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Long ago on a desert island, coconut milk was the preferred drink of Gilligan and The Skipper. Today, coconut water is the craze.

This refreshment has long been enjoyed from the Caribbean to Malaysia.

Popularized by such celebs as Madonna, Rihanna, Alex Rodriguez and Matthew McConaughey, the clear liquid found inside young, green coconuts is quickly growing in popularity. While the taste is slightly acerbic, it is touted as natural hydration — especially after a postworkout session — and it might offer a host of other health benefits.

The Buy For Less grocery chain and now its new flagship store, Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W. Covell Rd. in Edmond, stock the city’s most comprehensive selection of the stuff.

“This incredible category has seen the strongest growth in the last few years,” said John Dotson, Buy for Less’ natural-foods buyer.

You can easily be enticed by the clever brand names: Maui & Sons, Blue Monkey, Coco Juice, Pure Naked and Zico. So ingenious and tropical, you might overlook the variation in prices that ranges from $1.69 to $2.49 for a 17.5-ounce serving. Most are sold in plastic bottles, cans or Tetra Paks.

Flavor blends are almost limitless.

Besides plain coconut, creative combinations include pineapple, peach blended with kiwi, mango, passion fruit, acai and pomegranate.

“Chocolate was the hot flavor last year,” said Dotson. “Flavors give non-water drinkers a choice and make it more palatable.”

Other local retailers have eagerly jumped on the new trend. Coconut water is stacked along with bottled waters and sodas in most stores’ soft-drink sections. Interestingly enough, the beverage is now being sold in single servings in the small refrigerated coolers next to cashier stations at many big-box shops.

“I despise coconut, but I bought [the water] to make a Thai recipe,” said Jessica Hunt, among the fans of coconut water. “I tasted [it], and thought it was really good and refreshing. It was much better than bland water.”

Coconut water, which long has been enjoyed from the Caribbean to Malaysia, is nothing new. Street vendors lop away tops of coconuts and, once the green husks are stripped, remove the water. The operation has ramped up as more companies work to fill the gap to commercially grow and sell the liquid while marketing its healthy image.

The water doesn’t have fat, in contrast to coconut milk that is pressed from the flesh. With about 60 calories for an 8-ounce serving, coconut water typically has a lower calorie count than most fruit juices.

Coconut-water producers contend their product is a healthy substitute to sugary sports drinks because it not only hydrates, but replenishes lost electrolytes such as magnesium, sodium and potassium, which are known to help prevent cramping. Other publicized benefits might include improved immunity, increased circulation and reduced risks for cancer, stroke and heart disease.

However, Brian Atterbury, fitness trainer and owner for Results Fitness and Nutrition Center in Edmond, believes this is just another fad.

“It’s all Marketing 101 by celebrities with high school degrees,” he said. “If you drink 10 to 12 glasses a day, it’s not a good idea [because] that’s over 150 grams of carbohydrates and 600 calories.”

He recommended sticking to plain water following vigorous exercise.

Whether you decide to crack open a coconut, buy some Zico in bulk or stick with plain ol’ water, the choice is yours — just keep yourself hydrated.

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