You can’t go to a yoga class in New York without spotting a sweaty someone sipping coconut water.
But after researchers at Consumerlab.com tested the three major retail brands of coconut water earlier this month and found that two of them—VitaCoco and O.N.E—had much lower electrolyte levels than they claimed, natural-leaning fitness junkies have been questioning their allegiance to the tropical hydration source.
So, should you leave the sweet nectar on the shelf and reach for a Powerade instead? Not necessarily, says Alexandra Jamieson, health and nutrition expert and author of The Great American Detox Diet.
“For one thing, coconut water doesn’t have the artificial colors and added sugars that most sports drinks do,” says Jamieson. “So it’s still a healthier choice.” (Just be aware that these brands contain 11–14 grams of natural sugar per serving.)
Second, most people don’t need to replenish their electrolytes immediately after sweating out the sodium unless they’re engaging in a high-intensity workout like Bikram yoga, interval training, or marathon running.
Even then, you can replenish by drinking water and eating healthy carbs with a reasonable amount of salt. “Most Americans don’t have trouble getting enough salt in their diet, so it’s rarely a problem,” explains Jamieson. “It can be as simple as eating whole grains, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or an avocado.”
The best way to get the most out of your coconut water? Up the fresh factor.
While we have no way of confirming their electrolyte levels (we gave the Well+Good chemists the rest of August off), boutique purveyors like Juice Generation and Organic Avenue carefully select their coconuts, and the time from tree to straw is much shorter.
“You’re getting a product that’s closest to what mother nature provides, so we know you’re getting something healthy,” says Denise Mari, founder of Organic Avenue, which stocks Indonesian coconut water in its signature glass bottles.
Juice Generation lets you pick your own Young Thai Coconut from the fridge at its stores and cafes, then cracks it open and pops a straw in for you to sip right away. Eric Helms, the company founder, says he employes a team of five devoted to the management of these coconuts. (That includes prep cooks who use the coconut meat in raw foods.)
What’s healthier about the fresh coconut water? Since the enzymes in the water haven’t been depleted by pasteurization, your body is likely to absorb the electrolytes more effectively, explains Jamieson. The best part? The taste is sweeter and infinitely more refreshing, especially when chunks of the fruit make their way through your straw, as you sip directly from the nut on a scalding city street. –Lisa Elaine Held