Dietitians Dish: Coconut water, oil is not all it's cracked up to be

By Lynda Knutson
March 11, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 10, 2014 at 10:11 p.m.

If you have recently heard about coconut water or coconut oil in the media, it may seem as though coconut is the new miracle food that can cure many of your health problems.

Coconut oil, which has been used by food manufacturers for decades, is now being promoted as a beneficial dietary addition to prevent anything from Alzheimer's disease to dementia and even acne.

Coconut water is being marketed toward athletes as a healthier alternative to sports drinks. Is there any truth to these health claims?

Coconut oil is extracted from the fruit (the white part) of mature coconuts. It often comes as virgin or refined and can be purchased in grocery and health food stores.

While we call coconut oil "oil," it is actually very high in saturated fat, so high that it is actually considered a solid fat like butter. In one tablespoon of coconut oil there are 117 calories and 13.6 grams of fat, including 11.8 grams of saturated fat.

However, virgin coconut oil does contain phenolic compounds, which can act as antioxidants in the body. With that being said, it is still recommended that the majority of fat in one's diet come from unsaturated fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fat.

For this reason, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming all saturated fats, including coconut oil, in moderation. Currently, there is not enough research to prove that coconut oil has any beneficial effect on health.

Coconut water is the thin, watery liquid found inside young green coconuts. It should not be confused with the milk, which is found inside mature coconuts. Over the past year, coconut water has built a reputation as an ultra-hydrating, post-exercise recovery beverage and is now being marketed to athletes as a healthier alternative to sports drinks.

A 8-ounce serving of coconut water has 45 calories, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 252 milligrams of sodium and is a good source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. After long, endurance-type training or exercise, electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are lost as we sweat and need to be replaced.

While coconut water contains the potassium and sodium needed for rehydration in athletes, the potassium is the same as the potassium found in foods.

It does not offer any additional benefits than eating a banana as a post-exercise snack. Coconut water also lacks the appropriate amount of carbohydrates that extreme athletes need to energize their bodies during and after a long workout.

Finally, the average person hitting the gym for one to two hours per day does not need to replace these electrolytes and carbohydrates after their workout. Most exercisers can receive plenty of hydration from water without the added calories.

However, if you are craving a little variety in your beverage choice, unflavored coconut water can be a better option than juice and sodas, as it contains only 45 calories per cup and no added sugars.

Lynda Knutson is a dietetic intern from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.



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