Coconut water is an incredibly versatile, natural product. Touted a superfood (or rather a “superdrink”), it’s packed with electrolytes while being low in fat.
This refreshing drink is not only consumed for its health-boosting nutrients, but is also purported to have some medicinal uses. As multifunctional as it is, it’s also no surprise that coconut water has become the rehydration choice for many athletes around the world.
In fact, PepsiCo Americas Beverages CEO, Massimo d’Amore has described it as “one of the fastest-growing beverage categories”.
History and discovery of coconut water
Extracted from five-month-old nuts, coconut water is the clear, liquid endosperm (the inner part of the nut) found in the centre of young, green coconuts.
For centuries, this “naturally canned” beverage has been and still is used as a daily food source by people living in the traditional coconut-growing areas of the tropics. In this region, coconuts have also long been used for their perceived medicinal qualities.
According to a review article by Alexia Prades and co-workers, published in Fruits in 2012, coconut water was traditionally used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat ailments such as hair loss, burns and heart problems.
Other traditional uses included:
• Treating burning pain during urination
• Burning pain of the eyes
Research done by the Loma Linda University Medical Centre in 2000 revealed that coconut water also played an important role during World War II.
In emergencies, coconut water was used as an intravenous fluid when medical saline solution wasn’t available or in short supply. As strange as it may sound, coconut water was injected directly into the veins of injured patients to rehydrate them.
While this extreme method was useful as a short-term solution, when electrolytes urgently needed to be topped up, it’s not recommended by physicians today.
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Coconut water is, however, an effective rehydration drink that replenishes electrolytes excreted through sweat, making it ideal for athletes.
Consuming coconut water provides the same hydrating effects as carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drinks, note researchers from The University of Memphis in an article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
In addition, it has similar performance-related benefits. However, in comparison to regular sports drinks, coconut water is a healthier, more natural option.
As it’s naturally rich in nutrients that are essential to the normal functioning of the body, it makes complete sense to add coconut water to your diet.
Some of the possible health benefits, as noted in an article published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine in 2011, include:
• Reducing anaemia
• Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
• Cutting stroke risk
• Preventing various cancers
• Protecting against heart attack
• Controlling hypertension
• Lowering blood pressure
Coconut water is also used to treat cholera and urinary tract infections. It may also protect against the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, and may help in the treatment of sinusitis, dental cavities, food poisoning and diarrhoea.
Note, however, that most of the above health benefits have not yet been firmly established by randomised, controlled clinical trials.
How to include coconut water in your diet
Fresh, canned or bottled, coconut water can be served in its natural form to quench thirst and to rehydrate. Alternatively, it can be added to soups, stews and curries as an alternative to water for a fragrant, exotic burst of flavour.
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Image: Freshly cut coconut and water from Shutterstock.