Growing up, my parents would occasionally treat us to a coconut water from the asian market. It had real slices of young coconut and it was DELICIOUS. Fast forward 20+ years, and now coconut water can be found everywhere. For the past couple of years, it’s been hyped up to be the natural sports drink of choice. Whether related or not, the popularity of coconut oil has also risen exponentially during the past couple of decades. So what’s the deal with coconut?
It’s quickly becoming a strong competitor of sports drinks like Gatorade. It has a distinct flavor which many enjoy (and I find to be very delicious). Manufacturers claim that coconut water has the same amount of potassium as a banana and is an excellent hydration solution for athletes. That sounds great! But, wait…why is potassium important? In athletes, sodium is arguably a more important electrolyte to replenish after losses during exercise. Coconut water and any other sports drink may not cut it in that department.
But there isn’t any particularly bad about coconut water. I like the taste of it a lot but some may not. But for me, the only deterrent is the cost. For $2-3+ per bottle, I’d gladly drink FREE water and eat a $0.25 banana instead. Also if you’re not working out regularly, you probably don’t need the extra boost of electrolytes in drinks like this because you’re getting more than enough from eating a balanced diet.
The two sides of this argument have strong supporters. On one hand, coconut oil has a lot of saturated fat (up to 80-90%) which has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and LDL cholesterol. In the dietetics industry, saturated fat (usually found in animal products like meat, butter, and dairy) is recommended to be moderated. However, proponents of coconut oil argue two points: although it is high in saturated fat, (1) it is a plant-based saturated fat (not an animal source) and (2) it consists mainly of medium-chained triglycerides. Because of this unique composition and that its absorption differs from other fats, it may provide health benefits like increasing HDL cholesterol, decreasing LDL cholesterol, and decreasing adipose accumulation.
The jury is still out on coconut oil and much more long-term research has to be done. A couple of words of caution when using coconut oil. There are many types out there, including hydrogenated coconut oil. This is very different than virgin coconut oil. Hydrogenated oils change the composition of natural fats and change them into trans fats which are always going to be a no! So, read the label and choose carefully. Also, remember that this is just one component of your entire diet and exercise moderation because it’s still high in calories.
Eat happily and be safe, friends.
NASM Certified Personal Trainer