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Is coconut water good for my patients?

Derrick M. DeSilva, Jr., M.D., May 2012

Coconut water has become very popular—and with good reason. Dr. Daniel Amen calls it one of the seven foods that make you smarter. It is very high in potassium, which is important for brain health. Potassium is essential to nerve function, and helps neurons fire at the right speed.

While a medium sized banana has more potassium than coconut water, it is also much higher on the glycemic scale. It’s a trade-off; I’d rather have a little bit less potassium but less sugar. The other thing about bananas is, they spike your sugar really high; I never eat a whole banana. Coconut water does it in a healthier way, and it contains antioxidants.

Here’s a big caution for your patients: most coconut water out there today has sugar to make it more palatable for American tastes. They should make sure to get coconut water with sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio – 9 ounces of coconut water no more than 9 or 10 grams of sugar. (I buy it from a company in Thailand—a bit more expensive, but well worth it.)

Coconut water also has other electrolytes, so it is very good for people who have diarrhea. For people taking blood pressure medications that deplete potassium, it is phenomenal. It is excellent to rehydrate yourself instead of sports drinks, which are very high in sugar. After I play tennis I drink a bottle of coconut water along with regular water.

I usually drink 9 ounces three or four times a week. Drinking 9 ounces a day is a very reasonable amount.