The Truth About Coconut Water: Nature's Sports Drink Is Not So Natural

Think coconut water is the healthiest way to stay hydrated this summer? Think again



I can’t remember if I learned it working at summer camp or while on Outward Bound, but the “clear and copious” pee guideline for monitoring the adequacy of your body’s hydration during hot summer months always stuck with me. Even Coraline knows it, and will excitedly inform me when her “pee is clear.” (I’ve gotten more than a few bemused glances in public over these reports.) In addition to making you vulnerable to heat stroke and wicked headaches, dehydration can zap your energy levels and make you irritable, whether you’re four or forty. A recent study found that just a five percent decrease in hydration causes a 30-40 percent decrease in energy.

Over the past several years, coconut water has gotten very popular as a top notch hydrator, especially in health and wellness circles. I’m sure I’ve even touted it here as a wonder beverage. But as with most things, an increase in quantity leads to a decrease in quality. The stuff right out of the coconut might be great for you, but the stuff on store shelves is a far cry. A few weeks ago I purchased a bottle and was so grossed out after the first sip I looked at the label, thinking it was past its expiration. It was not, but I was shocked at the ingredients: “coconut water from concentrate” and “natural flavors,” which is just a pretty term for MSG. Not such a health drink after all. In fact, there’s a lot not to love about coconut water. Here are a few not-so-fun facts about “nature’s sports drink”:

  • To prevent Thai coconuts from spoiling on their way to the U.S., they’re coated with formaldehyde.
  • Several independent studies reveal that most processed coconut water does not have the level of electrolytes they claim. Big manufacturers O.N.E and Vitacoco are currently involved in class action lawsuits because of this false advertising.
  • Fresh, raw coconut water has enzymes that detoxify and repair the body, helping it to easily absorb all its electrolytes. But the stuff you find in stores has been pasteurized, which kills those healthful enzymes.
  • If natural is your priority, raw, organic coconut water is still a better choice than sports drinks after a heavy sweat session (and by heavy, I mean hot yoga-heavy, or outdoor-run-in-95-degree-heat-with-100-percent-humidity-heavy) or to rehydrate during a stomach bug, but in general the sugar content (11-14 grams per serving) makes it a poor choice in large quantities or as an everyday replacement for plain ol’ water.

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About This Blog

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher
Rhinebeck, NY


Dutchess County native Shannon Gallagher is a contributing editor for Hudson Valley Magazine. An erstwhile thrill-seeker, these days she courts disaster of a different variety wrangling a spirited toddler, honing her vegan baking skills, and chasing the ever-elusive work-family balance. She teaches Pilates and does fascial bodywork, and lives in Rhinebeck with Coraline, a cat named Otie, and Sushi the Fish (named, of course, by the toddler).

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