Coconuts for Health: Hold the Lime!

13 Sep

By: Jessica Ingram


Image Courtesy of Jessica Ingram.

Coconut appears to be an impressive fruit, as I have recently taken notice from the abundance of marketing ads for coconut-based products. The Cocos Nucifera palm flourishes in tropical and subtropical regions and has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic medicine for supposed prevention and treatment of  bronchitis, gingivitis, and fever (DebMandal, 2011).  Coconut – or parts thereof – are thought to be healthful. Although there is a lot of exciting potential with coconut, what does the scientific evidence say?

Coconut water (CW) has gained a reputation as a great hydrating beverage, with benefits beyond water. But why? Water is considered a sufficient means of pre- and post-workout hydration for relatively short periods of exercise (<75 minutes), although aerobic exercise of any kind can potentially disrupt fluid and electrolyte balance within the body (Kalman, 2012).  Electrolytes help to maintain nerve and muscle function. They are naturally found in CW, with 1 cup CW providing 600 mg of potassium, 252 mg of sodium, 60 mg of magnesium (USDA, 2013). CW is reported to be as effective as a sport drink or bottled water in restoring hydration status after a strenuous exercise period (Kalman, 2012).  Other human exercise studies have found CW to provide superior rehydration and blood volume restoration compared to drinking water, although it was less effective than commercial sports drinks (Ismail, 2007; Saat, 2002).  However, CW has the benefit that it does not contain added sweeteners or artificial flavours, as are found in many carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages (Nevin, 2009).  Whether your drink of choice for hydration or pleasure, be sure to read the product label to ensure you are buying 100% pure coconut water without added sugars.

As a food ingredient, coconut oil (CO) sometimes gets a bad reputation due to its high concentration of saturated fatty acids that are believed to be hypercholesterolemic (Arunima, 2012). In fact, the oils found in coconut are composed of approximately 60% medium chain fatty acids. These are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body for fuel and energy production, and not main culprits in CVD risk (Nevin, 2009; Arunima, 2012). Attention has also focused on virgin coconut oil (VCO) extracted from coconut milk by a wet process under mild temperatures, which helps to retain important biologically active components such as phytosterols, polyphenols and vitamin E (Nevin, 2009). In vitro and animal studies have demonstrated a greater reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased antioxidant activity with VCO compared to CO (Nevin, 2009; Arunima, 2012). Importantly, however, human studies of coconut oil – regular and virgin – are limited and more research is required to validate these relationships. 

With its appealing taste and aroma, it’s no surprise that many people are attracted to using coconut for a variety of purposes, including cooking, healing, and moisturizing. In fact, some popular Internet sites list up to 100 ways coconut can be used for health! Although the research is encouraging, read and proceed with caution, as most claims are not yet fully substantiated.


Arunima, S., Rajamohan, T. (2012). Virgin coconut oil improves heptatic lipid metabolism in rats- compared with copra oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 50, 802-809.

DebMandal, M., Mandal, S. (2011). Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In health promotion and disease prevention. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine.  4(3). 241-247.

Ismail, I., Singh, R., Sirisinghe, R.G. (2007). Rehydration With Sodium-Enriched Coconut Water After Exercise-Induced Dehydration. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health, 38(4), 769-785.

Kalman, D.S., Feldman, S., Krieger, D.R., Bloomer, R.J. (2012). Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1).

Nevin, G.K., Rajamohan, T. (2009). Wet and dry extraction of coconut oil: impact on lipid metabolic and antioxidant status in cholesterol coadministered rats. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 87, 610-616.

Saat, M., Singh, R., Sirisinghe, R.G., Nawawi, M. (2002). Rehydration after exercise with fresh young coconut water, carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage, and plain water. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 21(2), 93-104.

USDA. (2013).  Nutrient Data Laboratory; Nutrient Data for 12119, nuts, coconut water (liquid from coconuts). Retrieved From: =&qlookup=coconut. Date Accessed: June 19th, 2013.


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