Couscous is a popular Mediterranean side dish. Is it healthy substitute for rice?
Mediterranean food is growing in popularity as people discover the many health benefits this cuisine has to offer. With its emphasis on vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil, it’s not surprising that people who eat this type of diet have a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Couscous is a grain-like food that’s popular in certain parts of the Mediterranean. It often serves as a substitute for rice – and in most people’s minds, it’s healthier. Is eating couscous a healthy option?
What is Couscous?
Couscous is made from semolina wheat that’s been coated with ground wheat flour. It forms granules that expand in volume when cooked – creating a dish that’s similar to rice. In reality, couscous isn’t a grain as most people believe, but a type of pasta. You can buy instant couscous at many grocery stores – which has already been steamed before being dried and packaged. It can be prepared in much less time than most grains – taking about five minutes to go from stovetop to table.
Is Couscous Healthy?
Since couscous is actually a pasta and not a whole grain, it’s not as rich in vitamins and minerals as some whole grains such as quinoa. It’s a decent source of thiamine and niacin – and an excellent source of the antioxidant mineral selenium. On the plus side, it is fat-free and a decent source of protein – with a full cup of cooked couscous containing six grams of protein. It has only two grams of fiber, which is lower than the fiber content of whole grains such as quinoa and barley which have a similar texture when cooked. A full cup of cooked couscous has 176 calories.
Eating Couscous is a Little Carby
Cooked couscous is relatively high in carbs with 36 grams in a single cup. The problem is couscous has a higher glycemic index compared to most whole grains. This means it causes a greater insulin response – which isn’t a good thing for diabetics – or anyone else for that matter.
The Bottom Line?
Couscous isn’t a terribly unhealthy food, but it lacks the fiber, B vitamins, and minerals found in whole grains such as barley, bulgar, and quinoa. These whole grain foods also have a lower glycemic index which is healthier for diabetics. Couscous is not a good choice for anyone with a wheat intolerance since it’s made from semolina wheat. If you’re looking for a healthier rice substitute, look for quinoa and barley instead.