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Coconut Water Is Nature’s Gatorade

Coconuts have been so maligned in dietary circles that those of us who’ve jumped on the coconut bandwagon and started singing it’s praises are often maligned ourselves.

Coconuts are mostly saturated fat, so surely we must be absolutely crazy to promote it as a healthy food.

But — wonder of wonders — coconut is making a comeback! And it’s not just in circles like ours where we challenge politically correct nutrition in favor of traditional food wisdom. You’ll never believe what I just saw. ABC News NOW ran a story on coconuts in which they interviewed a registered dietitian, and the dietitian only had positive things to say.

In fact, she called coconut water “nature’s Gatorade.” What an apt description! Go watch the video.

Here are some of the highlights of the short piece.

First, she defined a coconut and its various life-cycle stages. Coconuts are neither fruits, nor are they tree nuts. So, if you have a tree nut allergy, you have nothing to fear from coconuts. Coconuts are actually the seeds of the palm tree.

When coconuts are young, they are essentially like green water balloons. They have a very thin skin, almost no meat, and are mostly water inside. This coconut water has many benefits. It’s full of potassium and electrolytes and has an osmolality identical to our own blood. Translation: it’s amazingly hydrating, and the water is absorbed almost immediately into our cells. Hence, it’s “nature’s Gatorade.” Perhaps you need to rehydrate after intense physical activity? Maybe your child is ill and you want to prevent dehydration? Why turn to high-fructose, synthetic-vitamin laden drinks like Pedialyte or Gatorade when you can drink a traditional beverage straight from nature that tropical people have relied on for thousands of years?

Plus, if you add a little water kefir grains to the coconut water, you can make one of the most healthful probiotic beverages on the planet — one that (according to the Body Ecology Diet and Gut and Psychology Syndrome) has helped halt, reverse, and even heal austism spectrum disorders in young children.

(Speaking of water kefir grains, have you entered yet for your chance to win 3 Free starter cultures from Cultures For Health?)

As coconuts mature, their shell thickens and meat starts forming inside. The coconut water content starts falling, and the juice inside is now what we call coconut milk. Coconut milk is higher in fat and protein, and makes a delicious addition to curries, stews, stir fries, and soups. It can also be used to replace dairy in products like ice cream. Coconut milk is harvested by squeezing coconut meat through cheesecloth. The meat that remains can be dried and used as unsweetened dry coconut flakes in all your cooking. Coconut cream is simply really thick coconut milk.

If you let coconut milk set, it will eventually separate into oil & milk. The coconut oil has many benefits, which I’ve highlighted before. Perhaps the best thing about coconut oil is that it’s high in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) — a type of fat that does not require typical digestion. That’s right. MCFAs don’t require our body to produce bile salts to digest them, nor do they need to be altered from their current form in order to be assimilated into our body. In other words, they get used as fuel almost immediately upon eating. As such, MCFAs can actually promote weight loss because they help our bodies start metabolizing fat rather than storing it.

Honestly, I was surprised to see such a glowing segment honoring coconut on a national cable news network. It’s about time!

This post is participating in today’s Real Food Wednesday carnival hosted by Kelly The Kitchen Kop. Go check it out!

(photo by nidriel)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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27 Responses to Coconut Water Is Nature’s Gatorade
  1. Tara
    August 19, 2009 | 11:06 am

    That is so encouraging! I’ve been adding lots of coconut to my diet lately. In fact, just today I received my gallon of coconut oil from Nutiva. My son plays high school football and he has been complaining of having intense sugar cravings after practice. I figured it was his body needing some quick energy replacements. He’s wanting some type of sport drink. Wonder where I can get my hands on a good supply of coconut water?
    .-= Tara

  2. wwwebbs
    August 19, 2009 | 11:49 am

    @NoMeatAthlete Next time, take some coconut water with you (not coconut milk!)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. Local Nourishment
    August 19, 2009 | 11:53 am

    I’ve been buying coconut water at my health food store. It’s not inexpensive, but we rarely drink anything other than water, raw milk and homemade kombucha, so it is worth it to me to make the investment. I love drinking coconut kefir, especially in hot weather like we’ve had this summer. When a tummy bug ran through our family, it was particularly helpful to have coconut kefir on hand to soothe upset tummies and replace lost fluids.
    .-= Local Nourishment

  4. Winkyboy
    August 19, 2009 | 11:54 am

    “Coconut Is Nature’s Gatorade.” Major cable news network covers the health benefits of coconuts. (RT @FoodRenegade)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. KristenM
    August 19, 2009 | 12:17 pm

    Peggy — Sounds like the beverages in your house are identical to ours. :) We also sometimes make a fermented lemonade using the NT recipe for “Punch,” but only when lemons are in season and cheap.

    Tara — You can buy it at most health food stores, Asian markets, or online. Try to get just plain coconut water without any additives, though. Sometimes that can be difficult. :(

  6. pjcooper
    August 19, 2009 | 12:46 pm

    Coconut Milk Is Nature’s Gatorade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  7. Living A Whole Life
    August 19, 2009 | 12:50 pm

    Great post! I’ve been using coconut oil for awhile now, but never thought to use coconut water. I’ll have to check it out.

    .-= Living A Whole Life

  8. sputnikSweethrt
    August 19, 2009 | 12:57 pm More benefits of coconut. “Coconut water is nature’s gatorade.” (minus the HFCS!)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  9. ttexed
    August 19, 2009 | 2:06 pm

    Coconut Milk Is Nature’s Gatorade:

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  10. Alisa - Frugal Foodie
    August 19, 2009 | 4:27 pm

    I have a coconut water chilling in my fridge that I have yet to try; I may have to crack that baby open now that I know the benefits!
    .-= Alisa – Frugal Foodie

  11. Tamara
    August 19, 2009 | 5:58 pm

    Good to see coconuts are getting good press! I fed my husband coconut water when he fell really ill this past January. It really helped to keep him hydrated (even tho he could only sip a little here and there) and helped kick his illness in the butt, lol.

  12. Stacy@Delighting in the Days
    August 19, 2009 | 7:03 pm

    I’ve been planning to make some coconut water!

    Reading this makes me wonder if it might be a good drink to sip on during labor. I wonder…
    .-= Stacy@Delighting in the Days

  13. Vik
    August 19, 2009 | 8:51 pm

    All the packaged Coconut Water I have seen (VitaCoco, O.N.E., Zico, etc.) are all pasturized so they don’t have all the good stuff! We bought and drank a small fortune of it before I realized this!
    Now we just buy the Young Thai Coconuts from a good source -it tastes so much better and I noticed it seemed to set better on my stomach than the packaged coconut water.

  14. Vin - NaturalBias
    August 20, 2009 | 11:20 am

    As a health conscious athlete, I think it’s unfortunate how many people think they need sports drinks to support their physical activity. I’ve always been intrigued by coconut water, but have never tried it. I’ve tried making my own by melting coconut oil and mixing it in water, but it doesn’t work so well. ;) Normally, I just put some sea salt in my water.

    Has anyone had success making their own coconut water? I assume you need pre-ripened coconuts rather than coconut oil? Are there any reputable brands of coconut water that can be ordered online?

    By the way, what a great sign for a registered dietitian (ADA I assume) to be promoting coconut!
    .-= Vin – NaturalBias

  15. KristenM
    August 20, 2009 | 11:33 am

    Vin — You can harvest your own coconut water by buying young (not mature!) coconuts at your grocery store (usually in the produce aisle), opening them up with a knife, then draining the water inside. There are plenty of reputable brands out there. Just look for the ones without any additives.

    Like Vik said, you can’t find any truly raw, fresh coconut water on the shelf (that I know of), but that doesn’t affect it’s unique hydration properties or electrolyte balance, just it’s enzyme content. Obviously, it’s better for you raw. But it’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth harvesting it yourself from a young coconut.

    Among those sold pre-packaged, I’ve heard good things about Dr. Martin’s coconut water because they don’t flash pasteurize. Instead, they do some sort of patented process whereby the coconut juice is extracted under cold temperatures and packaged in an airtight container so that it never sees light nor heat. It has a short shelf life (3 weeks), but it’s technically “raw.” If someplace near you sells it, it’s probably in the refrigerator section. I’m not sure about buying it online. You’d have to research that.

  16. Teresa
    August 20, 2009 | 3:30 pm

    Just saw an interesting article on Coconut Water Kefir:

    Anyone here tried this? Sounds like it would be downright tasty, and healthy to boot!

  17. coyotewhisper
    August 20, 2009 | 5:43 pm

    Reading @foodrenegade Coconut Water Is Nature’s Gatorade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  18. Emily
    August 20, 2009 | 6:10 pm

    Any suggestions of similar products for those of us who live in temperate climates? It seems every climate has a local product that does similar things, and I hate to think about all the energy it takes to get coconuts to Michigan!

  19. dailydiner
    August 23, 2009 | 8:08 am

    God Save The Coconuts! I won a coffee at starbucks because I knew that coconuts are the worlds largest seed. A very impressive peice of silly trivia. :) So glad that there are RD’s out there who get it. I recently sat through a hearing in the CAlifornia Legislature in which RD after RD got up and demonized whole milk while holding up (pink), non-fat, strawberry milk as a healthy alternative. I wanted to scream. so frusterated.
    .-= dailydiner

  20. Lori
    August 23, 2009 | 9:49 pm

    THANKS for answering a question I have had for years and no dietician or doctor could answer it. I have a tree nut allergy and have always wondered if that included coconuts. I have avoid them as the risk was too high. Now I know.

  21. Carla
    August 23, 2009 | 11:55 pm

    Though I love coconut water, I have mixed feelings because coconuts isnt local to me (California). I cook with and eat coconut oil, and buy young coconuts occasionally, but still feel conflicted because it doesn’t fit with my “buy and eat local” goals. I cant find anything else that compares to coconuts
    .-= Carla

  22. April
    August 26, 2009 | 4:44 am

    I am hoping to convince my husband to drink coconut water over Gatorade, but for my money, I’d like the most nutrients possible…not a pasteurized juice! I looked into Dr. Martin’s coco water and it seems that the company is in Europe. I am wondering if there is a place to buy fresh or unpasteurized coconut water in San Diego. Sounds like Whole Foods and other stores just have the pasteurized waters. Anyone know anything I don’t know? I don’t want to buy online if I don’t have to because that gets expensive. My husband will never go for it if the price is out the roof.

  23. LillysTable
    August 28, 2009 | 9:55 am

    so true! rt @Zacharycohen Coconut Water Is Nature’s Gatorade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  24. Ganga108
    September 6, 2009 | 8:54 am

    I love coconut water. Yes oh yes. It is a wondrous food.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  25. Noticias Tecnologia
    June 6, 2011 | 1:35 pm

    Wow, didn’t know Coconut Water could be so good in a diet, thanks for sharing.

  26. Letty Sison
    July 10, 2011 | 7:03 pm

    Just read above comments about coconut water ( I call it juice.) In my eagerness to add my 2 cents, I posted my comments on FACEBOOK (lol).
    You can buy young coconuts in ASIAN markets. They usually have the green skin. It is easier to slice (sharp thick knife) on top then make a small quarter size hole ( smaller knife)to make an opening. Be careful not to spill the juice.
    The younger and fresher the coconut the better the taste ( sweet and refreshing!)!
    Good luck!
    The flesh( meat) can be scraped as a delicious treat!
    It is available frozen at Asian markets.

  27. eliz
    July 17, 2014 | 7:47 pm

    hi ! where do you get your coconuts? you live in bay area right? i have been reading about the processing of coconuts and coconut waters lately… (:

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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