Coconut Water Benefits & The Best Ways To Drink It, From Nutritionists
Known for its nutty and refreshing flavor, coconut water is a popular drink around the world. Beyond being delicious, coconut water also has some serious nutritional perks—especially for those searching for an electrolyte fix after breaking a sweat. Here's what to know about the top health benefits of coconut water, and how it compares to the other bevs in your fridge.
What is coconut water?
Coconut water is the clear liquid that's found when you crack open a coconut. Fresh coconut water is commonly consumed in many tropical countries where coconut palms grow, including Indonesia and the Philippines. However, packaged varieties are now also widely available around the world.
To make coconut water, fresh green coconuts are harvested and drained. The liquid is often also pasteurized, which helps kill off any bacteria and extend its shelf life. Note that coconut water is different from other coconut products like coconut milk, which has a thicker, creamier consistency, and coconut oil, a cooking oil made by pressing fresh or dried coconut meat.
Coconut water packs a hearty dose of several nutrients into each serving, including potassium and vitamin C. Compared to many popular varieties of sports drinks2, it's also slightly lower in calories and carbs. Here is a closer look at how 1 cup of unsweetened coconut water3 stacks up in terms of nutrition:
- Calories: 44
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
- Sodium: 64 milligrams
- Carbohydrates: 10.4 grams
- Sugar: 9.6 grams
- Protein: 0.5 gram
- Potassium: 404 milligrams
- Calcium: 17.2 milligrams
- Magnesium: 14.7 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 24.3 milligrams
- Manganese: 0.5 milligram
"Coconut water is a refreshing drink that contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and hydrating electrolytes like sodium, calcium, magnesium, and more potassium than a medium-sized banana4," says Huma Chaudhry, R.D., LDN, a registered dietitian and recipe developer. Potassium plays a key role5 in regulating muscle contractions, kidney function, nerve transmission, and more.
Compared to regular water, coconut water is also higher in electrolytes like magnesium and calcium, which can help maintain fluid balance6, according to Desiree Nielsen, R.D., a dietitian and author of Good for Your Gut. This makes coconut water a popular alternative to sugary sports drinks for refueling after an intense sweat session.
Benefits of coconut water
Beyond its refreshing flavor and electrolyte profile, coconut water is a great source of antioxidants and can help you stay hydrated. Plus, it's also been associated with a few impressive health perks, especially for heart health and blood sugar levels:
It's rich in antioxidants.
Early research found that young coconut water could significantly reduce inflammation9, which could be partly due to its antioxidant content. Another preclinical study showed that coconut water derived from green dwarf coconuts possessed powerful antioxidant properties7 and was effective at protecting against oxidative damage. However, more research in humans is needed. It is also important to note that pasteurization may reduce the antioxidant capacity in coconut water10.
It may lower blood pressure.
According to Nielsen, coconut water supplies several important nutrients involved in regulating blood pressure levels, including potassium. Interestingly, one study found that getting enough potassium in your diet could be linked to lower blood pressure levels11. What's more, another preclinical animal study showed that coconut water could suppress a hormone system that regulates blood pressure12, acting as a natural diuretic to increase urine output, which could potentially help decrease blood pressure.
It may help stabilize blood sugar.
While more research in humans is needed, some animal studies suggest that sipping coconut water could help keep blood sugar levels in check. For instance, one animal study showed that coconut water reduced blood sugar levels13 and decreased damage to the retina caused by diabetes. Another preclinical study found that coconut water could help lower blood sugar levels and oxidative stress14.
Although it's not completely understood how it works, it's believed that coconut water might help regulate carbohydrate metabolism and boost antioxidant levels, resulting in lower blood sugar levels. However, keep in mind that not all coconut water is created equal, and some varieties could actually cause blood sugar to skyrocket.
If better blood sugar control is your goal, be sure to choose an unsweetened brand of coconut water and enjoy it alongside a balanced diet.
It might help combat kidney stones.
Coconut water could be beneficial against kidney stones, which are small, hard deposits that form in the kidneys, causing symptoms like pain, nausea, and vomiting. One small study found that coconut water could increase the excretion of potassium15, chloride, and citrate in the urine, which could reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. Coconut water can also help you stay hydrated16, which has been tied to a reduced risk of kidney stones. However, more high-quality research is still needed.
It may promote hydration.
If drinking plain water doesn't sound super appetizing, coconut water might be a good alternative to help keep you hydrated. "Some people find it easier to drink beverages with a bit of flavor, so they may be more inclined to drink coconut water than plain water," says Nielsen.
However, whether or not coconut water holds any hydrating benefits over regular water has been called into question. According to one study, coconut water was not more effective at improving markers of hydration17 during exercise compared to plain water. Another study concluded that coconut water did not offer any additional benefits for rehydration18 over other drinks, including conventional sports drinks with sodium.
According to Chaudhry, consuming large amounts of coconut water can actually do more harm than good when it comes to hydration. She explains that coconut water can act as a laxative and may increase potassium levels, leading to diarrhea. "Coconut water also contains short-chain carbohydrates like FODMAPS, which can draw more water into the intestines causing diarrhea in some people," she adds.
People with kidney disease might also need to limit their intake. In fact, Nielsen tells mindbodygreen that trading regular water for coconut water could ramp up potassium intake, which could be harmful if your kidneys aren't functioning at 100%.
Though coconut water is naturally low in sugar, some brands may contain added sugar or other sweeteners intended to enhance the flavor. For this reason, Chaudhry recommends opting for organic varieties that contain just one simple ingredient on the label: coconut water.
Additionally, keep in mind that coconut water has a shorter shelf life than regular water and requires proper storage to prevent it from going bad. Once it's opened, it's best to enjoy the same day or seal and store in the refrigerator for up to five to seven days.
How to drink it
Besides being nutritious and flavorful, coconut water is also super versatile. Here are a few creative ways to start sipping:
- Enjoy with ice: "I love coconut water straight up over ice," says Nielsen. She recommends pairing it with a splash of fresh lime or pineapple juice to give your drink an easy upgrade.
- Blend up a smoothie: Coconut water can bump up the nutritional value of your smoothie by increasing the amount of electrolytes in each serving. You can also mix in some protein powder for a tasty post-workout shake.
- Cook coconut rice: "If you add stock to flavor your rice, you can swap it with coconut water to create a fragrant coconut rice," says Chaudhry. Try topping it with some coconut flakes to boost the coconut flavor even more.
- Make a mocktail: Coconut water can be a great addition to your favorite refreshing mocktail recipes. Combine coconut water with a spritz of lime juice and a sprig of mint for a virgin mojito, or add some non-alcoholic ginger beer, lime, and simple syrup to make a Moscow mule mocktail.
Is coconut water actually healthy?
Not only is coconut water a great source of several nutrients and antioxidants, but it's also been linked to a few impressive health benefits. Choose unsweetened coconut water free of additives, sweeteners, and other ingredients to maximize the potential perks.
Are there benefits of drinking coconut water on an empty stomach?
There aren't any added benefits of drinking coconut water on an empty stomach versus with a meal, so feel free to enjoy at any time of day!
Is coconut water fattening?
Because coconut water is low in calories, it's unlikely to contribute to weight gain if enjoyed in moderation. That being said, it's a good idea not to go overboard and to pair it with regular water to balance out the extra calories.
Coconut water can supply several important nutrients, including electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It may have an edge over regular water in some instances, especially in terms of its antioxidant content and effects on blood sugar or blood pressure levels. However, there are also a few side effects of coconut water to consider, and drinking too much could even cause digestive distress. Therefore, your best bet is to enjoy coconut water in moderation, alongside regular water and a variety of other healthy drinks in your daily diet.
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and writer based in San Francisco. She holds a master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and an undergraduate degree in Dietetics.
Rachael works as a freelance writer and editor for several health and wellness publications. She is passionate about sharing evidence-based information on nutrition and health and breaking down complex topics into content that is engaging and easy to understand.
When she's not writing, Rachael enjoys experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, reading, gardening, and spending time with her husband and dogs.