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The Truth About Coconut Water

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WebMD Expert Column

Low in calories, naturally fat- and cholesterol free, more potassium than four bananas, and super hydrating - these are just a few of the many benefits ascribed to America’s latest health craze: coconut water.

Dubbed "Mother Nature’s sports drink" by marketers, the demand is skyrocketing, propelled by celebrity and athlete endorsements and promises to hydrate the body and help with a whole host of conditions, from hangovers to cancer and kidney stones.

But is coconut water capable of delivering on all the promises or is it hype?

What Is Coconut Water?

Naturally refreshing, coconut water has a sweet, nutty taste. It contains easily digested carbohydrate in the form of sugar and electrolytes. Not to be confused with high-fat coconut milk or oil, coconut water is a clear liquid in the fruit’s center that is tapped from young, green coconuts.

It has fewer calories, less sodium, and more potassium than a sports drink. Ounce per ounce, most unflavored coconut water contains 5.45 calories, 1.3 grams sugar, 61 milligrams (mg) of potassium, and 5.45 mg of sodium compared to Gatorade, which has 6.25 calories, 1.75 grams of sugar, 3.75 mg of potassium, and 13.75 mg of sodium.

Better Than Some Sugary Drinks

Coconut water has less sugar than many sports drinks and much less sugar than sodas and some fruit juices. Plain coconut water could be a better choice for adults and kids looking for a beverage that is less sweet. But don’t overdo it, says Lillian Cheung, DSc, RD, of Harvard School of Public Health. “One 11-ounce container has 60 calories and if you drink several in one day, the calories can add up quickly," Cheung says.

Cheung, co-author of Savor Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, suggests being mindful about beverage choices and reading labels to choose plain coconut water and avoid those with added sugar or juices, which are no different from other sugary beverages.

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