9 Impressive Benefits of Couscous

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Couscous is more than just “the food so nice they named it twice”, it also has a wide variety of health benefits, which may include 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.

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. [1]

Close-up of a ceramic bowl filled with dried couscous on a jute cloth

Couscous is a North African dish made from tiny steamed balls of semolina flour. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Couscous, dry
Serving Size :
Water [g]8.56
Energy 376
Energy [kJ]1573
Protein [g]12.76
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.64
Ash [g]0.62
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
Thiamin [mg]0.16
Riboflavin [mg]0.08
Niacin [mg]3.49
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
14:0 [g]0
16:0 [g]0.11
18:0 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.09
16:1 [g]0
18:1 [g]0.09
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.25
18:2 [g]0.24
18:3 [g]0.01
Tryptophan [g]0.16
Threonine [g]0.34
Isoleucine [g]0.49
Leucine [g]0.87
Lysine [g]0.25
Methionine [g]0.2
Cystine [g]0.36
Phenylalanine [g]0.62
Tyrosine [g]0.34
Valine [g]0.54
Arginine [g]0.47
Histidine [g]0.26
Alanine [g]0.37
Aspartic acid [g]0.52
Glutamic acid [g]4.6
Glycine [g]0.4
Proline [g]1.4
Serine [g]0.6
Sources include : USDA [2]

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. [3]

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 irregularities in the constant cycle of the heart. [4]

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. [5]

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! [6]

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! [7]

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! [8]

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. [9] [10]

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. [11]

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. [12]

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, cold sores. [13]

Word 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!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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