We are all familiar with the uses of the coconut fruit from coconut water to other derived ingredients like coconut oil and coconut milk. Coconut water being the latest health food fad.
From unmarketable by-product to the most popular drink
Traditionally, coconuts were harvested for their meat or white coconut kernel to extract coconut oil. Because fresh coconut water is quick to decompose once the coconut is cut, the water was often discarded as an unmarketable by-product. With developments in technology, coconut water is now being preserved in cans or tetra packs and exported to international markets.
Coconut water- Why so Popular?
Fresh coconut (Cocos nucifera L) water is a clear, sterile, colourless and naturally flavoured drink.
Its main constituents (depending on fruit maturity levels) are:
- Water- H2O
- Sodium- Na
- Potassium- K
- Chlorine- Cl
- Sulphur- S
- Calcium- Ca
- Magnesium- Mg
- Phosphorus- P
- Manganese- Mn
- Aluminium- Al
- Zinc- Zn
- Iron- Fe
- Copper- Cu
Other traces of elements such as selenium, boron, molybdenum are also found. All of these minerals are in the form of electrolytes, which means it can be easily absorbed by the human body.
It is also a rich source of essential amino acids (lysine, histidine, tyrosine, L-arginine and tryptophan), fatty acids, glucose, fructose, cellulose, sucrose, and organic acids such as tartaric, citric and malic acids. The contents in the coconut water is similar to the body fluid plasma. In WWII, coconut water was used as intravenous fluid hydration and also as resuscitation fluid. In other words, coconut water was infused directly into the veins to improve the fluid balance in the body. Most of the health benefits attributed to coconut water can be traced to its amazingly rich mineral content.
Lets look at the health benefits of coconut water
- Low-fat Low-sugar drink
Compared to other readily available soda drinks that are high in chemicals (artificial colour and flavouring agents), fat and sugar, coconut water is relatively low in fat and sugar. It contains only a fifth of the sugar that you get from an equal amount of fresh grape or apple juice. Even though it has a low sugar content, it has a mildly sweet and delicate flavour. Making it a healthier alternative to most retail drinks.
- Prevent heat stroke
Dehydration and heat stroke is very common in hot weather. It has been shown that coconut water is better than normal water and even fruit juices when it comes to such conditions. This is because, coconut water re-hydrates the body by providing essential minerals that correct the electrolyte balance in the body.
- Nature’s sports drink
The natural electrolyte content in coconut water is better than the chemical electrolyte additives in the commercial sports drinks. The potassium content in coconut water will help you get rid of any muscle cramps and replenish the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout.
- Treatment for severe dehydration
Coconut water’s unique mineral composition is able to rehydrate the body and give it the necessary nutrients to recover. In addition, coconut water has a rich enzyme system which has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, stomach flu as well as urinary stone dissolution.
- Good heart, nerve and muscle functioning
Our body has the inherent ability to provide the nutrient supply for the functioning of various body parts. Coconut water has a rich content of potassium and some amount of sodium that plays a role in the normal bodily function.
Sodium is the principal ion in the fluid outside of cells while potassium is the principal ion in the fluid inside of cells. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical difference known as the membrane potential. The membrane potential is the basis for any cell function. A large portion of energy in the body is focused at maintaining sodium/potassium concentration gradients and tight control of this cell membrane potential is critical for heart function, nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
- Controls Blood pressure (BP) and prevents heart disease
High potassium content in coconut water can cause vasodilation in blood vessels and a significant improvement in endothelial cell (cells of the arteries wall) function. The walls of the arteries get dilated and improves blood flow. This will not only help reduce high BP but will also prevent any chances of atherosclerosis (Heart disease in which plaque develops in the arteries of the heart causing hardening and lack of blood flow).
- Anti-aging effect
Coconut water contains a rich source of cytokinins which is a growth-regulating hormone. This aids in repairing cell damage and degeneration.
- Treatment of Kidney Stones
Coconut water also helps to dissolve kidney stones by alkalizing the urine and acting as a natural diuretic. This means that drinking coconut water will increase urine production and flow. Dilute alkaline urine has a lesser chance for crystal formation since most minerals get dissolved completely in alkaline urine.
- Antioxidant effect
Amino acid L-arginine present in coconut water significantly reduces free radical damage. It reduces the oxidative damage to cells of our body, slowing down the aging process.
- Hormonal effect
Coconut juice is also believed to contain phytoestrogen and other sex hormone-like substances which can be used in hormone replacement therapy. This can reduce the risk of dementia and aid wound healing in postmenopausal women.
Given its wide range of benefits, this drink has gained a huge following and widespread availability. While coconut water has its goodness, it’s always wise to have a balanced diet and consume all foods in moderation. When in doubt, always seek an expert for advice.