Once considered a North African delicacy, couscous is now eaten all over the world.
In fact, it can be found on the shelves of most grocery stores.
Though commonly mistaken for a grain, it’s made from little balls of durum wheat or semolina flour.
There are three types of couscous: Moroccan, Israeli and Lebanese. Moroccan couscous is the tiniest and most readily available version.
Israeli or pearl couscous is about the size of peppercorns and takes longer to cook. It tends to have a nuttier flavor and chewier texture. Lebanese couscous is the largest of the three and takes the longest to cook.
Here are the top 7 health and nutrition benefits of couscous.
One of the most important nutrients in couscous is selenium.
Just one cup of couscous contains more than 60% of the recommended intake.
The selenium in couscous may help lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in your body. Its antioxidant effects can also help reduce the buildup of plaque and LDL cholesterol on artery veins and walls (1, 5).
Summary Selenium is an important antioxidant that helps protect your body. Couscous is an exceptional source of this nutrient.
A review of 69 studies including over 350,000 people showed that high selenium blood levels may protect against certain cancers. Although, the effect was associated with eating selenium-rich foods, rather than taking supplements (7).
Some studies have specifically linked selenium deficiency to an increased risk of prostate cancer. However, consuming adequate amounts of selenium, in combination with vitamins C and E, has shown to decrease the risk of lung cancer in smokers (8, 9, 10).
Summary Consuming selenium through foods such as couscous might help decrease your risk of certain cancers.
The selenium in couscous can also give your immune system a boost.
Studies have shown that while increased blood levels of selenium enhance the immune response, a deficiency may harm immune cells and their function (12).
Selenium also plays a role in the regeneration of vitamins C and E, both of which promote immune system function.
Summary By reducing oxidative stress, the selenium found in couscous can boost your immune system.
Approximately 16–20% of your body is made up of protein, which is made of amino acids. Amino acids are involved in almost every metabolic process in your body.
Keep in mind that animal protein contains all of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce, making it a complete protein.
Plant-based proteins contain only some essential amino acids and, with the exceptions of soy and quinoa, are considered incomplete.
Plant-based protein is essential in vegetarian and vegan diets, making couscous an optimal food choice. However, it should be combined with other plant proteins to ensure you get all of the essential amino acids.
Summary Couscous is a good source of plant-based protein, which can be included in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.
Grain-based couscous is lower in calories than grains like rice and quinoa. One cup contains less than 200 calories, making it a good choice for those on a calorie-restricted diet.
Couscous is also relatively rich in protein for a wheat- or grain-based food. With 6 grams per cooked cup, it’s higher in protein than many other types of pasta or processed grains.
Summary The protein and fiber found in couscous work together to increase feelings of fullness, which can contribute to a lower calorie intake and possibly weight loss.
Combined, fiber and protein help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar spikes occur when blood sugar quickly rises and falls after a meal. In the short term, this can cause feelings of lethargy and even hunger.
In the long term, high blood sugar levels can reduce your body’s ability to effectively lower its blood sugar levels. This can put you at risk of diabetes.
Couscous contains 2 grams of fiber per cup and has a moderate glycemic index value of 65. This means that in comparison to other carbs, couscous moderately affects blood sugar.
Its fiber and protein content work together to help reduce blood sugar spikes after a meal.
Summary Fiber and protein help slow the absorption of carbs, leading to more stable blood sugar levels after meals. Couscous is a good source of fiber and protein.
Couscous is often considered a healthy alternative to pasta since it’s made from whole-wheat flour. Other types of pasta are typically more refined.
Properly cooked, couscous is light and fluffy. What’s more, it tends to take on the flavor of other ingredients, making it very versatile.
Additionally, it’s quite easy to prepare. The Western version sold in supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried. Simply add water or broth, boil and fluff with a fork.
Couscous can be added to salads or served as a side dish with meats and vegetables.
It can also be combined with vegetables or another grain, such as quinoa, brown rice or farro, to add more nutrients and amino acids to your diet.
Summary Couscous is simple to prepare and takes on the taste of other ingredients, making it an easy addition to meals.
While couscous contains some nutrients, you should consider a few things before consuming it.
High in Gluten
Semolina flour is made by grounding the endosperm of durum wheat. It’s considered a high-gluten product.
Since couscous is made from semolina flour, it contains gluten. This makes it off limits for those with a gluten intolerance or allergy.
Though only about 1% of the population has a gluten allergy known as celiac disease, it’s thought that 0.5–13% of people may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Therefore, consuming couscous could be harmful to these individuals (34, 35, 36).
Could Increase Blood Sugar Levels for Some
Though couscous contains some blood-sugar-lowering protein and fiber, it’s fairly high in carbs, with 36 grams per cup.
Those with blood sugar issues or diabetes should be cautious when consuming moderate to high-carb foods. These foods may cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which can have a variety of negative health effects (37).
Consuming couscous with other sources of protein or fiber is ideal to balance out your blood sugar levels.
Lower in Essential Nutrients
While couscous contains fiber, potassium and some other nutrients, it’s not considered a good source of them.
The fiber found in whole grains and wheat functions as a prebiotic to help improve digestion and overall gut health. However, whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats are better sources of fiber than couscous (38, 39, 40).
While couscous provides a small amount of potassium, fruits and plant-based foods, such as avocados, bananas or potatoes, are better sources of potassium.
Summary Couscous is high in carbs and may not be the best choice for individuals with blood sugar issues or a gluten allergy or sensitivity. It also contains fewer essential nutrients than other foods.
Rich in selenium, couscous can help boost your immune system and reduce your risk of some diseases and health conditions.
What’s more, its combined fiber and protein content may aid weight loss and help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
However, while couscous has health and nutrition benefits, it may not be the best carb choice for everyone.
It contains gluten, making it off limits for some. It also contains fewer nutrients than similar whole grains.
If you are looking for an antioxidant-rich carb and don’t mind eating gluten, consider spooning couscous onto your plate.