Couscous is more than just “the food so nice they named it twice”, it also has a wide variety of health benefits, including the ability to prevent certain cancers, increase heart health, prevent bacterial and viral infections, promote normal metabolism throughout the body’s systems, controls fluid levels in the body, improve digestion, help weight loss efforts, heal wounds, build muscles, and boosting the immune system.
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 pastas. 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. These health benefits are explained in greater detail below.
Cardiovascular Health: 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 has more than 60% of the daily suggested intake of selenium, making it 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 constantly cycle of the heart.
Cancer Prevention: 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 lead to proliferation or protection of certain cancers. Recent studies have linked a deficiency in selenium in the body to increased risk of prostate cancer appearance. Proper amounts of selenium in the body will result in anti-mestastatic qualities and a general preventative measure against cancers. Prostate cancer has gotten most of the attenttion thus far, but ongoing studies linking couscous and selenium to other types of cancer are ongoing. Selenium is also connected to preventing lung cancer and carcinogenesis for smokers, when combined with vitamin-E and vitamin-C.
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.
Muscle Building: 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!
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!
Weight Loss: 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 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 also acts 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.
Digestion: A single cup of couscous contains 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 functions 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.
Fluid Levels in the Body: 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.
Body Metabolism: The high protein content of couscous makes it ideal for regulating the entire body’s metabolism. Protein is one of the most 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.
Antibacterial Activity: Somewhat related to couscous’ ability to boost the immune system is its proven quality as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. It has been shown as a solid deterrent against the herpes virus, cancer cells, cold sores and shingles.
A Few Words of Warning: Couscous is mainly composed of carbohydrates, and while they are not inherently bad for you, there has been a recent trend of moving away from carb-heavy foods. That being said, the health benefits greatly outweigh the risk of overeating couscous and increasing your carbohydrate intake to a dangerous level.
Besides that risk, simply be aware that some people are allergic to various foods, so if you have never eaten sorghum or durum wheat, pay attention to your body’s reaction to make sure you don’t have any unexpected allergies. As always, consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet!