A new study on coconuts reported by Australia’s ABC found that health claims about coconuts and coconut water have been exaggerated:
It is moderately rich in potassium and also contains small amounts of minerals such as magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. However, both the banana and the potato carry roughly the same amounts of potassium — and you don’t see potatoes being endorsed by celebrities and sold as the next crackpot Superfood.
Coconut water sales reached almost half a billion dollars world-wide in 2013. On supermarket shelves, in yoga studios and gyms it’s being heavily pushed as a rehydration liquid for athletes and lovers of natural food.
Sure, when you sweat, you lose water, sodium and lots of minerals. But studies have shown that coconut water is about as good at rehydrating you as generic sports drinks or, wait for it, water out of the tap. The false marketing claim that it is superior as a rehydration liquid to sports drinks was withdrawn in the USA after a 2011 class action lawsuit.
But what about the elite athletes who push themselves for more than an hour every day? In that case, coconut water does not have enough sodium to do a good job. And if you drink large amounts of coconut water to get enough sodium, you’ll soon realise that coconut water does have a laxative effect — which, to put it mildly, is not good for replenishing your bodily fluids. Another problem for the elite athletes is that because coconut water is not formulated in a factory, its ingredients can vary enormously from batch to batch.
But as a refreshing occasional drink, coconut water is fine. Just don’t waste your money filling your pantry with it, thinking that it is health-giving.
So what about coconut oil? It also has celebrity endorsement ranging from Olympic champions to movie stars like Angelina Jolie to Miranda Kerr, who claims she eats a spoonful every day. Its loudly trumpeted health benefits include controlling sugar cravings and your weight, as well as relieving stress and boosting your immunity. There is no compelling evidence for these claims.
One of the odd features of coconut oil is that it is rich in saturated fats — quite different from practically all the other oils that come from plants. It’s about 91 per cent saturated fats and only 6 per cent mono-unsaturated fats — virtually the opposite from olive oil which is 14 per cent saturated fats and 72 per cent mono-unsaturated fats.
From a storage point of view, saturated fats have an advantage. They make coconut oil resistant to oxidation and turning rancid – so you can store it for a few years before it goes off.
But from a health point of view, saturated fats have a big disadvantage. They are very strongly associated with bad blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. This is the overwhelming majority view of bodies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organisation, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association and many other professional medical and dietetic organisations. There is a minority view that saturated fats are good for you, but let me emphasise that this is very much a minority view.