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Coconut water label claims questioned
August 5th, 2011
09:54 AM ET

Coconut water label claims questioned

Coconut water, which came to fame as a celebrity health fad, has become an increasingly popular way to stay hydrated or recover after a workout.

Filled with electrolytes like sodium and magnesium, the slightly sweet water has come to be seen as a natural alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade.

That reputation may not be entirely deserved. According to a report released today by an independent health-product testing firm, the nutritional content of some brands of coconut water doesn't live up to what's on the label.

Researchers at ConsumerLab.com tested the sodium, potassium, magnesium, and sugar content of three leading brands of coconut water, and they found that only one, Zico Natural, contained the stated amount for all four ingredients.

Health.com: POM-boozled: Do health drinks live up to their labels?

The sugar and potassium content in the other two brands, Vita Coco and O.N.E., also matched the label. But the amounts of sodium and magnesium—two nutrients key to hydration—were as much as 82% and 35% lower, respectively, than the listed amount.

Since the electrolyte content is one of the main selling points of these drinks, thirsty consumers may not be getting what they paid for, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

"When something like this becomes wildly popular, people have a tendency to look at the claims rather than reality," says Taub-Dix, the author of Read It Before You Eat It. "If you're working out and sweating a lot, this isn't going to do the trick."

Taub-Dix recommends hydrating with water instead and getting nutrients like sodium and potassium from foods such as bananas and almond butter. And unless you're running a marathon or climbing mountains, she adds, you probably don't need a sports drink.

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Tod Cooperman, the president of ConsumerLab.com, says the growing popularity of coconut water got the company's attention and prompted the testing. "This was really the first look into what's really in these bottles and whether or not they live up to their claims," he says.

"If you enjoy the taste of coconut water, they're fine, but I wouldn't rely on them for rehydrating after strenuous exercise," he adds.

Arthur Gallego, the director of communications for Vita Coco, said in a statement that he could not comment specifically on the report, as the company has not thoroughly reviewed it.

He noted, however, that Vita Coco is derived from coconuts grown in multiple locations in Brazil and Southeast Asia, and that the individual cartons tested by ConsumerLab.com aren't necessarily representative of Vita Coco's average nutritional content.

The company routinely conducts its own tests, and some variation in electrolytes between batches (or lots) is normal, he added.

Health.com: Health products you don't need

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test the nutrient content of foods itself, and the agency does not specify how companies should do so. Nor do they do prohibit food and drink manufacturers from using average values if the nutrient content varies from batch to batch, as long as "a manufacturer is confident that the values obtained meet FDA's compliance criteria."

The test results don't mean that consumers should pass on coconut water altogether. Though some cartons may contain lower-than-expected electrolyte levels, the drinks are a healthy, low-calorie alternative to soda or fruit juice, Taub-Dix says.

"If you're looking to cut your calories and looking for something tropical, sure, but when it comes to hydration, it may not work as well as some other fluids," she says.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011


soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. Sherri

    Maybe it doesn't have all of the promoted bells and whistles, but it is still a healthy choice when compared with sugar laden, artifically colored and flavored drinks that also cost 2-3 bucks a bottle. I like both fresh and packaged. A cold glass of coconut water after a long walk is very refreshing.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • snow

      Indeed. There is no disagreement about the refreshing nature of coconut water. But when you do a hard workout, you lose a number of electrolytes and salts via sweat. So, you need to replenish them. If they claim their product will help replenish those salts, but it does not, it becomes a false claim and could potentially harm the person.

      But then, why don't they just enjoy a class of coconut water as they would enjoy a glass of iced tea or a soda pop?

      August 5, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
    • Jasana

      I agree with you.

      August 6, 2011 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
    • charls

      The health label on natural juices should just give a range of value for ingredients. The current label would probably be fine if a large enough sample was taken but if it seems to defy common sense that the label will exactly match every can or bottle of fruit juices. That kind of uniformity can only happen for drinks that are "constructed" in a factory, not in a plant. So if you enjoy it, then go ahead and drink it. Also drink plenty of water and take extra salt if you feel the need.

      August 6, 2011 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
    • whit

      NUUNs are the best thing I've found for hot weather running. They're electrolyte tablets that dissolve in water, and are only 6 calories (not that I really care). The best thing about them is they allow you to retain water when it's super hot out. After that, plain ol' water works perfectly fine for re-hydrating, or a nice chocolate milk if you need the protein.

      August 7, 2011 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
    • DPaul

      I heard on Dr. Oz that coconut milk will prevent diahrrhea when salt is added and one more ingredient which i couldn't remember at the time. I tried the coconut milk and salt and it stopped diahrrhea. All I know is, It worked when nothing else would. Additinally, It is healthier than Pepto Bismal.

      August 8, 2011 at 05:48 | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    So the spokesman says that the test results aren't reflective of the average results. Hahahaha. The testing lab just happened to pick bad cans. But if there are average results, then there must be cans with a lot more than the listed nutrients. Can you say "liar"?

    August 5, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Marcheline

    Okay, let's recap. Article starts out with dire warning about coconut water labels lying to us... then proceeds to explain how it doesn't really matter, because the government is fine with varying batch levels of sodium and whatever. So there's really nothing to worry about. And no reason whatsoever for this article. Someone needs to write an article warning the world about pointless articles.

    August 5, 2011 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Politablog

      LOL, I thought the same thing.

      August 5, 2011 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
    • TAZDrinker

      So because the government says there's nothing to worry about, there's no reason for this article? Uh....okay. Look at the statistics for cancer the last 50 years before you call an article challenging nutritional and ingredient content pointless. Half the crap that kills us today comes from what we're putting in our bodies, and that government you trust so much is more interested in the Trade market than it is in keeping YOU healthy. Articles like this lets us consumers who care know what's the deal, and not pointless.

      August 5, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse |
    • Phee phee

      I do not find the article pointless since I have been hearing about coconut water but have not tried it yet. I needed some information, and I got some. I also got some good information from a post or two. I agree with Taz that our cancer comes from the junk we put in our bodies (as well as other unhealthy habits like lethargy). I definitely avoid items with high fructose corn syrup, and I plan on avoiding high maltose corn syrup too. I suspect that is just another way of giving us extremely high sugar doses for our burned out taste buds. I found the article useful for what I needed to know.

      August 8, 2011 at 02:55 | Report abuse |
    • calico

      that's just a disclaimer–its like a lab report conclusion where you list potential icnonsistencies, mistakes, etc. they told us the results from their testing, then interpreted them. i dont understand why that makes ithe article pointless

      December 15, 2013 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
  4. Babyboogloo

    Jeez it tastes tasty anyway so why should we care if its good 4 u or not?

    August 5, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      It's tasty, all right, if you like the taste of dishwater.

      August 7, 2011 at 00:24 | Report abuse |
    • Tahir

      I love your combination of bgriht, exotic flavors and creamy + crunchy textures, it sounds like a very well thought out and composed dish! Of course, I might opt for tofu rather than fish... ;)

      November 16, 2012 at 02:41 | Report abuse |
  5. RamenEater

    Please refer to the film Idiocracy for more info on Electrolytes.

    August 5, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • the dude

      Coconut Water – The Thirst Mutilator! It's got what plants crave!

      August 5, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      But it's got what plants crave!

      August 5, 2011 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
  6. IBusiness

    So, who payed for this article Pepsi or Coke? Any takers?

    August 5, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rebecca Matthhison

      Pepsi owns ONE so.....

      August 5, 2011 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
    • therodeingcowboy

      and Coke is invested in ZICO and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group own Vita Coco. i think someone at consumer labs needed a project and what's better than a hot new celebrity fad, you can take some steam out.

      i really enjoy that ZICO is accurate in all of their readings–i drink this brand–and am glad to find out the others didn't match up. Did you know that Vita Coco has had a theme with misrepresentation? They used to add ascorbic acid to their coconut water without listing it; now they do list it.. Luckily, customer service spilled the beans and i've been hooked on ZICO eversince.

      August 9, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
    • calico

      it was done by consumerlab.com - as stated in he article. it's a company that verifies the quality and claim of products. people are so ridiculously eager to criticize online comment sections. whats that about

      December 15, 2013 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  7. Cajun55

    If it DID NOT come out of a coconut, it's NOT coconut water!

    August 5, 2011 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Israel

      I was just wishing for a hacteht two nights ago when we were making chocolate pudding in my vita-mix out of fresh coconut, raw cacao, honey and vanilla. It was delicious but I was so worried about ruining my chef's knife. I guess it's time to invest in the not-so-shiny, new or cutting edge hacteht. And oh, how disappointing to hear that vita-coco is pasteurized! How did I miss that? I'm reading the box.All the more reason for my hacteht purchase I guess.Thanks for sending the post! XO

      November 16, 2012 at 03:21 | Report abuse |
  8. ologod

    Fascinating...... urgh

    August 5, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. John

    I feel dumber after reading this.

    August 5, 2011 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chumlee

      Don't feel bad. At least you can read.

      August 7, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse |
  10. In the Know

    I worked for a company that manufactured coconut water products. Frozen coconut water of miniscul amount, added coconut flavor and many additional additives. Average cost to manufacture..47cents.

    August 5, 2011 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chumlee

      Hey, I thought it was 48cents.

      August 7, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
  11. Rebecca Matthhison

    Interesting that they only tested two brands – I know of companies who have indpendent lab tests and are not afraid to share them

    August 5, 2011 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • @Poster

      actuall they tested 3 , read again, maybe a little slower this time

      August 6, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
    • Maibataliya

      Oh my! (Love the startled cuconot, BTW)My DH doesn't do the laundry. Anymore. Way back when, he would occasionally throw in a load and almost always I would sigh as I lint-brushed the dark clothing that had been washed with a white towel. The last straw was a load of whites that came out pink. Well, it was a red and white skirt. If it has white in it it goes in with the whites, right? Um, no.Commiserations on getting the cuconot out of the machine.

      November 14, 2012 at 15:18 | Report abuse |
  12. David

    It's a natural product- not some overly processed synthetic concoction. You have to expect some variation.

    August 5, 2011 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      If only there were a way to measure variance with statistics...

      August 6, 2011 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
    • Chumlee

      V = pi/100 +(xy X -x)/2

      August 7, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
  13. CoconutH20Addict

    I live in fly-over land, and I never opened a young coconut (imported from Thailand) that hadn't already gone bad—the pulp was lavender in color, and the water smelled and tasted like someone added a shot of Pine-Sol. So bottled (or canned, as I'm about to suggest) is pretty much my only option.

    "WHAT?! Canned, you say? As in, all those look-alike asian brands that are a mix of water, sugar and some coconut water?" Not exactly. I have searched high and low, far and wide, for the best-tasting coconut water NOT directly from a freshly-opened young coconut. And I have found what I believe to be the product that tastes the closest to what comes out of a freshly-opened young coconut. Are you ready? Here it is:

    T.A.S. brand Coconut Water (pulp free) in a 10.5 FL. OZ. aluminum can. Product of Thailand. Ingredients: 100% Young Coconut Juice. As always, chill before serving. You're welcome.

    August 5, 2011 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TarHeels06

      Thanks for the comment. T.A.S. is the brand I buy from my local Asian supermarket, simply be default (that's the brand they carry). Glad to know what I'm drinking is a good choice (and cheap! hit up your Asian markets people! $21 for a case of 24 12-oz cans). Yum!

      July 6, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
    • Travis

      I just found out about TAS the other day at the Asian supermarket down the street and it tastes identical to the fresh juice in Thailand

      November 11, 2012 at 23:35 | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    I have tried many brands, including Vita Coco, and they all taste bad. I think the best tasting one is from Naked.

    August 5, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Victor

      I am looking into this for msyelf and thousands of others who have had the misfortune of getting poisoned caused by fluoroquinolone Class Antibiotics, one of the most prominent issue with this is the cognitive deficiencies. Brain Fog is a constant topics amongst us. I have personally been experiencing Memory, Concentration problems to the point in which I cannot drive because I am mentally unable to due to extreme Brain Fog. I'm not sure if this will help such an extreme case but its worth a go

      November 16, 2012 at 00:58 | Report abuse |
  15. Emelia Kanson

    @Chris
    Correction. A California thing. I live in WA, on the west coast, and I've never even HEARD of this before, ever.

    August 6, 2011 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Just plain nuts

    This is just another gimmick, before this it was acai berry juice before that pomegranate juice, before that it was vitamin water, before that ice that came from the north pole etc. It is is all just marketing. No body drinks water any more because it has no sugar or flavour.

    August 6, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. someoneelse

    Anyone who believes anything that comes in the form of a few studies who hide the funding parties and use a lot of maybes, mights, and coulds, deserves to be parted from their money.

    August 6, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Boo Xang

    oh so very very good taste in the mouth coconut water. Boo Xang like. Make me feel like very very nice.

    August 6, 2011 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Larry

    If it's a processed product then there is no way to tell what's in it. The government does not care, either. The agencies that might protect you are bought and paid for by the very people they regulate. What could go wrong with that? It's nice that processed products have labels but the requirement to be accurate is a bit thin. If food producers can't even get simple calorie counts correct imagine what they do with the list of ingredients on the label?

    August 6, 2011 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. wendy5

    i only drink water with lemon juice in it all day; alkalining and refreshing

    August 6, 2011 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. cpc65

    "Gilligan, drop those cartons of coconut water!" – "Okay Skipper!" – (BONK) – "Owwwww! GILLIGAN!!"! – "Sorry Skipper."

    August 6, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chumlee

      I like Maryann's coconuts.

      August 7, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • Leny

      Vanessa – I made this cake last night and it is sitting at home in my frigde waiting to be eaten tonight for my Grandfather's bday. I used ALL semisweet chips for the cake cause I could not find unsweetened and I did not have a scale so I did 1/2 cup plus 12 chips to equal 4oz. for the cake and then I used the remainder of the 12oz bag (now 8oz) to make the ganache. I had no trouble with the ganache. I let it sit out for a little while and then transferred to the freezer and kept stirring every 10-15 min. until I like the consistency. I have not tasted the cake all together, but took little taste throughout the baking process last night and it is AMAZING!! My only tips would be to double the filling. I did this and it was the perfect amount for the cake. 1 recipe of the filling was not enough. Also, I would make a 1.5 batch of the ganche. I would have liked to coat the cake in more ganache and then I only had enough to pipe on the top and not the bottom. Thanks Annie!!! This cake was awesome!!October 29, 2010 4:04 pm[]

      December 18, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
  22. Blessed Geek

    If I needed Na I could just simply get it from table salt or a bag of chips.

    August 7, 2011 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Nathan

    Just drink it from the coconut....costs like $1.50.

    August 7, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chumlee

      Mr. Coco Nut lives in Jamiaca, he don't taste so good.

      August 7, 2011 at 13:00 | Report abuse |
  24. Furutan

    I lived in Kenya for five years and used to get the real thing right out of the young coconut. I do not know what this packaged stuff is like, but the real thing has a zesty flavor that tastes nothing at all like ripe coconut. The meat is thin, translucent white and very soft. It is really good, but again, it tastes nothing like ripe coconut. I had a can of coconut milk a few years back and the taste did not even resemble the real thing.

    One thing that you have to taste to believe is a cashew apple. This is the fruit to which the cashew nut is attached (kind of like a semicolon). The fruit is only ripe for a day or so but the taste is like a huge whiff of exotic perfume. Unbelievably good. The best fruit on earth.

    August 7, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Becca

      You all should know there's a difference between coconut MILK, coconut JUICE and coconut WATER. Milk looks thick milky white, thicker than dairy and it smells like suntan lotion. The juice version is laddened with sugars and chemicals with only about 30% natural content. This article talks about coconut WATER and the labels can come with 100% natural content. Someone above mentioned the T.A.S brand, I love their coconut WATER cans ($1.19 for a 16.9 fl. oz can) but look out, don't confuse with their coconut JUICE cans which can run 1/3 cheaper.

      December 7, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
  25. Larry

    real (fresh) coconut water from young (green) coconuts is great. I've tried several bottled varieties and it tastes horrible compared to the real thing. These bottled coconut waters wouldn't sell at all if people knew what real coconut water tasted like...

    August 7, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Maude

    What about the debt people ! What about debt ? Forget this coconut cr*p .

    August 7, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Joseph Stalin

    The comrades and I loved coconut water.

    August 7, 2011 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. stillin

    When you drink it from a local coconut, in the Caribbean, it does what they say it does. Best thing for you. Anything else, stuff that's been sitting there for days, canned, bottled, trucked in, flown in, forget it . The whole point with anything, is to eat it there, on the spot. or drink it. That's how it all works.

    August 7, 2011 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. HealthNUT

    i have tried them all and ZICO by FAR is the # 1 in taste!
    Being Cuban, Dominican and living in SOFLA I have had the real thing as well.

    Also FYI = For more than 4,000 years, coconut water has been revered as a natural source of nutrition, wellness, beauty and hydration. In times of famine and war, coconut water has been used as an intravenous fluid and saved many lives. It’s the only natural substance that can be safely injected into the human blood stream. Now modern science has validated its effectiveness, especially as a natural sports drink

    August 7, 2011 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Doug Kalman PhD, RD

    The article on CNN.com and the ConsumerLab article on the testing is incomplete. Meaning there are studies in the literature that have found coconut water the same (not different) than the leading sports beverage (i.e., Gatorade) for ability to rehydrate. In fact studies from around the globe have found that beverages other than the "Gatorade's" have been used and found in studies to support rehydration and hydration to the same extent or better than the typical sports drink. This has included water and a carbohydrate-protein drink as well as milk. Perhaps the parties who posted this article and CL – itself should have first done a literature search of PubMed, Google Scholar and the various Annual Conferences and sports and nutrition societies and this would have been clearly evident to them.

    August 8, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jim

    The purported health benefits aside, I tried a quart of the Zico brand and found that it tasted... odd. Not foul, but not nummy, just kind of faintly icky. Nothing I particularly want to drink again.

    August 8, 2011 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Nan

    Only straight from the coconut – without all the additives – is best. I have tasted many of the packaged varities and none come close enough to the real thing and with all the added sugar I not so sold on the rehydration benefits.

    August 8, 2011 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Sam Ira

    How about drinking fresh Coconut Water? Where I live you can always find Coconuts full with water!

    August 9, 2011 at 04:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. lamar

    damn you Joe Rogan

    August 9, 2011 at 04:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. TrixieSpawn

    Don't listen to 1 thing the FDA says.....they're in bed with Big Pharma and don't give a damn what Americans are putting into their bodies cause they'll always be a pill for it. So of course they won't support any food, nutritional supplement or anything else natural that would actually be healthy additions to the lives of most Americans.....god forbid.

    August 9, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. IKnowItAll

    The veracity of this article was challenged in the second sentence– POTASSIUM is the major electrolyte found in coconut water. Was this one of those new computer-generated "articles"?

    September 13, 2011 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Amused1944

    Coconut Palm trees are cultivated in over 80 countries. In the United States they grow in Hawaii, Florida, in Newport Beach along Pacific Coast Highway), the US territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands. They prefer the coastal areas because they need lots of sun. During the Pacific War it was even used as emergency plasma on wounded soldiers because of it purity. The Journal of Endodotics claims that coconut water is better than milk when trying to keep a tooth viable until you reach dentist. Coconut water is just new here in the US–Millions of people have been refreshing themselves for centuries elsewhere.

    November 8, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Marlo Arbucci

    Naturally refreshing, coconut water has a sweet, nutty taste. It contains easily digested carbohydrate in the form of sugar and electrolytes. Not to be confused with high-fat coconut milk or oil, coconut water is a clear liquid in the fruit’s center that is tapped from young, green coconuts...;..

    Take a look at all of the most current post at our web portal http://homelifestylejournal.com/index.php

    June 16, 2013 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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