The Curious Case Of The Benefits Of Couscous

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

With our fast-paced lives and longer work hours, staying fit and active is definitely a challenge. To compensate for the lack of exercise and physical activity, we often tend to change our dietary habits as well. As a part of this change, superfoods and healthy foods get included in our daily diet a lot. One such food that has been taking the culinary world by storm is couscous. What is couscous and what are the benefits of couscous? Read on to know more.

What Is Couscous?

The grain-like appearance of couscous confuses most people and they mistake it to be a whole grain, but it is not. It is made using semolina flour or durum wheat balls and is a popular delicacy in the northern parts of Africa. Some people even use this as an alternative to pasta. Couscous, which was once native to northern Africa, has now slowly made its way into most parts of the world and is gradually becoming a hot favorite.

Three types of couscous are available for you to choose from: Moroccan, Israeli, and Lebanese couscous. Let us find out how to distinguish these three varieties.

  • Moroccan Couscous

This variety of couscous is the smallest in size. If you had to compare this with another grain for size, you could look at semolina, as both of these are similar in size. The cooking time for Moroccan couscous is very short; it gets cooked in 2-3 minutes.

  • Israeli Couscous

This variety of couscous is also known as pearl couscous because of its round pearl-like appearance. This is larger in size than the Moroccan counterpart. The cooking time for the Israeli couscous is similar to that of pasta; it takes about 10-12 minutes to be fully cooked.

  • Lebanese Couscous

It is also known as Moghrabieh couscous. Of the three varieties of couscous, this is the largest and takes the longest to cook. It requires almost 15-20 minutes of cooking time.

Now that you know what couscous is and the different varieties available in the market, you can pick up your preferred variant and begin your culinary experience with this humble food.

In the upcoming sections, let us understand the nutritional values and the potential health benefits of couscous. Let’s also see how couscous is healthy for you.

Nutritional Values Of Couscous

Couscous contains large amounts of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and also contains gluten as it is made from semolina and durum wheat. In addition, it also contains minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium (1).

You may want to avoid couscous if you are on a gluten-free diet.

Nutritional Values Per 100g

NameValueUnit
Water72.6g
Energy112kcal
Protein3.79g
Total Fat0.16g
Ash0.26g
Carbohydrates23.2g
Dietary Fiber1.4g
Total Sugar0.1g
Calcium8mg
Iron0.38mg
Phosphorous22mg
Sodium5mg
Manganese0.084mg
Selenium27.5μg
Zinc0.26mg

Is couscous healthy for you? And if so, what are some of the potential health benefits of couscous? Let’s dive in to know more.

Potential Health Benefits Of Couscous

The potential health benefits that are derived from couscous can be attributed to its mineral-rich nutritional profile. It is a rich source of selenium, and manganese that are essential for your body.

  • May Help Prevent Heart Diseases

Selenium present in couscous is an antioxidant and an essential trace mineral that has been linked to improving heart health. It helps in lowering LDL cholesterol levels and thereby reducing your chances of heart diseases (2).

  • May Help In Reducing The Risk Of Cancer

Many studies conducted on animals have suggested the importance of selenium in reducing and preventing cancer. According to the secondary findings of a study, in the case of humans, supplemental selenium may seem to have reduced the incidence of carcinoma (a common type of cancer that begins on the epithelial layer of the skin or on the internal tissues of your organs). However, the study also concluded that this alone was not sufficient to prove the efficacy of selenium and that further studies are required (2),(3).

  • May Boost Immunity

Selenium present in couscous is a natural antioxidant that helps in the reduction of free radicals that cause tissue damage. There is some evidence that suggests that free radicals are responsible for chronic health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and health issues (4).

  • May Aid In Weight Loss

The presence of high levels of fiber in couscous acts as a deterrent in the secretion of ghrelin, a hormone that is responsible for triggering hunger. Studies have shown that ghrelin increases your appetite and is also associated with body weight (5). Eating fiber-rich foods like couscous may help you feel full and may prevent you from overeating and gaining weight.

  • May Improve Digestion

Dietary fiber in couscous helps in the movement of your stool by adding bulk to it and stimulating the peristaltic movement of the digestive tract. Eating fiber-rich food is generally recommended when you are constipated as fiber helps in alleviating constipation (6), ( 7).

Having read about the benefits of couscous, let us now look at incorporating couscous as a part of your diet.

How To Add Couscous To Your Diet?

Couscous can be used as a substitute for pasta, or you can add it to salads to give it a nice texture. It can also be served as an accompaniment with a meaty gravy of your choice. Alternatively, you can combine it with other grains such as quinoa, and brown rice along with a side of vegetables of your choice.

Adding couscous to your diet is fairly simple, all you have to do is buy some couscous from your local grocery store or organic store and add it to some of your favorite dishes.

In the next section let us look at a few quick and easy recipes that you can try for yourself and a few tips on cooking couscous.

Preparation Tips And Popular Recipes

Cooking couscous is fairly simple as store-bought couscous is half cooked. Follow these simple tips to ensure you cook couscous to perfection.

  • Choose Whole Grain Couscous

Make sure you purchase Lebanese couscous as this is generally available in whole grain form. Its Israeli and Moroccan counterparts are not whole grain.

  • Ensuring Proper Water-To-Couscous Ratio

The ideal ratio here is 1 cup of water to ⅔ cup of couscous.

  • Adding Couscous Too Early

Avoid adding couscous too early to the water as it may become soggy and lumpy. The ideal time to add couscous is when the water is reaching near boiling point or is simmering. Make sure you turn off the heat once you add the couscous to avoid overcooking.

  • Not Letting It Sit Long Enough

Once you’ve added the couscous and turned off the heat, make sure you let it stay long enough for it to cook; 4-5 mins should be ideal. Ensure the lid of the pot remains closed so that the steam is absorbed and helps in cooking it. Removing it too early will make your couscous too chewy and crunchy.

  • Forgetting To Fluff

Don’t forget to fluff your couscous as it can be dense. You can use a fork to scrape and break the clumps.

Follow these simple tips and you should be able to perfectly cook couscous in no time. Now let’s look at a few easy-to-make couscous recipes.

Quick And Easy Lemon And Herb Couscous

Here’s an easy-to-make couscous snack that takes less than 30 minutes.

Ingredients Required

  • 1 cup couscous of your choice
  • 1 ½ cups of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
  • salt as per taste
  • black pepper powder as per taste
  • chili flakes for garnishing

Preparation

  1. Rinse couscous with cold water until the water is clear.
  2. Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized pot or saucepan.
  3. Add the couscous and cover the lid and remove the vessel from the heat.
  4. Let it sit for 8-10 minutes.
  5. Remove the lid and use a fork to fluff it.
  6. Add olive oil, parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and toss well. Add chili flakes for garnish.
  7. Serve it in a bowl or plate and enjoy!

This next recipe requires only 3 ingredients and can be served as a base for stews or can be eaten as is.

3-Ingredient Couscous

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups of water or chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt ( you can reduce salt if you are using a salted broth)
  • 1 ½ cups of couscous

Preparation

  1. In a saucepan add water or broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Add salt and stir well. Now add couscous and cover the pan with a lid. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove and set it aside.
  3. Allow the couscous to sit for 5-6 minutes.
  4. Once the couscous has absorbed water, fluff it with a fork. It should have a light and fluffy texture.
  5. Serve it in a bowl and have it as is, or use it as the base to make a stew.

Weren’t they quick and easy recipes to make? Do try this out and show off your cooking skills with your friends and family.

Now let us find out if there are any downsides to eating couscous or any allergy concerns.

Possible Side Effects And Allergies

While couscous is rich in minerals and fiber, there may be a downside to eating it. Here are a few things you must know.

  • High In Gluten

Couscous contains a high amount of gluten. If you have a gluten allergy or are on a gluten-free diet, you should avoid eating couscous.

  • Has Low Essential Nutrients

Fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates are the main nutritional components of couscous. Apart from these three nutrients, there aren’t any other nutrients that are available in large amounts in couscous. While these are great, they do not essentially qualify couscous to be a nutrient-dense choice.

In conclusion, couscous is a carbohydrate, fiber, and protein-rich food made from semolina and durum wheat. This North African staple has found its way into many parts of the world and is soon becoming a favorite among many. Couscous has many potential and a few negligible side effects. Given how easy it is to cook it and its versatility in the kitchen, adding it to your diet is very easy. If you are allergic to gluten or are avoiding gluten in your diet, you should stay away from couscous.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Is couscous healthier than rice?

That depends on which type of rice is being compared to couscous. In the case of white rice, couscous is better as it has a lower calorie count of 112 calories per 100g vs 130 calories per 100g. In the case of brown rice, couscous does have a lower calorie count, but, brown rice has a high level of fiber 8g, and protein 4g, vs 3.79g & 1.14g per 100g (8), (9).

Is couscous healthier than quinoa?

Quinoa is better and healthier than couscous as it has more vitamins, minerals such as niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin (10).

Can I eat couscous every day?

Yes, you can eat couscous every day.

Is couscous a refined carb?

Couscous made from durum wheat is refined carb, whereas whole wheat couscous is not refined carb.

Is couscous gluten-free?

No, couscous is not gluten-free.

Is couscous a whole-grain food?

No, it is not a whole grain food. It is a food product that is made from semolina and durum wheat.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Nutritional Values of Couscous
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169700/nutrients
  2. Selenium: Its Role as Antioxidant in Human Health
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC2698273/
  3. Effects of Selenium Supplementation for Cancer Prevention in Patients with Carcinoma of the Skin. A randomized Controlled Trial. Nutritional Prevention of Cancer Study Group
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8971064/
  4. Free Radical Tissue Damage: Protective Role of Antioxidant Nutrients
    https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.1.6.3315807
  5. Ghrelin Enhances Appetite and Increases Food Intake in Humans
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11739476/
  6. Dietary Fibre and Human Health
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235978852_Dietary_fibre_and_human_health
  7. Clinical Response to Dietary Fiber Treatment of Chronic Constipation
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8995945/
  8. Rice, White, Long-Grain, Regula,r Enriched, Cooked
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168878/nutrients
  9. Brown Rice
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/448566/nutrients
  10. Quinoa, Cooked
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168917/nutrients
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