Body water is lost daily through waste elimination and sweat; even when not visible on skin, we perspire regularly to maintain body temperature. Hydration involves replacing this water day to day. Coconut water can supply fluid to hydrate but is not superior to water.
Coconut water is the liquid from a coconut when it is cracked open. It contains important electrolytes, like sodium, chloride and potassium. It differs from coconut milk, which comes from the meaty portion of the coconut and contains saturated fat.
Coconut water is being hyped as better than water because of its electrolyte content, but these nutrients are helpful, supplied quickly in a beverage, only for very active people and athletes who rapidly lose them through excessive sweating.
Water makes up 75 percent of muscle. It is needed for tissues and organs to work properly, and for nutrients to be transported into cells and wastes out. Humans can only survive about a week without water.
When fully hydrated the body performs optimally. Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, diminished athletic performance and, in severe cases, death.
Although water requirements vary based on body size, climate and activity level, a general aim is nine cups for women and 12 cups for men, according to the Dietary Reference Intake from the Food and Nutrition Board.
Water is the best fluid replacement for average exercisers, according to the American Council on Exercise. Beverages with electrolytes, like Gatorade, are helpful when exercising over an hour at high intensity. The purpose is to replace electrolytes lost in sweat and especially to avoid hyponatremia, a dangerous, sometimes fatal condition when the body’s sodium level drops and can be further diluted with drinking water.
People who sweat profusely for long periods of time, like marathon runners or football players training in hot temperatures, are at risk for hyponatremia and should choose sports drinks when hydrating.
Coconut water can be an option for athletes, but be aware it contains less sodium than sports drinks and one study found that only coconut water with sodium added to it helped with hydration in athletes.
Also, coconut water, a natural product, can contain varying amounts of electrolytes, which is different from a sports drink manufactured to contain a specific amount.
The makers of Vita Coco, a major brand of coconut water, settled a lawsuit this month and will pay $5 million to consumers because electrolyte amounts in their products were below what was reported on the food label. This was assessed through an independent study. Vita Coco has vowed to adjust its food labels to more accurately reflect amounts starting in May.
The average person can obtain recommended amounts of electrolytes, like potassium and chloride, from eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables. Eating whole foods is more filling than drinking liquids and supplies more fiber.
Most Americans are consuming excessive amounts of sodium, more than 3,000 mg, through food choices, and do not need additional amounts from coconut water.
Old-fashioned water will do just fine to hydrate the body.
Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. Send your questions to her at www.wickedgoodhealth.com. This column is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor before changing your diet.