Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
In one hour of sustained physical exercise, the body can lose up to three quarts of water through perspiration. In that water are small amounts of “electrolyte” minerals – mainly sodium but also potassium – and carbohydrates (sugars), whose loss leads to fatigue.
For most of human history, the remedy to fluid loss was simple: drink water. But since the 1960s, sporting enthusiasts have an alternative – the “isotonic drink,” containing not only water but electrolytes and other minerals, plus vitamins, complex polymer carbohydrates, and amino acids.
In the United States, one of the sports drinks that is fast becoming popular is the water from coconut trees. Coconut water is available in supermarkets, health-food stores, and even in some vending machines in single-serving sizes (average price, $1.70).
“Drinking what they call coco water, and what we call buko juice, is a growing trend in the US,” then President Benigno Aquino III told the press when he returned from a working visit to the United States a couple of years back. “Because of its nutrients, because it is natural and environment friendly, it is becoming the new natural sports drink in America and is now a hundred-million-dollar industry.”
One US health magazine hails coco water as “America’s healthiest beverage” for providing enhanced hydration, essential nutrition, and all five essential electrolytes (calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and sodium).
When compared with a popular sports drink per 100 milligrams, coco water has more potassium (294 milligrams versus 11.7 milligrams), less sodium (25 milligrams versus 41 milligrams), more chloride (118 milligrams versus 39 milligrams), more magnesium (10 milligrams versus 7 milligrams), and less sugars (five milligrams versus six milligrams).
“Medically, the buko juice is one of the purest sources of energy in the world,” says Dr. Jose P. Naval, an occupational physician based in Davao. “It is considered to be sterile because of its sealed enclosure in the nut shell.”
Coconut is grown in almost all tropical countries. The Philippines, for instance, has around 340 million coconut trees planted on 3.4 million hectares.
As more countries will be joining the world’s US$1,000 million markets for “sports beverages,” particularly coco water, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has taken out a patent on a new process that would allow manufacturers to bottle coco water that is biologically pure, very tasty and full of the salts, sugars, and vitamins demanded by both sweating urban joggers and serious athletes.
The process was invented by Morton Satin, Chief of AG’s Agricultural Industries and Post-harvest Management Service, whose previous food inventions include high-fiber white bread and wheatless bread.
“Fresh coconut water is already highly valued in tropical countries,” Satin said. “A young coconut between six and nine months contains about 750 milliliters of water – really, its juice that eventually becomes the flesh.”
Satin regards coco water as “a natural isotonic beverage” that has “the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood.” “It’s the fluid of life, so to speak,” he pointed out.
During the Pacific War of 1941-45, both sides in the conflict regularly used coconut water – siphoned directly from the nut – to give emergency plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers.
The recent epidemic of cholera on the Pacific Ocean atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands renewed interest in the use of coconut water as a rehydration fluid. “In areas of the world where coconuts are plentiful, the advantages of sterility, availability and acceptability make coconut water theoretically feasible for the oral rehydration of patients with severe gastroenteritis when conventional fluids are unavailable,” the study said.
American nutritionist Jonny Bowden, the author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, considers coco water to be a “perfectly good option” for people who want to stay hydrated. “It’s high in heart-healthy potassium, with most brands providing about 700 milligrams in an 11-ounce serving – that’s lots more than you get in a banana,” he wrote. “It also has only about 60 calories per 11-ounce serving.”
Diabetics can also benefit from drinking coconut water. The Philippine Coconut Authority informs: “Potassium content of water is remarkably high at all nut ages. Together with sodium and phosphorus, potassium content also tends to increase with the ages of the coconut to peak at nine months. This characteristic of coconut water makes it a very good drinking water for diabetics. Diabetics waking from a coma recover quickly after drinking coconut water.”
There’s more to coco water than all these. Bruce Fife, considered the world’s leading expert on coconut and health, shared this anecdote in his book, Coconut Water for Health and Healing, on how coco water helped in treating cataract:
“We discovered this by accident while on a cruise ship (years ago). A few of us were on an island day trip and wanted to get off the beaten tourist’s path, so we hired a bus and driver to take us to the opposite side of the island (only 10 of us on that big bus). A man and his wife were taking the cruise as a sort of last hoorah before her scheduled cataract surgery, we later found out.
“Anyway, there was a beautiful beach with coconuts laying everywhere, and we got thirsty, but there was no drinking water. So we decided to open up some coconut to quench our dry throats. We found a local with a big machete, and through sign language, we convinced him to open coconuts for us. The woman with cataracts got splashed in one eye by the coconut juice, and it burned a bit.
“We were all digging through everything we had for something to relieve her eye ‘injury.’ All we came up with was one moist washcloth. Her husband wiped her eye and placed the washcloth over it. About 10 minutes later, she announced we should head back to the ship. We did.
“The next morning at breakfast, she said that her eye was much better and that she could see very well. We examined her eye closely and could not see any signs of the cataract, which was quite obvious the day before. She said she wished she had gotten splashed in both eyes. Then the idea dawned on us to ‘splash’ her other eye.
“We did that very day as soon as we got ashore and also repeated the other eye too. This time we were prepared. We went to the local market, grabbed a coconut, opened it, and strained it through a washcloth into a plastic cup, dribbled the juice into both eyes, placed a warm washcloth over both eyes, waited 10 minutes, and the rest is history.”
No more cataracts, and there was no surgery done. “Coconut water contains antioxidants as well as magnesium, potassium and other minerals and enzymes which may un-denature or relax the lens proteins, allowing them to realign and become transparent again,” Fife wrote.
“Coconut water may be an ideal eyewash or eye drop solution. If it can heal the damage caused by cataract, it may have other beneficial effects on eye health as well. Using it regularly may be an excellent way to prevent cataract, glaucoma, and perhaps other eye problems,” the author concludes.
Meanwhile, Satin sees coconut water as a natural contender in the sports drink market. “Just think of it,” he said. “What could be better than a natural beverage product with the delicate aroma, taste, drinking characteristics and nutritional value of pure, fresh, tender coconut water, plus all the functional characteristics required of a sports drink?”