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.
It’s a processed grain product 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 has the longest cooking time.
Here are 5 health and nutrition benefits of couscous.
One of the most important nutrients in couscous is selenium.
Just one cup (157 grams) of couscous contains more than 60% of the recommended intake (1).
Selenium is an essential mineral with many health benefits. It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps your body repair damaged cells and decreases inflammation ().
It also plays a role in thyroid health. It’s essential for proper thyroid gland function, protecting it against damage and contributing to hormone production (, , 5).
The selenium in couscous may help lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in your body. Its antioxidant function can also help reduce the buildup of plaque and “bad” LDL cholesterol on artery veins and walls (, ).
Summary Selenium is an important antioxidant that helps protect your body. Couscous is an exceptional source of this nutrient.
The selenium in couscous may also help lower your risk of cancer ().
A review of 69 studies including over 350,000 people showed that high selenium blood levels may protect against certain cancers, though the effect was associated with eating selenium-rich foods, rather than taking supplements ().
Some studies have specifically linked selenium deficiency to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Additionally, consuming adequate amounts of selenium, in combination with vitamins C and E, has shown to decrease the risk of lung cancer in smokers (, , ).
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.
This antioxidant helps reduce inflammation and boosts immunity by lowering oxidative stress in your body ().
Studies have shown that while increased blood levels of selenium enhance the immune response, a deficiency may harm immune cells and their function ().
Selenium also plays a role in the regeneration of vitamins C and E, which help increase your immune system’s 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.
As a result, it’s important to consume protein from animal and/or plant sources. Couscous is a good source of plant-based protein, providing 6 grams per one-cup (157-gram) serving (1, , ).
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.
Diets high in plant-based protein have been linked to a lower risk of stroke, cancer and death from heart disease (, , ).
Summary Couscous is a good source of plant-based protein, which can be included in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.
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 another grain such as quinoa, brown rice or farro, as well as vegetables, 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 grinding 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 allergy or intolerance.
Though only about 1% of the population has a gluten intolerance 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 (, , ).
Could Increase Blood Sugar Levels
Though couscous contains limited amounts of blood-sugar-lowering protein, it’s fairly high in carbs, with 36 grams per cup (157 grams) (1).
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, which can have a variety of negative health effects ().
Lower in Essential Nutrients
While couscous contains some fiber, potassium and other nutrients, it’s not considered a good source.
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 (, , ).
Studies have shown that consuming a diet rich in potassium may improve blood flow and help reduce your risk of stroke (, , 26, ).
While couscous provides a small amount of potassium, fruits and plant-based foods, such as avocado, bananas or potatoes, are far better sources of potassium.
Summary Couscous is high in carbs and may not be the best choice for individuals with blood sugar issues, celiac disease or non-celiac gluten 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 like cancer.
Nevertheless, 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 packs fewer nutrients than similar whole grains.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-prepare grain product and don’t mind eating gluten, consider spooning couscous onto your plate.