May 2010 Issue

The Surprising Benefits of Coconut Water
By Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 12 No. 5 P. 64

I have always been skeptical of product claims, and it looks like the FDA and I are starting to agree. On February 22, the administration notified 17 food companies that they had violated federal laws by making false or misleading claims on their products.
So imagine my shock when I read that coconut water was being touted as an IV fluid substitute when saline is unavailable. Searching PubMed, I found an article that was published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine on the IV use of coconut water. Researchers from the department of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California concluded that there have been many “successful uses of coconut water as a short-term intravenous hydration fluid.”

Prior to the article’s publication, there were many documented cases involving the IV use of coconut water and after reviewing the laboratory analysis of coconut water, scientists found that its electrolyte levels were ideal for critical emergency situations.

I was shocked by the conclusions and am even more surprised that some of the health benefits marketers are touting are actually accurate: Coconut water is low in calories, naturally contains electrolytes, and has more potassium than a banana. Unfortunately, when I visited one product’s Web site, it featured several surprising, non–evidence-based claims about coconut water’s ability to cleanse the kidneys, aid weight loss, and provide mental clarity. It’s a shame that certain companies dilute their core message with bogus health messages.

Coconut water is already wildly popular in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and now it is beginning to catch on in the United States. A Merrill Lynch analysis indicates that U.S. annual sales of coconut water have increased from $0 in 2004 to about $35 million in 2009. According to Kara Nielsen, a “trendologist” at the Center for Culinary Development, a brand development company in San Francisco, “Some believe coconut water is nature’s sport drink, but its attraction goes beyond its replenishing benefits. It’s all natural, evokes exotic tropical locales, is already popular with a global population, and tastes terrific.”

Most people drink coconut water plain, but using it as an ingredient has many advantages. The following is a basic recipe for jasmine rice for which I use coconut water rather than tap water. Not only is the rice more nutrient dense, but the slight coconut flavor is a tasty yet subtle addition.

— Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD, is a culinary nutrition communications consultant in New York City and online at


Jasmine Rice Salad

Serves 6

1 3⁄4 cups coconut water
1 cup jasmine rice (yields 3 cups cooked)
One 15.5-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 mango, chopped
1⁄3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T canola oil

Boil coconut water in a saucepan. Stir in rice. Reduce heat to low and cover. Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed; cool.

In a large bowl, combine cooked rice and remaining ingredients and toss well.

Nutrient Analysis:
Calories: 191
Total fat: 3 g
Saturated fat: 0 g
Trans fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 121 mg
Total carbohydrate: 39 g
Dietary fiber: 5 g
Protein: 6 g
Potassium: 1,400 mg