Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Coconuts and the Fructose Myth

I don’t seem to be able to escape Coconuts at the moment, fortunately it’s not the hard shelled variety being lobbed at me but rather the pre-packaged water contained within them being sold as the latest sports energy drink.

I’m being bombarded by sport stars on twitter telling me how cool it is, I’ve even had manufacturers of it follow me on twitter and my local Tesco has started to sell it.

The claims are fairly straight forward;

·      Packed with potassium and electrolytes
·      Low acidity
·      Fat free

All good so far? Ready to grab a few bottles for the kids packed lunch or for after your 30 minute gym session? Well all is not quite what it seems I’m afraid;

The key benefits of potassium and electrolytes relate to a high level of dehydration and cramping – typically the type you would experience after having exercised for a couple of hours (i.e. in a competitive sporting environment as an elite athlete)

Don’t believe me? Have a look at

Rehydration for lesser periods is adequately served by water – and guess what; that is also low acidity, fat free and generally speaking cost free!

So unless you are an elite athlete, you may be thinking that as a lifestyle choice Coconut Water seems pretty cool and the only harm it’s going to do is in your pocket. Well in principle that’s not far from wrong, except that having examined one particular brand, I found that every 100ml contains 5g of sugar (the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar or 3 teaspoonful’s in every 300ml serving).

Admittedly , and I am making the assumption that the sugar is natural rather than added for taste, its likely to be in the form of fructose, which as far as sugars go is the best one for you. But too much fructose is still bad for you too;

Fructose, unlike other carbohydrates is processed in the liver - When we eat too much of it, the liver can't process it all fast enough for the body to use as sugar, particularly if our periods of exercise are modest (30-60 minutes). Instead, it starts making fats from the fructose and sending them off into the bloodstream and I am sure I don’t have to tell anyone why too much fat is a bad thing!

So how much Fructose is bad for you?

If you have been following my foodstrategy then you will know that I follow a ten pieces of fruit and veg a day rule, of which 2 are fruit. This typically gives me around 20grams of Carbs a day from fruit of which around 10 grams is Fructose.

When you compare Coconut water with this – it actually fairs not too badly as that’s probably roughly the same amount of fructose found in a very small 200ml serving – however do you really want to limit your rehydration to one small serving and have to avoid fresh fruit for the rest of the day?

It could be worse though, the greatest myth of all is fruit juice!

We have been programmed to think of fruit juice as being good for us – every bottle tells us how a single large 300ml serving can be as much of our 4 of our 5 a day (4 of my 10 in my case!). The problem with fruit juice is that it is highly condensed, i.e. quite a few pieces of fruit go into producing a relatively small amount of it.

That single 300ml serving for example contains the equivalent sugar of four apples (around 40g or 8 teaspoonful’s of sugar) – drink two glasses a day and your up to 80g of sugar before you have even touched a piece of fresh fruit.

Remember those packed lunch boxes, Mum’s & Dad’s? It’s taken some doing in our household but I am pleased to say I have converted my kids to taking a bottle of water to school with them rather than the traditional fruit juice carton. It wasn’t easy and took a bit of patience but water is now pretty much the only thing my kids drink (with the odd treat exception)

Just like my kids I won’t be grabbing for the Fruit Juice or Coconut Water (I didn’t even mention how bad it tastes or that it is a diuretic and too much of it will give you the trots!) any time soon – not whilst I have access to the ‘Elixir of Heaven’ that is simple old fashioned, Water!

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