Is couscous good for weight loss? The answer is no. Couscous is more like a grain than a pasta and has relatively little effect on lowering the calorie intake. Couscous is a grain, made from semolina and wheat flour, similar in texture to pasta, rice and bulgur. Traditionally, couscous is tiny balls of pasta, but it’s also sold in larger flake form.
What is Couscous?
Couscous is a traditional food from Northern African cultures and consists of small balls of durum wheat or semolina flour. It is often mistaken for a grain, but it is actually the same dough that is made into many kinds of pasta. To prepare couscous, you simply need to add hot water to these small balls and let them fluff up into a more substantive meal. It first appeared in historical records in the 13th century in North African countries and was later reported to be a growing food staple in Middle Eastern countries and Turkey.
Couscous is mainly available in natural form only in the Mediterranean region and north African countries. The United States, Britain, and other nations of the world typically get couscous in pre-steamed or prepared varieties, so a small amount of hot water is required to fluff up the pre-cooked and dried couscous balls. It is commonly used in cuisines in the same way that rice or pasta is used, beneath meat, vegetables, and sauce. It can also be added to salads for daring culinary artisans, but traditionally, it is associated with stew-like dishes.
Most of the health benefits associated with couscous are due to its impressive mineral and vitamin content, including selenium, thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and manganese.
Couscous is a North African dish made from tiny steamed balls of semolina flour.
|Serving Size : 100 g1 cup (173 g)|
|Total lipid (fat) [g]||0.64|
|Carbohydrate, by difference [g]||77.43|
|Fiber, total dietary [g]||5|
|Calcium, Ca [mg]||24|
|Iron, Fe [mg]||1.08|
|Magnesium, Mg [mg]||44|
|Phosphorus, P [mg]||170|
|Potassium, K [mg]||166|
|Sodium, Na [mg]||10|
|Zinc, Zn [mg]||0.83|
|Copper, Cu [mg]||0.25|
|Manganese, Mn [mg]||0.78|
|Pantothenic acid [mg]||1.24|
|Vitamin B-6 [mg]||0.11|
|Folate, total [µg]||20|
|Folate, food [µg]||20|
|Folate, DFE [µg]||20|
|Fatty acids, total saturated [g]||0.12|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]||0.09|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]||0.25|
|Aspartic acid [g]||0.52|
|Glutamic acid [g]||4.6|
|Sources include : USDA |
Types of Couscous
- Moroccan couscous: the smallest, has a fine texture, and is quickest to cook.
- Israeli couscous: also known as Pearl couscous, is larger round balls and closely resembles pasta.
- Lebanese couscous: also known as Moghrabieh couscous, is the largest in size, similar to a pea.
All three of the above types of couscous are available in whole wheat, which means the whole grain has been kept intact, yielding the most health benefits.
Instant couscous is pre-cooked and dried, a common form found in many grocery stores.
Health Benefits of Couscous
The health benefits of couscous are explained in greater detail below.
May Improve Cardiovascular System
Probably, one of the most important components of couscous is selenium, which will be an integral part of many of the health benefits that are explained here. Selenium is a trace mineral that is very difficult to find in food sources, but it is an essential mineral in the human body. A single serving of couscous may have more than 60% of the daily suggested intake of selenium, making it possibly one of the richest sources of selenium in any food. In terms of heart health, selenium functions as a powerful antioxidant that functions mainly in the blood vessels to reduce the buildup of plaque and dangerous LDL cholesterol on artery and vein walls. Thereby, selenium protects the body from developing dangerous and life-threatening conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
Furthermore, couscous is a decent source of potassium, which is another essential nutrient, although quite a bit easier to find in other foods. Potassium is integral in reducing the contraction of blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure and benefiting patients that are at high risk for various cardiovascular diseases. Potassium also helps in the normal beating of the heart and prevents heart arrhythmias and other dangerous irregularities in the constant cycle of the heart.
May Have an Anti-cancer Potential
As mentioned earlier, selenium is a very beneficial element of couscous that has a wide range of health benefits, including a key role in the metabolic pathways which may lead to the proliferation or protection of certain cancers. Recent studies have linked a deficiency in selenium in the body to an increased risk of prostate cancer appearance. Proper amounts of selenium in the body will result in anti-metastatic qualities and a general preventative measure against cancers (Scott M. Lippman, MD, et al., 2008). Prostate cancer has gotten most of the attention thus far, but ongoing studies linking couscous and selenium to other types of cancer are ongoing. Selenium is also connected to lowering the risk of lung cancer and carcinogenesis in smokers when combined with vitamin-E and vitamin-C.
May Boost Immune System
The natural antioxidant qualities of selenium help fight against the proliferation of free radicals and other toxins in the bloodstream and the body’s systems, but selenium has a second unique way of boosting the immune system. Selenium actually stimulates the regeneration of vitamin-C and vitamin-E, both of which play integral parts in the body’s defense mechanisms. All in all, couscous can be a very powerful addition to your body’s natural defenses.
May Improve Muscle Mass
Selenium is one of the important parts of developing muscle mass as an essential part of protein metabolism and muscle development. Studies have shown that selenium deficiency is a major cause of muscle weakness and degradation, as well as abnormal fatigue or general body weakness. Therefore, since selenium is such a difficult nutrient to acquire naturally, couscous can be one of the best sources of improving your muscle mass!
May Aid in Wound Healing
Healing from wounds and recovering from illness and surgery can be some of the most difficult times for your body since it must work on overdrive to continue normal function, and dedicate energy and nutrients to massive repair. Couscous can be a big help during this time since it provides large amounts of protein. Protein is an integral part of wound healing, as well as in the metabolism of enzymes that aid in wound repair, both internally and externally. Couscous is a powerful part of any protein diet, and since more than 15% of the human body is composed of protein, any food source this rich in protein is a good thing!
Possible Weight Loss Aid
People on diets are often looking for low-calorie sources of beneficial food, and grains are often turned to because they are filling, relatively easy to cook, and not high in calories. In terms of grains like rice or quinoa, couscous is known to be actually superior, having less than 200 calories in each cup, which is less than 10% of the daily calorie intake suggested for adults. This makes couscous very beneficial for those trying to lose weight mainly through dieting, although the extra protein that couscous provides also makes it a powerful boost for muscle development, in case you want to reduce obesity from a different direction. Couscous is also very low in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat, all of which work against weight loss attempts!
The rich fiber content of couscous may also act as a deterrent to the secretion of ghrelin, the hormone which generates feelings of hunger. A reduction in that hormone reduces the chances of overeating, a major danger to people on diets or attempting to lose weight.
May Improve Digestion
A single cup of couscous may contain almost 10% of the body’s suggested fiber intake for the day. Couscous is a fiber-rich food that helps in the proper digestion of food, and health of the gastrointestinal system. Fiber helps to add bulk to bowel movements, and it stimulates peristaltic movement, the smooth-muscle contractions that move food along the digestive tract. Fiber can also function as a scraper or cleaner of the arteries, stripping off harmful LDL cholesterol and helping to eliminate it from the body. Dietary fiber also helps to stimulate the uptake and retention of HDL cholesterol, (“good cholesterol”) within the body. Fiber can also reduce the chances of constipation, which subsequently prevents a number of harmful intestinal conditions, including stomach and colorectal cancer.
May Optimize Fluid Balance
Our bodies are made of more than 90% water, so the fluid balance in our organ systems and body cavities is essential to normal function. Potassium is found in good amounts in couscous, and potassium is essential in the regulation of fluid and cellular pathways. This fluid balance is very important in the regulation of blood pressure throughout the body, thereby reducing the chances of conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Also, this maintains a balance of nutrient uptake and toxin elimination by helping to regulate the excretory activities of the body.
May Help Regulate Body Metabolism
The high protein content of couscous makes it ideal for regulating the entire body’s metabolism. Protein is one of the essential parts of our body and can be found in our hair, skin, nails, teeth, organs, muscles, bones, natural chemicals, and enzymes. When we have a protein deficiency, many of our body’s organ systems stop functioning properly, leading to a long list of potentially lethal health effects. Couscous can alleviate many concerns for those who don’t want to face complete organ shutdown from protein deficiencies. It is particularly a favorite for vegetarians and vegans since they lose some major sources of protein, meat, and dairy products.
Possible Antibacterial Properties
Somewhat related to couscous’ ability to boost the immune system is its proven quality as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. It may help fight the herpes virus, cancer cells, cold sores, and shingles.
Is couscous gluten free?
‘No, couscous is made from a type of flour called semolina, a flour derived from wheat, so it naturally contains gluten,’ explains Karine.
How many calories are in couscous?
‘Couscous contains about 112 calories in 100g of prepared [cooked] couscous,’ says Karine. ‘Therefore, the calorie content is similar to other grains like quinoa, but its calorie content is slightly lower than rice.’
While this isn’t particularly calorific, neither is couscous considered low calorie meals. This is because ‘couscous is a staple food offering calories mostly in the form of carbohydrate,’ says Rob.
Treat couscous as you would any other carb on your plate which, according to the NHS Eatwell Guide, should make up just over a third of the food we eat.
Is couscous a carb or a grain?
It’s both! ‘Couscous is a processed grain derived from durum wheat semolina,’ says Karine. ‘And it consists mainly of carbohydrates – roughly 23g of carbohydrates per 100g of prepared couscous.’
But if couscous is processed does that mean it isn’t good for us? ‘The definition of processed – with respect to food – simply means a food has been altered in some way during its preparation so, yes, couscous is processed as the grain has been milled,’ explains Rob. ‘We have become so used to the narrative that all processed foods are bad for us and almost everyone associates the term with foods high in fat, salt and sugar. However, foods like couscous are healthy and a staple in the diet of many countries around the globe, especially North Africa.’
‘You can get wholewheat couscous,’ adds Rob (try Crazy Jack Organic Wholewheat Couscous(opens in new tab), £1 for 250g, Sainsbury’s). ‘Although the term “wholewheat” may have you thinking it’s not processed it is – the wholewheat durum wheat is still milled down to make couscous.’
Is couscous healthier than rice?
‘If you compare white rice to couscous, then the calories are pretty much the same,’ says Rob. ‘However, couscous contains more protein and higher amounts of vitamins and minerals so you could say it was slightly healthier. If you compare brown rice to couscous, again it contains roughly the same number of calories but higher levels of nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. However, couscous still contains more protein than brown rice,’ he explains.
‘Couscous is a better source of fibre than white rice,’ adds Karine. ‘And wholewheat couscous is a better source of fibre than brown rice. But rice is a gluten-free grain; therefore, it’s suitable for those with coeliac disease or with a gluten or wheat intolerance.’
‘Both couscous and rice are healthy foods to include as part of a balanced diet,’ says Rob. ‘Interestingly, basmati rice scores lower on the glycaemic index than both couscous and brown rice, so if you’re trying to follow a lower GI diet then this may be the better choice of carbohydrates.’
Is couscous healthy for diabetics?
Couscous is a healthful choice for anyone following a diabetic diet. For optimal blood sugar control, keep in mind that 1/2 Cup of cooked couscous contains 18 g of carbohydrate, so be sure to calculate your carb intake accordingly
Adding non-starchy veggies, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or riced cauliflower will increase the bulk and fiber content, aiding to reduce total carbohydrate intake. Choose the whole wheat version to further maximize your fiber intake and reduce post-meal blood sugar levels.
Is couscous healthy for weight loss?
Couscous will fit right into a diet plan that is aiming to promote weight loss. One approach is to make couscous a part of the meal, but not the main dish, in order to keep your caloric intake in check.
Choose the whole wheat version and add many vegetables to bump up your fiber intake. Adding more fiber to your diet will keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time, helping to limit your overall calorie intake.
How to Prepare It
You can cook couscous and have it ready in under 15 minutes, much faster than other grains (such as brown rice or white rice). Cooked similarly to pasta, it is steeped in boiling water and left to sit in a lidded pot:
- 5-10 minutes for traditional (refined)
- 10-15 minutes for whole wheat
It can be consumed hot or cold, adding to great versatility and you can enhance the flavor by cooking it in vegetable stock or another type of broth.
How to Serve It
There is endless potential to add additional healthful ingredients to a couscous dish, such as:
- Vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, riced cauliflower, shredded carrots, fennel, sweet potatoes
- Legumes like white beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils
- Fresh herbs such as mint, basil, coriander, parsley, cilantro
- Healthy fats like virgin olive oil, avocado oil
- Nuts including chopped almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts
Ready to get started with a simple couscous recipe? Try the tasty and healthful couscous salad recipe below, or perhaps our delicious Greek Couscous Salad recipe with Israeli couscous. Enjoy!
Healthy Couscous Salad
Satisfy your hunger with this healthy pearl couscous salad! It’s tossed with juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, delicious kalamata olives, and aromatic basil. The tangy dressing brings it all together to create a flavorful and healthy Mediterranean dish!
Prep Time7 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time17 mins
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Keyword: couscous salad, healthy couscous salad
For the Salad
- 1 cup couscous dry pearl variety
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup grape tomatoes halved
- 1/2 cup cucumber chopped
- 1 small onion chopped
- 10-15 fresh basil leaves
- 2/3 cup chickpeas
- 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbled
- 4-6 Kalamata olives
For the Dressing
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 lemon juiced (should yield about 1-1.5 tbsp)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 garlic clove minced
- sea salt
- black pepper
- Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl. Whisk well and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the couscous. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add water to the couscous and bring it to a boil. Cover and cook for 7-10 minutes until soft.
- Remove from heat, transfer to a fine-mesh strainer, and rinse. Shake off any excess water and set aside.
- Add the grape tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onion, chickpeas, basil leaves, and feta cheese in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle on half the dressing and toss well. Add additional dressing to taste.
- Add the couscous and mix gently.
- Divide into two salad bowls and serve.
- Toasting the pearl couscous in oil intensifies the flavor. But if you’re trying to reduce oil in your diet, you can skip this part and simply add water and boil according to package directions.
- For added flavor, you can cook the couscous in vegetable/chicken broth instead of water.
- To make it slightly spicy, you can coat the chickpeas with a dash of cayenne pepper before tossing it with the rest of the ingredients.
Calories: 750kcal | Carbohydrates: 96g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 19g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 453mg | Potassium: 686mg | Fiber: 12g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 919IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 223mg | Iron: 4mg