In a rapidly modernizing world where processed food and fizzy drinks have been conveniently given priority, it is essential to reflect on one’s state of health. Sri Lanka being a tropical island has much to offer where natural products are concerned. Amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, we need to look into nature’s healing products. Thambili (king coconut) is a traveller’s energy booster and thirst quencher. It is said that tender coconut water is more refreshing and tastier than mature coconut water. Coconut milk, which is an integral part of Sri Lankan cuisine, is obtained from the mature coconut pulp. However, the coconut water found hidden inside the shell is often discarded, though it offers a wide range of health benefits. Mirror Medicine spoke to Dr. Damayanthi Perera (Ph D- Human Nutrition, Uni. London), a Nutrition, Dietetics and Lifestyle Specialist on the benefits of drinking coconut water.
QWhat are the constituents of coconut water?
When you say coconut water, I assume you are referring to tender, green coconut water (TGCW) that comes from immature green coconuts. Firstly, I wish to explain that there are different types of ‘coconut water’. Differences can arise due to a number of factors, including the variety of the coconut plant and the maturity of the nut. The main constituents of tender coconut water (TCW), whether it comes from the green-skinned or the orange-skinned coconuts (king coconut) are water, easily digestible carbohydrates in the form of sugars and electrolytes. Sugar content varies according to the maturity of the nut. Tender coconut water has more sugar than what is found in mature nuts (i.e. water that comes from the coconuts used for cooking) but it is far less than what is found in aerated water and processed fruit juices.
Potassium and sodium are two important electrolytes present in human serum (serum is a fraction of the blood). In general these minerals are called ‘serum electrolytes’. In the human body, these electrolytes have specific functions and are maintained within certain limits. In coconut water, potassium is found in a much higher concentration than sodium or in other words, these two electrolytes (coconut electrolytes) have a healthy balance.
Coconut water also provides other key minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorous. Coconut water also contains vitamin C and some vitamins of the B-complex such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and vitamin B-6.
QWhat are the benefits of drinking coconut water?
Firstly, coconut water is a healthy, refreshing beverage that can be used in place of unhealthy, high sugar and chemically based, aerated soft drinks such as Cola and other beverages. It is also far better than ‘highly processed’ fruit juices. In hot and humid climates it is common to lose body water and electrolytes through perspiration. Therefore, tender coconut water is an ideal beverage in a country like Sri Lanka.
Sportsmen/women lose more water and electrolytes than sedentary people. Tender coconut water has much less sugar than most sports drinks and also less sugar than fruit juices. Tender coconut water is an ideal hydrating beverage. As a result, it has become a favourite sports drink in Western countries and dubbed ‘Mother Nature’s Sports Drink’.
Coconut water is also very beneficial to those suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting. Both these conditions lead to the loss of body water and electrolytes. Tender coconut water is ‘Natural Jeewanee’ that provides natural hydration (Jeewanee is the commercially manufactured oral rehydrating fluid used in Sri Lanka). TCW also helps to rehydrate after a hangover and claimed to be beneficial for a host of ailments including cancer and kidney stones.
It is now known that potassium-rich foods help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Banana is a fruit rich in potassium. However, coconut water has a much higher content of potassium compared to bananas which have a lower content of sugars (carbohydrates).
QWhat is better- king coconut water or green coconut water?
There is a traditional belief that tender king coconut water is better than green coconut water. In Sri Lanka we have a long way to go in relation to food, nutrition and health research. I say so because though many talk about Food and Nutrition and we have a Ministry of Health and Nutrition, we do not even have a National Food Composition Table! Without having local analytical data, it is not possible to give an exact answer to this question.
There is growing international demand for coconut water, virgin coconut oil and other coconut products but there is little or no research into these products. Relevant authorities should conduct research into these products. Prior to that, it is important to collect and collate the available local and global data.
QAre there any negative effects of drinking coconut water?
There is no cholesterol in coconut water or any food or oil of plant origin. Drinking 1-2 glasses of coconut water per day with a healthy diet will not lead to any negative health effects. However for those with kidney failure, coconut water or any food containing high potassium is not recommended.