Go­ing Coco?

It’s been touted as the hip new health drink, promis­ing ev­ery­thing from weight loss to lower blood pres­sure, but is co­conut wa­ter all it’s cracked up to be, asks Peta Bee

Friday - - Living -

As a new year be­gins, we’re all search­ing for the next healthy trend to help us meet our res­o­lu­tions and, ex­tracted from the cen­tre of young, green co­conuts, co­conut wa­ter is be­ing touted as the hip new health drink. It was most of­ten found, un­til re­cently, on trop­i­cal beaches, so few of us had come across it, yet its pop­u­lar­ity with the likes of Si­enna Miller, Elle Macpher­son, Claudia Schif­fer and Lady Gaga has sent its pro­file soar­ing. Vic­to­ria Beck­ham says she drinks it to stay hy­drated, and Ri­hanna is the face of the best­selling Vita Coco brand. Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore like it so much, they have re­port­edly in­vested money in co­conut-wa­ter brands.

What sets it apart from other drinks, claim pro­po­nents, is its pu­rity. Ap­par­ently, it is an unadul­ter­ated source of elec­trolytes— which are es­sen­tial for health— in­clud­ing sodium, potas­sium, mag­ne­sium and phos­phate. The nut-flavoured juice is 94% wa­ter, but it also con­tains plant hor­mones, en­zymes and B vi­ta­mins. There are claims that drink­ing it reg­u­larly can im­prove blood pres­sure and lower the risk of heart disease, aid weight loss, boost the im­mune sys­tem and even pre­vent acne. Since it con­tains the same ros­ter of salts and min­er­als lost through sweat, it has be­come par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among gym junkies look­ing for a nat­u­ral means of re­hy­dra­tion, free from gar­ish colours and ar­ti­fi­cial preser­va­tives. Bikram Choud­hury, the hot-yoga guru, has em­braced co­conut wa­ter in a big way, sell­ing it at his stu­dios, and Tracy An­der­son, the celebrity per­sonal trainer who ad­vises Gwyneth Pal­trow, claims: “It’s the best thing when you are train­ing.”

Its com­mer­cial ap­peal has even sparked a co­conut-wa­ter war among drinks man­u­fac­tur­ers. There are tens of brands on the mar­ket-across the world and sales of Vita Coco, the big­gest name, grew by 136 per cent last year, mak­ing it the fastest-grow­ing soft drink. Yet our thirst for it could be tem­pered by sug­ges­tions that co­conut wa­ter is not all it is cracked up to be.

What ran­kles with ex­er­cise sci­en­tists and nutri­tion­ists is that few of the claims made by man­u­fac­tur­ers are sub­stan­ti­ated, and the ev­i­dence for its ben­e­fits is mostly anec­do­tal. Stud­ies on co­conut wa­ter are small, sparse and of­ten in­dus­try-funded. Of those that are pub­lished, re­sults do not sup­port the hype, par­tic­u­larly when linked to can­cer preven­tion, anti-age­ing and boosted im­mu­nity. “A lot of ex­cite­ment has arisen from a few in­signif­i­cant stud­ies,” says Ni­cole Roth­band, of the Bri­tish Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion (BDA). Eight years ago, one such pa­per in the West In­dian Med­i­cal Jour­nal re­ported that a small group of men with hy­per­ten­sion who drank 300ml of co­conut wa­ter a day for two weeks ex­pe­ri­enced im­prove­ments in their blood pres­sure. Re­searchers put it down to the drink’s high potas­sium con­tent. “Potas­sium does help to reg­u­late blood pres­sure,” Roth­band says, “but you get al­most as much in a ba­nana, and other fruits are good sources, as is dairy food. Its potas­sium con­tent is not so stag­ger­ing that it makes it unique.”

As a fit­ness drink, it also lacks con­vinc­ing sci­en­tific backup. Last year, a study in the Jour­nal of the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Sports Nu­tri­tion re­ported lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween bot­tled wa­ter, sports drinks and two va­ri­eties of co­conut wa­ter when it came

to boost­ing ex­er­cise per­for­mance or hy­dra­tion. In another, pre­sented to the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­ety, Dr Ch­han­dashri Bhattacharya of Indiana Univer­sity com­pared the nutritional make-up of co­conut wa­ter with that of Ga­torade and Pow­er­ade. Her find­ings showed that the co­conut drink con­tained 1,500mg of potas­sium per litre, five times more than the sports drinks. How­ever, it fell short on lev­els of sodium, lost in sweat, con­tain­ing 400mg per litre, whereas the en­ergy drinks had 600mg per litre, so se­ri­ous ex­er­cis­ers who sweat a lot would need to add salt to their co­conut drink to make it ef­fec­tive. For that rea­son, says Linia Pa­tel, a sports di­eti­cian with the BDA, it is not the best drink to sip af­ter a hard work­out such as Bikram yoga or a run. “In ad­di­tion to fluid, what is needed when you work out with in­ten­sity is car­bo­hy­drate in the form of sug­ars to re­plen­ish en­ergy stores, and some sodium to en­hance fluid ab­sorp­tion and re­place sweat losses. Co­conut wa­ter has some, but not in the op­ti­mum ra­tio to sup­port in­tense ac­tiv­ity.”

Many com­mer­cial co­conut drinks con­tain less sodium than is found in juice sipped straight from the co­conut or in a reg­u­lar sports drink. In 2011, an anal­y­sis by the in­de­pen­dent prod­uct-test­ing com­pany Con­sumerLab. com found that two of the three most pop­u­lar brands of co­conut wa­ter con­tained far fewer elec­trolytes than in­di­cated on their la­bels. One brand had only 18 per cent of the promised level of sodium, lead­ing Con­sumerLab’s Dr Tod Coop­er­man, who headed the trial, to warn: “Peo­ple shouldn’t count on co­conut wa­ter for se­ri­ous re­hy­dra­tion.”

And what of sug­ges­tions that it will help with weight loss by boost­ing me­tab­o­lism and curb­ing ap­petite? Roth­band says they are far-fetched. Al­though there is ev­i­dence that tak­ing flu­ids be­fore a meal can lead to the con­sump­tion of fewer calo­ries, wa­ter does the job per­fectly. And co­conut wa­ter is not su­gar-free; rather, it pro­vides 45-60 calo­ries in a car­ton or bot­tle, more in flavoured prod­ucts. “A few of those a day would soon add up and be re­flected in weight gain un­less other diet changes were made,” says Roth­band. “And don’t be fooled by the ‘nat­u­ral’ tag. The su­gar it con­tains is as dam­ag­ing as any other form of ad­di­tional su­gar in the diet.”

What is the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ re­sponse to th­ese ac­cu­sa­tions? “While there have been some neg­a­tive stud­ies, there have also been pos­i­tive stud­ies, and a lot

At the mo­ment, co­conut wa­ter’s only solid claim to boost­ing health is based on hype

of highly cred­i­ble sports­peo­ple and nutri­tion­ists choose to back our prod­ucts,” says Giles Brook, the CEO of Vita Coco Europe. “We be­lieve Vita Coco is a great nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tional sports drinks, but ... would never rec­om­mend Vita Coco as a straight al­ter­na­tive for wa­ter.”

Not that we should ig­nore its al­lure al­to­gether. While it’s not a panacea, it is nu­tri­tion­ally su­pe­rior (and less harm­ful to the waist­line) than many soft drinks. Just don’t ex­pect mir­a­cles. “At the mo­ment, its only solid claim to boost­ing health is based on hype,” Roth­band says. “A few nuggets of re­search have been ex­panded out of pro­por­tion to cre­ate this level of overex­cite­ment about co­conut wa­ter. Un­til sci­ence proves oth­er­wise, it is just another drink.”

Ac­cord­ing to an ex­pert, co­conut wa­ter may not be the best

drink to sip af­ter a stren­u­ous work­out such as Bikram yoga or a run

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