Coconut water is a popular beverage, dubbed "Mother Nature's sports drink,"1 and has been endorsed by many celebrities, such as actress Gwyneth Paltrow,2 music icon Madonna3 and basketball player LaMarcus Aldridge4 for 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.
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% water8 but, at the same time, it offers a unique chemical composition that features vitamins, minerals, amino acids, natural sugars and phytohormones.9
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 resemble intracellular fluid in humans, which is why doctors have used uncontaminated raw coconut water intravenously, injecting it into the bloodstream to help avoid dehydration.10
Coconut Milk vs. Coconut Water
Many people 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 clear, naturally developed liquid 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.11It 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 coconut water one of the best rehydration drinks available on the planet thanks to its electrolytes and natural salts like potassium and magnesium, but it's also beneficial for your body, as it offers numerous nutrients. Among these useful components are its cytokinins, a class of phytohormones with antiaging, antithrombotic and anticarcinogenic effects.12,13
This liquid offers inorganic ions, B vitamins and minerals such as iodine, selenium, zinc and sulfur, all of which provide support for your antioxidant and overall system.14 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.15
- May help boost kidney health — Coconut water may help 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.16
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.17 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.18
- 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."19
- 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, may help protect the liver cells of mice subjects against hydroperoxide-mediated oxidative stress.20
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.21
The high levels of potassium in coconut water may be a contributing factor to this benefit. A 1998 study in the Hypertension journal notes that this mineral has a "modest blood pressure-lowering effect."22
For more information about coconut water's nutrients, check out the table below.23
Coconut Water Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), coconut water, unsweetened
|Calories from Fat
|Calcium 7 mg
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. It's 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. Just remember that heating this liquid may affect its nutrients. Try these healthy recipes using coconut water:
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.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 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 Home24)
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 Foodie25)
Coconut Water Recipes You Can Try
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:
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.
(Recipe from Coconuts and Kettlebells26)
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.27 However, make sure you consume coconut water in moderation. Too much may pose negative effects on your health, whether or not you're pregnant.
Will Consuming Too Much Coconut Water Put You In Danger?
Drinking coconut water in moderation will not produce any negative effects. However, if ingested in very large amounts, this liquid can cause severe hyperkalemia due to its high potassium content.28 This disorder 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.29
A 2014 case study entitled "Death by Coconut," published30 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.
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 Coconut Water
Q: What does coconut water taste like?
A: Coconut water is described to have a refreshing nutty flavor.31
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.32
Q: Does coconut water have electrolytes?
A: Yes. The electrolytes in coconut water include potassium, sodium and manganese. Their amounts can vary depending on the maturity of the coconut.33
Q: Is coconut water a diuretic?
A:Yes, coconut water is a natural diuretic. Sufficient intake will help your stools to go through your system more easily.34