Do coconut beverages have health benefits?

August 15, 2012|By Amy Reed, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (, which is printed here. This week, Amy Reed weighs in on coconut drinks.

Coconut products, such as coconut water and coconut cream, are among the hot new items hitting grocery store shelves. Are these drinks beneficial for your health?

Coconut water is the liquid inside a young coconut. One cup of coconut water contains about 50 calories and no protein or fat. Coconut water is low in calories, although the amount varies depending on added ingredients such as sugar or juice. It also contains a high amount of potassium, which is good for your heart, and other electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, which aid in hydration.

You may have seen coconut water advertised as a hydration option after a workout. As mentioned in a recent National Public Radio story ("Is the coconut water craze all it's cracked up to be?"), most people do not work out hard enough or long enough to need an electrolyte- replacement beverage. Water is sufficient. Moreover, coconut water is high in potassium although relatively low in sodium, which is the most important mineral that needs to be replenished after a hard workout. In other words, coconut water is a good source of potassium but may not be the best choice for rehydrating. You can also get the same amount of potassium by eating bananas, potatoes and dried beans.

Coconut milk and cream are made by combining the flesh of the coconut with water. The ratio of coconut to water varies, depending on whether it is light, regular or cream. Calories and fat also vary depending on this ratio. For example, one cup of light coconut milk contains about 150 calories and 14 grams of fat (21 percent of recommended daily fat intake); regular has an estimated 350 calories and 30 grams of fat (49 percent of daily fat); and cream has about 1,000 calories and 40 grams of fat (64 percent of daily fat). All of these contain 0-1 grams of protein. Most of the fat in coconut is saturated, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. There have been conflicting studies evaluating the specific fat properties in coconut.

Coconut milk beverages consist of coconut milk or cream plus water and other additives. These beverages are similar to the light coconut milk and are typically lower in calories and fat compared to regular coconut milk. So Delicious Dairy Free Unsweetened Coconut Milk contains 50 calories, 5 grams of fat (8 percent of daily fat intake) and 1 gram of protein in 1 cup. These beverages contain many of the same vitamins and minerals as regular coconut milk and are often fortified with more. They are generally found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and advertised as milk substitutes.

Coconut drinks are not miracle beverages and should be consumed in moderation. To conserve calories, choose light or unsweetened coconut milk or beverages. Keep track of the amount of coconut water you drink, even 50 calories a serving can add up.

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