Coconut water is a natural, healthy alternative to sodas and sports drinks

Have you gotten on the coconut water bandwagon yet?

You should. The sooner the better, too.

My journey to the coconut side began about a month ago when I went to the library and checked out the audio book “High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will” by Mark Rampolla.

Based on the title, I thought it would be a motivational book about reaching higher and striving harder for great things. To a certain degree it is about that. What the book really is, however, is the story of how Rampolla founded Vico Coconut Water and started a trend in the beverage industry.

(Photo by Heather Southern) Fort Bend Star Editor Joe Southern enjoys fresh coconut water while on vacation in the Caribbean. Coconut water is trending as a natural, healthy alternative to soft drinks.

The story itself is pretty engaging and inspiring although it does get weighed down with long, drawn out details at times. Nonetheless, it piqued my curiosity to give coconut water a try. At first I was hesitant because before listening to the book I didn’t know there was a difference between coconut water and coconut milk. I know coconut milk to be nasty tasting and is a diuretic. Coconut water, however, comes from young, green coconuts and is very healthy for you. It’s kind of an acquired taste but it is far better than the milk.

I found a container of Vico at Kroger and gave it a try. It is refreshing and has a sweet, nutty taste to it. It also lacks the diuretic properties the water acquires as it ages into milk. It didn’t take long to convert me into a coconut water fan. Its benefits far, far outweigh the other beverage alternatives out there.

First of all, it’s 100 percent natural. It comes straight from the coconut and is not manufactured in a production plant. There are no additives, preservatives or sweeteners. Most of the ones you find in stores are organic and come from reliable sources, most often in Southeast Asia and South America. Growing coconuts is good for the environment and harvesting the water creates jobs in Third World countries without taking jobs from here where coconut palm trees are not as plentiful.

Secondly, the water is not only refreshing but it is high in potassium and contains most of the health benefits found in sports drinks. The sports drinks are not natural, by the way. A typical 16-ounce carton of coconut water is low-carb and has about 80 calories. That’s about half or less than what you would get in a similar sized soft drink and you don’t consume all the sugar and chemicals that are crammed into your can of soda.

Coconut water is best consumed cold and usually after exercise to help your body replenish lost nutrients and electrolytes. You don’t have to work out to drink coconut water. It’s good anytime you would normally down a soda or sports drink. This is the perfect, natural alternative for those of us wanting something safer and better than soft drinks, but want more than a bottle of water.

During my vacation to the Caribbean a couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough on our shore excursions to find locals selling fresh coconuts. For $5 they would hack off the end of one and pop in a straw. After we finished drinking them, they cut the coconuts open so we could scoop out the fleshy insides to eat. The young coconut has a rubbery texture and lacks the strong flavor of regular coconut but it also lacks a lot of the oils and fats found in the mature variety.

The big drawback to coconut water right now is cost and availability. The markets are strongest on the east and west coasts where Vico and its rival Vita Coco have aggressively marketed it to the trendy yoga studio types. It’s harder but not impossible to find here. It is usually located in ethnic sections of the grocery stores. A carton or bottle of coconut water will cost about $2-3, which isn’t bad but more than you would pay for a soda. To me it’s worth the price, especially given all the information coming out about how bad sodas and artificial sweeteners are for us.

You can find varieties of coconut water with different fruit flavorings. Buyer beware, however, that when you consume those you are no longer drinking a pure, natural product. It’s still better than sodas, but some ingredients are artificial.

I think as the market grows and we see people become more health conscious that coconut water will increase in availability and drop in price. I look forward to that day, but until then I will continue to drink coconut water whenever I can get it.

Please don’t take my word about this. Try it for yourself. Do research on it if you like. I think you’ll ultimately draw the same conclusions I have. Admittedly, coconut water isn’t for everyone. Most of my family dislikes the taste. It does, however, grow on you. It’s kind of like learning to like the taste of black coffee or yogurt. They seem bitter at first but eventually you learn to like and crave them. Coconut water is much sweeter and easier for the palate to adjust to and it’s easy to digest.

I think if you give it a try you’ll be joining me on this bandwagon. Please, if you do try it, let me know what you think. I’d like to hear from you or maybe join you for a drink.

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