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Coconut Water: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Coconut water is the fluid that’s naturally found in young coconuts (Cocos nucifera). As coconuts grow, some of this water becomes coconut meat, which is the flesh found within the fruit.

Sipping coconut water isn’t just refreshing—it’s also good for you. Coconut water contains antioxidants and minerals called electrolytes that support hydration. There are plenty of ways to incorporate coconut water into your diet to reap the benefits. However, coconut water may not be safe for everyone.

Like most fluids, coconut water can contribute to your daily hydration needs. Coconut water is essentially water with added carbohydrates and electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help maintain proper fluid balance in the body by regulating how much water enters and exits cells. Electrolytes also help maintain the body’s pH balance, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Imbalances in the amount of water or electrolytes in the body can potentially lead to dehydration. You may lose electrolytes if you’re sick and experiencing ongoing vomiting or diarrhea. People who sweat a lot due to hot climates or during prolonged high-intensity exercise are also at risk of electrolyte losses and dehydration if they don’t drink enough fluid.

Coconut water is often recommended for rehydration after a stomach flu or an intense workout because it’s rich in fluid and electrolytes. However, it’s not clear whether the beverage treats dehydration better than plain water.

Studies comparing the efficacy of coconut water and regular water for rehydration after vomiting and diarrhea are limited. Although coconut water is a hydrating beverage, more research is needed before it can be recommended as a remedy for clinical dehydration.

Some research suggests drinking coconut water before or after exercise may be more beneficial for performance and recovery than drinking water or sports drinks.

One study assessing the benefits of coconut water on athletic performance reported that drinking coconut water before exercising in a hot environment prolonged the time it took participants to reach exhaustion compared to regular water—but only by a few seconds.

This may be because the main electrolyte lost through sweat is sodium, but the main electrolyte found in coconut water is potassium.

In an older study, researchers compared the effects of plain water, sports drinks, coconut water, and sodium-enriched coconut water on athletic performance. Sodium-enriched coconut water and sports drinks offered the best rehydration after exercise, and plain coconut water offered better rehydration than plain water. Sodium-enriched coconut water also produced fewer side effects (e.g., nausea and stomach upset).

Coconut water is also naturally sweet and offers a higher quality source of carbohydrates than sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks. However, some coconut water products contain added sugars—make sure to choose one without added sugar or sweetener.

Natural sugars in coconut water supply the body with quick energy, which is critical during strenuous exercise. The body doesn’t utilize proteins and fats as efficiently as carbohydrates during physical activity, so fueling the body with natural sugars like the ones found in coconut water can be helpful during lengthy endurance workouts.

Drinking coconut water may help manage blood pressure. The beverage is rich in potassium, a key mineral lacking in many Americans’ diets. Potassium can help lower blood pressure levels by removing excess sodium from the body and reducing the force pressing against blood vessel walls.

A small, older study of 28 people with high blood pressure reported significant reductions in participants’ systolic blood pressure after they drank coconut water daily for two weeks.

Another more recent study utilizing rodents found that coconut water shows promise as a natural diuretic (a substance that increases urine output) without reducing electrolyte levels. Diuretics are often used to help treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and other cardiovascular conditions as they help remove excess sodium from the body.

However, studies demonstrating that coconut water can meaningfully lower blood pressure levels are limited. Many of these studies are small, short in duration, or on animals rather than humans. More data is needed before coconut water can be recommended for managing high blood pressure in the long term.

Consuming potassium-rich foods and drinks like coconut water may also lower the risk of kidney stones, since potassium prevents the body from releasing too much calcium in the urine.

Two large-scale observational studies found that people who consumed the most potassium appeared to have a 35-51% lower risk of developing kidney stones compared to people who consumed the least potassium.

Another study found that drinking coconut water increases potassium, chloride, and citrate levels in the urine—all of which can help decrease the risk of developing kidney stones. However, this study focused on people without a history of kidney stones.

Coconut water is low in calories but it still delivers small amounts of hydrating electrolytes. Unlike coconut milk, which is rich in saturated fat, coconut water is fat-free.

Eight fluid ounces (oz), or one cup, of unsweetened coconut water provides:

  • Calories: 43 
  • Fat: 0 grams (g)
  • Protein: 0.5 g 
  • Carbohydrates: 10.2 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Added sugars: 0 g
  • Sodium: 62.4 milligrams (mg), or 2.7% of the Daily Value (DV) 
  • Potassium: 396 mg, or 8.4% of the DV

One cup of coconut water contains 62 mg of sodium—significantly less than most beverages created for optimal hydration. For example, Gatorade products contain between 160-310 mg of sodium per 12-oz serving. Classic Pedialyte contains 370 mg of sodium per 12-oz serving.

Coconut water is generally well tolerated and safe to consume in moderation, but some people may need to limit or avoid the beverage altogether.

Here are a few reasons you may need to pass on coconut water:

  • Coconut allergy: Coconut allergies are relatively rare (less than 0.5% of the United States population), and the amount of coconut proteins in coconut water is minimal. Typically, proteins trigger immune reactions in people with allergies. Coconut is a tree nut, so people with tree nut allergies may also be sensitive to coconut. You may want to avoid drinking coconut water if you have a coconut or tree nut allergy.
  • High blood pressure medications or supplements: Drinking large quantities of coconut water while taking medications or herbal supplements to lower blood pressure could potentially lead to hypotension (dangerously low blood pressure).
  • Potassium-sparing diuretic: Drinking large amounts of coconut water while taking potassium-sparing diuretics—such as Aldactone (spironolactone)—could lead to dangerously high potassium levels (hyperkalemia) over time.
  • Kidney disease: If you’re limiting your dietary potassium intake to manage chronic kidney disease, you may opt for plain water over coconut water to avoid consuming too much potassium.
  • Limited-carbohydrates diet: Coconut water can often be a more hydrating beverage than plain water. However, if you’re watching your carbohydrate intake for blood sugar balance or weight management, choosing coconut water over plain water may not make sense. Though it’s low in calories, coconut water has more calories than water and is higher in carbohydrates. Plus, some coconut water products are sweetened with added sugar.

If any of the above applies to you, ask your healthcare provider if coconut water is appropriate and safe for your health needs.

Coconut water is naturally sweet. Unless you buy coconut water that lists added sugars on its nutrition label, you can assume the drink’s sweet flavor comes from the natural carbohydrates in the fruit.

Choosing unsweetened coconut water can help you avoid drinking excess sugars. You can tell if a product is sweetened by checking the package. The only ingredient listed should be coconut water, and the ‘added sugars’ line in the nutrition facts panel should read: ‘Includes 0 grams added sugars.’ 

Though coconut water is hydrating, it’s not recommended to completely replace plain water with coconut water. Hydrating with coconut water alone (even if it’s unsweetened) can result in a high sugar intake over time since the beverage contains natural sugars like glucose and fructose.

Try to get the majority of your fluid needs from plain water and enjoy coconut water on occasion by doing the following: 

  • Drink it plain or mix one-half coconut water with one-half plain water for a semi-sweet sip
  • Use coconut water as a base for homemade smoothies and popsicles
  • Add a splash of coconut water to iced coffee for a refreshing infusion of flavor (and a little extra hydration!)
  • Freeze it into ice cubes that you add to homemade spritzers or kombucha

Coconut water is a hydrating beverage that offers quality carbohydrates and potassium. Drinking coconut water may be beneficial for athletic recovery, blood pressure management, and kidney stone prevention.

People with chronic kidney disease and people taking medications to manage high blood pressure may want to avoid or limit coconut water. However, many people can enjoy coconut water as a refreshing and flavorful alternative to plain water.

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