New research is throwing support to the popular notion that coconut water is Mother Nature's answer to commercially developed sports drinks.
A new scientific analysis of the much-hyped natural beverage, presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week, found it has more potassium than typical sports drinks and is loaded with other nutrients and electrolytes that may provide as much of a boost to people who engage in light exercise as such products as Gatorade or Powerade.
Chhandashri Bhattacharya, who presented the analysis to the ACS, cautioned that people who engage in strenuous exercise and sweat a lot might want to stick with a more traditional sports drink.
But for those who engage in light or moderate exercise, she said: "Coconut water is a natural drink that has everything your average sports drink has and more. It has five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. Whenever you get cramps in your muscles, potassium will help you to get rid of the cramps. It's a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout."
Bhattacharya said that the potassium in coconut water also may benefit even inactive people, noting the typical American diet is low in potassium and high in sodium – an unhealthy combination. Research has shown people who eat foods low in potassium and high in sodium have twice the risk of death from heart disease and a 50 percent higher risk of death from all causes.
Bhattacharya, who is with Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, noted coconut water is the clear liquid found inside young, green coconuts and has long been a popular drink in the tropics. It has recently become available in bottles, cans and other containers, and marketers have promoted it as a healthy beverage.
Bhattacharya's analysis found coconut water contains up to 1,500 mg/liter of potassium, compared to up to 300 mg/liter for Powerade and Gatorade. All three drinks have comparable quantities of magnesium and carbohydrates. A 12-ounce serving of coconut water also has more potassium than a banana and it is also high in healthful antioxidants, researchers noted.
But coconut has less sodium than sports drinks – 400 mg/liter of sodium compared to 600 for the other two drinks, the new study found. That’s a concern for people engaging in strenuous exercise, who lose a lot of sodium through sweating that coconut water alone can't replace.