Long before the recent coconut water craze, we tried "agua de pipa" on Tortugero Island in Costa Rica, fresh from the nut. We were taught to simply poke a hole into the shell with a sharp knife, stick in a plastic straw, and voilà, a mildly sweet, refreshing beverage that's very healthy. That was years ago, and we were actually surprised and slightly disappointed at the taste. Until that time, we only knew the creamy white coconut milk found in Thai dishes, and we were expecting something milky and opaque.
Coconut water is clear and found in young coconuts, whereas the mature fruit offers the rich, high-caloric milk and meat most people are accustomed to. In the Caribbean, South Asia and Southeast Asia, coconut water has been popular long before it started appearing in U.S. markets packaged in tetra paks. These days, you cannot enter a Whole Foods or health food store without stumbling upon a stack of packaged coconut water, ranging in flavors from plain to passion fruit. It tastes really good, but why is it so popular?
That's simple: it's full of health benefits. Coconut water is the only natural substance that can be injected into the human blood stream as an intravenous fluid. In fact, it is even used in some developing countries in lieu of medical saline. A cup-full is low in calories, contains more electrolytes than most sports drinks and has more potassium than a banana.
Besides athletes, why do people need all that potassium? Aside from preventing muscle cramps, potassium has a slew of other health benefits for the body and mind. The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center for Optimum Health cites several studies that associate increased potassium intake with decreased risk of stroke, higher bone density in premenopausal, perimenopausal, postmenopausal women and elderly men, the prevention of kidney stones and the lowering of blood pressure.
Health Benefits — Coconut Water:
- contains high-levels of potassium
- the only natural substance that can be injected into the human blood stream as an intravenous fluid
- contains more electrolytes than most sports drink
- low in calories
Other recent studies explore the relationship of potassium and the brain. Can potassium compete with Prozac? Yes, potassium has been shown to help with PMS and mood disorders with symptoms such as irritability, fatigue and confusion. Depression, for instance, can result in potassium deficiency and acute anxiety. So, is a serving of coconut juice the answer to all of our ailments? Certainly not, and, as with most natural remedies, the FDA is far from supporting any health claims.
So try for yourself, next time you have a tension headache or worked out really hard or are feeling cranky from PMS. The water fresh from a just-cracked coconut tastes sweeter, richer and denser, but the available packed choices from ZICO and Vita Coco are really good. We are definitely nuts for coconuts.
(Updated: 10/10/12 SG)