Coconut water: our must read nutrition review before you go troppo – with expert Frances Gilham APDFood Flash — By Emma Stirling on May 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm
The refreshing liquid in the centre of the coconut has been a popular drink in the tropics for years, but now coconut water has gone mainstream. Stars like Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore are reported to have bought shares in Vita Coco, an American company selling coconut water, and many other US celebrities have been photographed drinking it. And where celebrities go, the rest of us follow. Now coconut water has arrived Down Under with select distribution of Vita Coco and the launch of Nudie Coconut Water, available ‘straight up’ and in exotic flavours such as pomegranate and acai, it was time to get the inside scoop.
About our expert:
Frances Gilham Accredited Practising Dietitian
Frances graduated with a Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2009, and is now enthusiastically embarking on her career. She currently works for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra, and is passionate about improving the health of all Australians through good nutrition. You can follow her on http://twitter.com/FrancesGilham
Going nuts for coconuts
An ex-army friend told me a great story last week. While training deep in the jungle, it had been raining for six days straight and he was wet and exhausted. On day seven, when training ended, he climbed a tree, pulled down a coconut, jammed a knife into it and drank the juice. He swears that this coconut made him forget the six days of misery he had endured. The coconut, which so invigorated my friend when he needed it, is the fruit of the coconut palm; widely grown in the tropics. When young and green, a coconut is filled with a clear liquid sometimes called coconut ‘juice’ or ‘water’, and as it matures, this liquid is replaced by coconut flesh and air. Lower in kilojoules compared with softdrinks or juices, 100% Pure (unflavoured) Vita Coco clocks in at 60calories / 250kilojoules for a 330mL serve. The flesh of coconuts can be eaten fresh or dried, and is commonly used in curries, biscuits like good ol Aussie ANZACS, cakes and muesli. The flesh is also used to make coconut cream, milk and oil.
Janet Helm, Registered Dietitian in the US, predicted the beverage trends of 2010 – and coconut water was right up there. Coconut water is marketed as a natural alternative to a sports drink and in the case of Nudie – “nature’s tropical hydrator”. This is supposedly due to its refreshing qualities and high levels of minerals and electrolytes, particularly potassium. However, according to Accredited Practising Dietitian Tara Diversi, “Vita Coco (12mg sodium; 206mg potassium/100mL) has less than a third of the sodium of Gatorade (46mg sodium; 23mg potassium/100mL) but almost ten times the amount of potassium. Athletes should stick with specially formulated sports drinks for the best hydration as the most important nutrient for an athlete is not potassium, but sodium. Although there is a small amount of potassium lost through the body as sweat, these losses are not significant when compared with those of sodium, and can easily be replaced by food.” In addition the carbohydrate content of a properly formulated sports drink is in the ideal range at 6-8% according to Sports Dietitians Australia. Vita Coco’s carbohydrate content? A low 4.5% for the unflavoured 100% Pure variant. As for Nudie Coconut Water, it seems that this new product is so hot that we can’t get our hands on a bottle to get the inside scoop on the nutrition panel. Stay tuned. Perhaps you can help us?
Is coconut the new wonder food?
Aside from coconut water, there are lots of amazing, too-good-to-be-true claims to be found associated with coconuts on the internet – apparently the oil can be used to treat kidney problems, HIV, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. However, the predominant fat found in coconut oil (as well as coconut cream and milk) is the saturated variety and saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The Heart Foundation (Australia) which provides up-to-date clinical evidence on fats and heart health, has a great Q&A info sheet on dietary fats and heart health. It recommends going easy on coconut oil, milk and cream due to their high saturated fat content. Nicole Senior, Accredited Practising Dietitian and co-author of two cookbooks on heart health agrees, “Research on coconut oil and health is inconclusive. The jury is still out on whether coconut oil in the diet has any advantages and it is prudent to limit it especially if you have high cholesterol.”
I’m sure my friend in the jungle wasn’t thinking about his cholesterol levels, but the rest of us probably are. So, when cooking, use the ‘light’ version of coconut milk, usually available in the supermarket, or substitute with skim milk and coconut essence. During exercise for healthy weight management it is best to drink water, or for more intense exercise of durations over 60-90min, a hydrating specially formulated sports drink like Gatorade. And remember that no matter how exotic it might sound, no single food or drink can have all the answers – it’s always best to eat a variety of healthy foods every day. But as to the taste and enjoyment of coconut water as a summer refresher? Pure, tropical bliss.
Thanks Frances. And thanks Di for raising the questions on coconut oil….I hope we’ve answered them for you. I love seeing the buzz when a brand new food or beverages launches. Word of mouth marketing is a powerful phenomenon. I can’t wait to try and check out Nudie Coconut Water. Let’s start a challenge to see who can find the nutrition information data first. Can you help us? Have you tried coconut water? And what about our ever-so-helpful RD colleagues….can you share some of the buzz with us as we are just getting going? Love to hear your comments below.