For years, coconut has been shunned by nutritionists and dieters alike for its high fat content. And for good reason: One cup packs 22 grams of saturated fat! But these days it’s popping up in water form everywhere, and fans say that not only can the drink help you lose weight, it’s also a natural healer, age eraser and more. Even Madonna has invested in a leading brand, and sales of coconut water are projected to double this year. So what is coconut water, and is it really worth shelling out $30 for a 12-pack? SELF brings you the facts.
THE TALK: It speeds your metabolism. THE TRUTH: “This is an urban legend,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of California in Davis. “There is no valid research proving it.” Another, albeit contradictory, myth: Coconut water makes you fat. This bad rap came from coconut milk, which is made from pressed coconut meat and packs 445 calories per cup, most from saturated fat. The water (the fluid in young coconuts) has only 46 calories per cup. Of course, for a truly trimming sip, opt for zero-calorie water, coffee or tea.
THE TALK: It makes you look younger. THE TRUTH: Coconut water contains cytokinins, plant hormones shown to slow the aging process in plants and fruit flies, according to a study in Molecules. Alas, the benefits aren’t yet proven in humans. The search for the fountain of youth continues.
THE TALK: It’s nature’s sport drink. THE TRUTH: It’s a fine postworkout chug for the average active Joe or Jane, but it falls short for hard-core athletes. The gist: When you exercise, you sweat out a lot of sodium and some potassium. You should replace both after intense workout sessions (more than an hour a day), so your muscles contract properly. Coconut water is a potassium powerhouse, delivering roughly 600 milligrams per cup, about 175 mg more than a banana does and 13 times what most sport drinks offer. “The problem is that it has only about 30 mg of sodium per cup; we lose much more than that during a long workout,” Applegate says. Thus, serious athletes may need a sports beverage with a higher sodium-to-potassium ratio, such as Gatorade or Powerade Ion4; lighter exercisers can rehydrate with whatever they like best, including coconut water or plain H2O.
THE TALK: It protects your ticker. THE TRUTH: Diets high in potassium can help lower blood pressure and promote heart health, says Andrea Giancoli, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Coconut water is a good source of the mineral, but it’s better to get it from whole foods like veggies (spinach, sweet potatoes) and lowfat milk, which supply additional heart-healthy nutrients such as fiber and vitamin D.
THE TALK: It’s a hangover helper. THE TRUTH: There’s a reason the morning after is so painful: Alcohol dehydrates you, leading to nausea and headaches. Like any drink, coconut water refills your H2O stores, but plain water does the job just as well, notes Samir Zakhari, Ph.D., director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. As for electrolytes, our kidneys preserve them when we drink alcohol, so there’s no need to replace them with coconut water. If the coconut taste lifts your postspirits spirits, go for it; but you can save cash (and calories) by turning on the tap.
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