Health

The super drink ... Coconut water

BY DR WENDY-GAYE THOMAS

Sunday, December 02, 2018

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AMERICAN civil rights activist, actor and songwriter Harry Belafonte, having been born of Jamaican parents, has been singing about the virtues of coconut water since the 1950s.

This he did in one of his worldwide popular calypso songs, 'Coconut', purporting the refreshing liquid to be good for many things, including enhancing the taste with “a little white rum”.

Fast-forward to the present, and as you drive around Kingston and across the country you will still see vendors swiping the tops off the hard, green husk with sharp machetes, as anxious customers wait to quench their thirst, with the added bonus of splitting the nut open so that they can scoop out the delicious white, jelly-like flesh on the inside.

Who said food had to taste bad to be good? Not so with coconut water. As a matter of fact, this delicious source of hydration, for some time now, has been elevated to celebrity status and can be seen bottled and labelled by various producers, both in Jamaica and globally.

With at least eight scientific-based health benefits found in the now trendy beverage, it is no wonder that celebrities such as actors Nick Cannon, Courtney Cox (from the comedy Friends), and singer Rihanna are touting coconut water as the natural alternative to processed energy drinks, with Madonna and tennis legend Serena Williams joining the wagon and investing their cash with coconut water bottler, Vita Coco.

Added to that, the research has proven that the liquid is loaded with several important nutrients, including minerals that most people don't get enough of. Among them are:

•Carbs: 9 grams

•Fibre: 3 grams

•Protein: 2 grams

•Vitamin C: 10% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI)

•Magnesium: 15% of the RDI

•Manganese: 17% of the RDI

•Potassium: 17% of the RDI

•Sodium: 11% of the RDI

•Calcium: 6% of the RDI

And the news gets even better. As research continues, it is found that although drinking plain water is a good source to prevent kidney stones, coconut water may even be better. Why? Due to its ability to prevent the formation of the stones by reducing crystals and stone formation, preventing them from sticking to the kidneys and other parts of the urinary tract.

It may decrease the risk of heart disease because of its powerful lowering of cholesterol properties; and may also have benefits against diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. It is also a good source of magnesium, which may increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.

After prolonged exercise, fitness buffs wishing to restore dehydration should drink coconut water to replenish electrolytes that play a significant role in maintaining proper fluid balance in the body.

Packaged coconut water has emerged as one of the hottest commodities on the planet, with the global market estimated to reach a whopping US$8.3 billion by 2023. South American titan Brazil currently dominates the coconut water export market.

Overall demand is projected to grow by at least 50 per cent annually over the next five years. Within the overall coconut water market, flavoured coconut water is also growing rapidly, with over a billion litres expected in consumption by 2019.

But with growth comes challenges. Particularly with this widely consumed product which, generally, has a shelf life of two to three days, international 'watch-dogs' are on high alert to ensure that producers are delivering a product that is safe for consumers. This is probably due to the frequent recall of contaminated foods worldwide.

According to Dr Andre Gordon, food scientist and managing director, Technological Solutions Limited (TSL), some countries in the region have lost coconut water market share due to the product reaching its destination below the required international regulatory standards.

What this means is that producers now have to focus more on handling of the product from harvesting to delivery. This includes ensuring nuts do not touch the ground during harvesting; maintaining clean, cool processing areas; using opaque containers; and eliminating contaminated nuts individually during processing.

Dr Gordon's company has done extensive work on coconut and preparation for the market. He has pointed out that fresh coconut water is quick to begin decomposing once the coconut is cut, or if it is prepared with insufficient regard for hygiene.

The burgeoning, worldwide demand for the product led the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to fund research into ways of objectively assessing the quality and potential shelf life of coconut water, as a means of decreasing the risk to health and economic losses should particular batches not be of acceptable quality.

The contracted research team, headed by Dr Gordon, embarked on a study of coconut water production that could identify a means of assessing quality. The now-completed research project, which provides an in-depth analysis of coconut water, was part of a wider study done by TSL in Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, in collaboration with other scientists based internationally. It involved assessing the current state of the industry and developing solutions for the challenges being faced to improve its viability for Caribbean coconut farmers. The study has formed the basis of a guidance document produced by the FAO that is being used globally by the coconut water industry.

In a recent publication, Food Safety and Quality Systems in Developing Countries: Volume II: Case Studies of Effective Implementation, author Dr Gordon dedicated a chapter to looking at challenges and opportunities of coconut water as an export product.

The conclusion is that coconut water is a delicious, nutritious beverage with loads of health benefits, and although studies are continuing, the data is very encouraging.

Remember, when you get thirsty, stop by a coconut vendor or reach for one on the supermarket shelf. You will be glad you did.

Dr Wendy-Gaye Thomas is group technical manager, Technological Solutions Limited, a Jamaican food technology company. She can be contacted at: wendy.thomas@tsltech.com


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