur and B vitamins. It also has cytokinins, a class of phytohormones that has antiaging, antithrombotic and anticarcinogenic effects.
Q: Does coconut water go bad?
A: Yes. According to Still Tasty, coconut water only lasts one to two days, even if refrigerated. Check for an off-putting odor or appearance before drinking or using for cooking — if they are present, discard the liquid.41
Q: Does coconut water have electrolytes?
A: Yes. The electrolytes in coconut water are similar to human plasma, which is why it has been used intravenously.
Q: Is coconut water a diuretic?
A:Yes, coconut water is a natural diuretic, but it does not affect the body the same way as diuretic medications do. While these drugs affect electrolyte balance and enzymes, coconut water stimulates urine production without affecting your electrolyte levels or hormones.42
Q: Is coconut water alkaline?
A: According to “Coconut: Rediscovered as Medicinal Food,” coconut water is one of the best and healthiest alkaline-forming foods today.43