Coconut water offers new alternative to sports drinks

Registered dietitian, Janet Helm, who writes about "fad-free healthy eating" in her blog called Nutrition Unplugged, notes: "Coconut water has been anointed nature's sports drink, and cartons of the electrolyte-laden liquid are appearing in gyms, yoga studios and the hands of the Hollywood elite."

Recent studies show coconut water, not to be confused with its higher-calorie cousins coconut milk and coconut cream, does deliver low-calorie, fat-free sports-drink-like benefits after strenuous exercise.

But you have to like the taste, says Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California-Davis.

"If you enjoy the taste, you're apt to drink more, and that's crucial to properly rehydrate after exercise," she says.

Applegate says coconut water, while an excellent source of the electrolyte mineral potassium, is short on sodium, which is the primary nutrient needed for rehydrating post exercise.

Nuts for Coconuts

To go for coconut beverages you certainly have to like the price. Coconut water is pretty costly at about $3 for an 11-ounce tetra pack.

Coconut Nutrition

Coconut water: Hydrating if you like the taste and price. Coconut water is a clear, thin liquid from inside green or young coconuts. Not calorie free, one cup of an unflavored variety contains 20 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, 250 milligrams of potassium and 150 milligrams of sodium.

Coconut milk: A thick, white liquid made by extracting some fat from the grated meat of a mature coconut. 197 calories, 20 grams saturated fat per cup. Only 18 milligrams of calcium per cup, compared to 122 milligrams in cow's milk.

Coconut cream: This is the almost solid cream that rises to the top of coconut milk; often sold in cans with added sugars and thickeners. Count a whopping 400 calories and 30 grams saturated fat per cup.

Coconut oil: Extracted from coconut meat one tablespoon contains 117 calories and12 grams of saturated fat. Registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman, nutrition director for WebMD, points out in her review of coconut oil that neither the American Heart Association (AHA) nor the U.S. government's 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest coconut oil is preferable over other saturated fats. Nutrition note: If you switch to coconut oil for cooking, you're not just consuming more saturated fasts, you're missing out on the benefits of the heart-healthy fats in olive oil or canola oil.

Shredded coconut: The dried meat from coconut is typically sweetened. 250 calories, 16 grams saturated fat per 1/2 cup. Use sparingly as addition to fruit salads or in baked goods.

Source: USDA Nutrient Data Base

Carolyn O'Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! Email her at carolynoneil@aol.com

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