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The 5 Main Health Benefits of Coconut Water

Very few drinks can strike the perfect balance of being healthy and delicious like coconut water. Rich in sweet flavor and nutritional value (but low in calorie intake), the benefits of coconut water are just too good for most of us to pass up — especially since it is easy to find and incorporate into a well-rounded diet.

coconut-water

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Samantha Dieras, DCN, RN, registered dietitian and director of ambulatory nutrition services at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains that coconut water is simply the clear liquid seen inside a coconut. Not to be confused with coconut milk, which Dieras says is the opaque milk-like liquid that is created when the grated or shredded coconut flesh is pureed and strained, coconut water has proven time and time again to be more than just a delicious drink to indulge in. But don’t just take our word for it. Below, the experts break down all the ways this drink can be good for you. Read on to learn more.

The Benefits

It has been said that coconut water has numerous health benefits, but these are the five main ones experts say are most important to take note of:

Contains many nutrients and antioxidants

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, coconut water is a great source of essential nutrients and antioxidants to help you maintain an overall healthy diet. Dieras lists amino acids, antimicrobial peptides, carbohydrates, enzymes, electrolytes, vitamin C, and antioxidants as just some of the ones you can find in a cup of the drink.

Provides hydration

Coconut water is made with 95% water, making it a top-tier source of hydration for when you’re thirsty or low on energy. Dieras says that when you’re losing fluid through daily activity or sickness such as vomiting or diarrhea, coconut water can help keep you from getting dehydrated. But don’t go swapping out your regular water intake entirely. Incorporating it into your diet comes with a few caveats, but more on that later.

Helps you maintain weight

Elizabeth Sharp, MD, IFMCP, board-certified medicine physician and founder of Health Meets Wellness, says that coconut water is low-calorie and contains less fat compared to other sugary fruit juices and smoothies, which makes it the healthier alternative if you’re looking for something tasty to drink. It can contain no added sugar—if you’re drinking the real thing. Dieras adds that because coconut water increases hydration, it can decrease unnecessary hunger and excess energy intake. Studies also show that it can boost metabolism.

However, Dr. Sharp also note that coconut water lacks significant quantities of other macronutrients, such as certain proteins and fat that are crucial for meal and blood sugar regulation. So she recommends a diet that will include enough macro and micronutrients to balance it all out. “Coconut water could be a component of a diet designed for weight loss,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that coconut water itself is effective for weight loss.”

May prevent kidney stones

Dr. Sharp explains that through added hydration and the exchange of electrolytes, drinking coconut water can be super helpful for preventing kidney stones. Kidney stones are created when calcium and other compounds form crystals in your urine. Though it was tested through a small sample pool, this study shows that coconut water can increase your urinary citrate, potassium, and chloride to reduce the chances of those crystals forming.

Replenishes electrolytes post-workout

Dieras says that coconut water is often used as a post-workout drink to replace the electrolytes (minerals needed for cellular function in our bodies) that we lose after we exercise. Dr. Sharp explains that when we excessively sweat and exert effort with our muscles, our body will increase its need for electrolytes. Coconut water contains certain electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium that can help balance that out. There are even studies that show that coconut water could be more beneficial to recovery than regular water post-workout.

The Downsides

Though it has many health benefits, there are a few things to consider. Dieras says that any claims that coconut water has anti-aging properties are unfounded and there is currently no definitive research to back up those statements. Also, more studies need to be done to say that it can help lower your chances of heart disease or promote overall heart health. She explains that the potassium in coconut water can help regulate the effects of sodium on the body, so theoretically, it can help lower high blood pressure. But for now, that’s all theoretical.

Other downsides, according to Dr. Sharp, include its sugar content. Coconut water can raise your blood sugar level rapidly, she says, especially if it is consumed on an empty stomach or in excess amounts. “I recommend treating it like juice,” she says. “It can be great in small qualities and ideal to pair with fiber, protein, and fat to avoid blood sugar spikes.”

While it is generally safe for most to consume, Dieras says there are a few exceptions. She says you should never allow infants to drink coconut water as it does contain fluoride, which can be toxic to newborns. If you have diabetes or are suffering from kidney disease and cannot excrete potassium, she advises drinking it with caution or avoiding it altogether just to be safe. Dr. Sharp agrees. But if you do want to incorporate coconut water into your diet, she says you’ll want to drink it in smaller quantities and monitor your blood sugar levels closely; coconut water can lead to worsening glycemic control as well as hypoglycemia, she says.

And for athletes or marathon runners, she says coconut water doesn’t have enough electrolytes to replenish your depleted levels of sodium and magnesium and it could cause abdominal cramping if you drink it during endurance training. So you may want to stick to your regular sports drink or good old plain water for instances like that.

As with anything health-related, it’s always best to seek medical advice from your doctor or a healthcare professional. Given all the health benefits you can get from a single cup, coconut water may be a drink worth looking into.

Originally published in Vogue.com

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