Elixir from the tropics
Simone Gabbay, RNCP
There's a new kid in town and it's gaining fans: the green coconut. Perhaps you've tasted coconut water and enjoyed its refreshing flavour and health benefits.
There’s a new kid in town and it’s gaining fans daily: the green coconut. Chances are you’ve seen it in the hands of friends or even celebrities who were sipping the fruit’s nectar, coconut water, through an inserted straw. Perhaps you’ve tasted coconut water yourself and enjoyed its thirst-quenching, refreshing flavour.
Coconut water is the clear liquid inside the unripe coconut fruit. As the coconut matures and ripens, this liquid solidifies and becomes part of the sweet, white coconut flesh that we eat raw as a snack or use, often grated, in cooking and baking. Coconut water should not be confused with coconut milk, prepared from coconut flesh.
Until recently, many people in North America were unfamiliar with the young, green coconuts that are offered for sale at many outdoor events, local farmers’ markets, and natural food stores.
When young coconuts are sold in bulk, their outer husks have typically been removed, with the remaining inner part tightly wrapped in plastic. However, coconut water is also available in cans and tetra packs at your local health food store.
Coconut water has rapidly gained acceptance as a natural alternative to commercial sports drinks. It is touted as being the purest liquid second to water itself and is said to have numerous health benefits ranging from digestive support to relieving urinary problems and keeping diabetes under control.
Fad or panacea?
Is the popularity of coconut water just a passing fancy or is this smooth liquid with its almond-like taste truly the miracle elixir it is made out to be? Let’s look to its traditional and medicinal uses, as well as modern nutritional science, for the answer.
Native to tropical regions, the coconut has long been valued for its water, oil, milk, and flesh, but its other parts are also used: the shell as charcoal; the fibrous husk to make rope and brushes; and the leaves to make thatched roofs.
In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, the coconut palm is known as kalpa vriksha, meaning “tree that gives all that is necessary for living”. Indeed coconut palms give in abundance: although it takes up to a year for the fruit to mature, the palms bloom up to 13 times a year. New coconuts are constantly being produced, with each tree yielding an almost continuous harvest, at an average of 60 coconuts each. Coconuts and thus coconut water are available year-round—the coconut tree never withholds its blessings.
pH in balance
From a nutritional perspective, coconut water is high in naturally occurring electrolytes, notably potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are highly alkaline-forming, supporting the body’s proper pH balance and thus optimal metabolic function.
The typical modern diet, high in processed foods and refined grains, tends to push the body toward a state of excess acidity, thereby disrupting biochemical balance and opening the door to numerous health problems ranging from minor discomfort to major illness. By replenishing the body’s alkaline mineral reserve, coconut water helps to restore a healthy pH balance, thus strengthening the immune system and supporting overall metabolism.
In addition, coconut water contains small amounts of B-complex vitamins, notably folate, along with several other micronutrients and phytochemicals in a highly bioavailable form. This excellent nutritional profile may well explain the reports of increased energy, well-being, and improved general health that are frequently associated with the consumption of coconut water.
The presence of beneficial electrolytes also makes coconut water an excellent energy drink, highly effective for rehydrating the body after exercise. Many commercial sports drinks are high in sugar, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and also contain chemical colourings and flavourings, along with other potentially harmful ingredients. Coconut water is the perfect natural alternative.
A 2002 study compared the effectiveness of fresh young coconut water with a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage (CEB) and plain water for whole body rehydration and blood volume restoration during a two-hour rehydration period following exercise-induced dehydration.
The study concluded that coconut water caused less nausea and fullness and no stomach upset, and was also easier to consume in larger amounts compared with CEB and plain water. The study determined that young coconut water was effective for whole body rehydration after exercise.
The water of life—make it organic!
Coconut water is a naturally sterile isotonic liquid whose chemical composition is similar to that of blood plasma. Coconut water has been successfully used as a short-term substitute for intravenous hydration fluid, typically in remote locations and emergency situations where medical intravenous solution was not available.
A 2004 study concluded that green coconut water is not completely equivalent to medical-grade intravenous nutrition with trace elements. However, it may still provide sufficient support of at least some of the trace elements if used as a substitute.
Interestingly, the study also determined that the presence of several trace elements in coconut water was much lower than values previously reported in the literature, especially in coconuts from areas where the soil is polluted. This clearly demonstrates the importance of choosing organic coconuts, and organic foods overall, if we are aiming for optimal nutrition for ourselves and our families.
Cooking with coconut water
Versatile coconut water can add nutrition and a unique, pleasant flavour to your favourite dishes and drinks.
Add it to:
Substitute coconut water for: