March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
If you've read about coconut water — the liquid from an immature (green) coconut — online or in the media, you'd think it was a miracle beverage that could cure you of everything from heart disease to obesity. To get the real answers, we asked two registered dietitian nutritionists for their take on this increasingly popular drink.
Myth or fact? Coconut water is an ideal post-exercise drink.
The verdict: Myth. You may see gym-goers guzzling coconut water on the treadmill because it contains electrolytes, which you lose when you sweat. But for the average light-to-moderate exerciser, "If you're consuming enough fluids and eating healthfully the rest of the day, having coconut water after a workout is not going to significantly benefit you any more than hydrating with water," says Marjorie Nolan, RDN.
Unflavored coconut water is low in sugar and calories and is not the perfect sports drink. Sports drinks are meant to replace fluids, supply energy and replace sodium and potassium lost through perspiration.
Myth or fact? Coconut water hydrates you better than H2O.
The verdict: Myth. While coconut water does boast electrolytes, says Beth Thayer, RDN, there's no scientific proof that for the average person it hydrates better than plain old water.
Myth or fact? Coconut water has anti-aging properties.
The verdict: Myth. Being well-hydrated does help you look and feel better, says Nolan, but water works just as well for this. And, as to the online claim that coconut water "significantly increases plant cell proliferation without increasing the number of undesirable mutations" and, therefore, protects your cells — there's been no research to show that this plant-specific action makes any difference in an actual human being.
Myth or fact? Coconut water is healthier than fruit juice.
The verdict: Fact. If you're looking for a drink with some flavor but want to save on calories, coconut water can be a better choice than juice, says Thayer; fruit juice often has double the calories of coconut water. Thayer adds that coconut water has more potassium than many types of fruit juice. Just be sure to opt for unflavored coconut water — once you add sugar, the calories start mounting.
Myth or fact? Coconut water helps prevent stroke and heart attack.
The verdict: Myth. You may have seen coconut water touted as a heart-healthy beverage. The potassium in coconut water helps counteract the blood pressure-boosting effects of sodium, so, in theory, drinking coconut water could help prevent heart disease. However, says Thayer, "Your body's not going to differentiate between the potassium from coconut water, the potassium from a banana or the potassium from a potato." In other words, potassium is good, but coconut water is not a miracle heart disease cure.
Myth or fact? Coconut water speeds your metabolism.
The verdict: Myth. When we're dehydrated, our metabolism slows down, says Nolan, so anything you drink will help keep your metabolism speeding along. And anything you eat or drink will give a temporary boost to your metabolism because your body has to digest the food. But, "There's no food that you can eat or drink that's going to increase your metabolism [permanently]," says Thayer. "Exercise increases your metabolism, but food and beverages don't."