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Non-Alcoholic

What's the real deal with coconut water?

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Is pink coconut water as good for you as the cloudy stuff? (Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Alex Brannian, Food Styling by Kat Boytsova)

The first time I noticed pink coconut water, I was in a mildly run-down neighborhood grocery store. It was an unfamiliar bottle and the color of the liquid was near magenta. I didn't know if I was looking at a flavored variety of coconut water, or if something horribly wrong had happened during delivery. All I know is I did not buy it.

Since then, I've seen coconut water in varying shades of pink everywhere from Whole Foods to gas stations. A quick perusal of the one of the bottle's labels revealed that the rosy hue is naturally-occurring, caused by a reaction that happens when the drink's antioxidants are introduced to light.

So what's the real deal?

Since coconut water is one of my go-to beverages whenever I need an energy or hydration boost, I wanted to know more. So I turned to Dr. Josh Axe, who has written extensively on why he loves coconut water for its potential to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as work as a gentle detoxifier for the body.

Dr. Axe explained that, just like an apple that's been sliced and sits oxidizing on the counter, untreated coconut water will start to turn change color once extracted from the fruit. "Oxidation doesn’t change the health benefits of the apple, or the taste. It just makes it look different," Axe says. "The same is true about pink coconut water."

But what about those coconut waters that aren't pink? 

Those waters are either very fresh—or highly processed using high heat or extraneous chemicals to keep the water clear. Dr. Axe is against the latter, pointing out that you don't actually reap the aforementioned benefits from coconut water that has been processed.

What you want to drink, he notes, is coconut water that is as close to its natural state as possible—and short of cracking open a fresh young coconut, that just may mean the pink stuff. Which, it turns out, should also taste better. High-heat processing causes many commercial coconut waters to loose their natural flavor. Pink coconut water, on the other hand, has a noticeably more robust taste which highly processed brands try to mimic with additives. In my personal taste tests, there's no comparison.

How do you find the best coconut water?

When choosing what coconut water to drink, Dr. Axe has a few guidelines: First check the ingredients label and avoid any brands that list citric acid or natural flavors. "This purposefully ambiguous labeling can refer to any number of ingredients," he says, "and we as the general public have no idea what it means." Second, avoid coconut waters from concentrate, which have undergone extensive processing. For pink coconut water specifically—which will be held in the refrigerated section—Dr. Axe suggests checking the best by date printed on the bottle. Because of the gentle processing, these waters have a shorter shelf life than their counterparts. A small price to pay, because for me—and for Dr. Axe—the gains are far greater.