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Coconut water: Believe the hype?

‘Nature’s sports drink’ can be a diet aid. We asked nutrition experts for guidance.

When it comes to packing a healthy punch, no one does it quite like Mother Nature, and her contribution to sports drinks is no exception.

Coconut water — dubbed “nature’s sports drink” — is the clear liquid found inside young, green coconuts. It’s fat free, cholesterol free, low in calories and loaded with body replenishing electrolytes including sodium, magnesium and more potassium than a banana. Coconut water is not to be confused with coconut milk, which comes from the grated meat of hard brown and hairy coconuts and is much higher in fat and calories.

“I love coconut water and always have some in my refrigerator,” said Paula Reed, certified nutritionist at The Studio Fitness in Vandalia. “I use it as a post-workout refresher as well as to calm my stomach. The coconut water that contains Aloe Vera is great if you have stomach upset.”

Reed leads various nutrition challenges at The Studio Fitness throughout the year and often recommends coconut water to clients as a healthy alternative to other sports drinks like Gatorade, which contain more calories, refined sugars, artificial flavoring and food coloring.

One such client is Betsy Hursh of Englewood. “I first tried coconut water during a sugar detox challenge at the gym,” said Hursh. “Paula recommended that I replace the Gatorade I had been drinking after working out with coconut water because of the lower sugar content.” Hursh says she still drinks coconut water a few times a week, particularly after a strenuous workout because, “I really do feel like I recover faster.”

Although there are many benefits to drinking it, Reed advises being diligent in reading ingredient labels, as not all coconut water is created equal. “If you’re looking for 100 percent natural coconut water then that should be the only thing listed under ingredients. The nutrition label will indicate sugar present, but those are the naturally occurring sugars from the coconut itself — not refined sugar added. ”

While coconut water is a healthy choice for post-workout refreshing, recovery after stomach ailments or even a natural hangover helper, Reed advises being cognizant of how much is being consumed. “You don’t want to replace all of your water with coconut water because you’ll likely be consuming more calories that you want to,” said Reed.

But is coconut water really any better for you than just drinking regular water? That depends on your activity level and whether or not you’re meeting your recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake.

According to Jennifer Dalton, a registered dietitian and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at the University of Dayton, “If you are currently not meeting your fruit and vegetable intake and looking for a flavored beverage option, you may opt for 8 ounce of unflavored coconut water to provide you with a good source of potassium.”

As for the hydration benefit of coconut water, Dalton says that if you’re a recreational exerciser (an hour or less per session) then replenishing lost electrolytes can probably be adequately accomplished via regular water.

“However,” says Dalton, “if the flavor of sports drinks or coconut water encourages someone to hydrate, then it can be a way to ensure adequate hydration — just watch the added calories from this hydration source.”

For the strenuous exerciser (two to three hours or more per session), Dalton says that while they would need to add additional carbohydrate and electrolyte sources to adequately replace energy and electrolytes lost during such intense workouts, “Coconut water does have a higher amount of potassium than sports drinks such as Gatorade.”

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