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Coconut Water Health Claims Not Supported, Study Says

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A new consumer report analyzing coconut water claims it is not all it's cracked up to be, finding that two of the three most popular brands had far fewer electrolytes than their labels indicated.

Coconut water -- a clear liquid extracted from green coconuts -- is increasingly touted as an electrolyte-packed, natural alternative to sports drinks. But according to ConsumerLab.com, a product testing company, only one major brand actually lives up to that billing.

Zico Natural Pure Premium Coconut Water contained electrolytes on par with what one gets from a beverage like Gatorade. The other two major brands tested had only 18 and 59 percent the "promised" levels of sodium. Sodium -- a common electrolyte -- is a key feature in sports drinks, as it can be lost through sweat.

"This is a major focus of the marketing for coconut water," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab. "When you start making claims comparing it to sports drinks, you expect them to at least deliver on what they are promising. People should be aware that the labels are not accurate on some of the products, and they shouldn't count on coconut water for serious rehydration."

But nutrition experts suggest that most people may not really need electrolyte replenishment in the first place.

Licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagel said that only those people who have been sweating hard for an hour or more really need to worry about replenishing the minerals they may have lost with some form of sports beverage.

"If you're a marathoner, if you're doing Bikram yoga -- and if this is really about sweat replacement, relying on coconut water to replenish your lost sodium is not a good idea," she said, adding that for people engaged in mild to moderate activity, water is usually fine.

But it's not all bad news for coconut water.

The ConsumerLab report does state that the drink is "a good source of potassium," which is key to maintaining muscle and nerve function. Acording Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson, this may be the beverage's greatest attribute.

"What coconut does have is higher levels of potassium than a lot of other foods," she explained. "The American public in general, if they're not eating enough fruits and vegetables, they're not getting enough potassium."

She added, however, that coconut water is in no way necessary for people to drink in order to get enough potassium and said it should not replace a serving of fruit.

The bottom line seems to be that, as long as you are not relying on coconut water as a serious sports drink, whether or not you should drink it comes down to personal taste.

"If you like the taste, there's certainly nothing wrong with it, and it has some benefits," Reinagel said. "If you don't really care for it, or you can't afford it, there's nothing in it you can't get from a banana and a bottle of water and accomplish the same thing."

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Monica Reinagel is a registered dietitian. It has been updated to reflect that she is a licensed nutritionist.

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