Couscous Nutrition Facts

Calories, Carbs, and Health Benefits of Couscous

couscous nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Couscous is a popular side dish that is common in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is made from small granules of semolina (pasta) and often accompanies meat, vegetables, or stew. Couscous calories and nutrition depend on the preparation method that you use, but it can be a healthy addition to your meal.

Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup of plain couscous cooked with no added salt, seasoning, or fat.

  • Calories: 174
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 13mg
  • Carbohydrates: 36g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 6g

Carbs in Couscous

A single one-cup serving provides about 36 grams of carbohydrate or about 34 net carbs because you gain two grams of fiber with each serving.

Most of the carbohydrate in couscous is starch. There is no naturally occurring or added sugar in couscous unless you buy a flavored variety that has had sugar added as an ingredient.

The estimated glycemic index of couscous is 65, making it a higher glycemic food than comparable side dishes like brown rice.

Fats in Couscous

Plain couscous that has been cooked in water with no additional butter or oil is a low fat (almost fat-free) food. However, many prepared, boxed brands of couscous instruct you to add olive oil or another source of fat to the water before cooking. If you add any type of oil or butter to prepare couscous, you'll increase the fat content. 

Protein in Couscous

You'll get a nice six-gram boost of protein when you consume a single serving. You can increase the protein of your meal by adding shredded chicken or consuming couscous with fish such as tuna or salmon.

Micronutrients in Couscous

Couscous provides important vitamins and minerals. 

You'll get 6 mg of niacin in a single serving of couscous, along with a healthy dose of pantothenic acid (2.2 mg), thiamin (0.3 mg), vitamin B6, and folate.

Minerals in couscous include manganese (1.3 mg), phosphorus (294 mg), copper (0.4 mg), magnesium (76 mg), iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.

Health Benefits

You might enjoy couscous as a healthy alternative to white or brown rice. So let's see how these popular side dishes compare.

One cup of cooked couscous has fewer calories and carbohydrates than both brown and white rice. There is more fiber in couscous than there is in white rice. But brown rice is the winner when it comes to fiber. Fiber helps boost digestive health and can help you to feel full longer after eating. These nutritional benefits may help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Protein is another macronutrient that can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Protein also helps you to build and maintain strong muscles. Couscous provides more protein than both white and brown rice, although brown rice comes close.

Couscous is also the lowest in fat, however, preparation method can make a big difference. Brown rice provides the most fat, but the types of fat in brown rice (mono and polyunsaturated fat) are considered to be healthy fats.

Common Questions

Is couscous gluten-free?
No. Couscous is not a gluten-free food as some might expect. According to gluten-free diet expert Jane Anderson, the food should be avoided if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. She adds that you diners who are gluten sensitive should "beware of couscous served in restaurants unless it's explicitly marketed as gluten-free."

 Is couscous a whole grain food?
Regular couscous is made from processed semolina and is not a source of whole grains or a significant source of fiber. You can, however, buy couscous made from whole grain flour. A single serving of Bob's Whole Wheat Couscous provides 5 grams of fiber.

Is nutrition information on the package for cooked or dry couscous?
Often food manufacturers will specify if the nutrition data provided is for the cooked or dry food. Usually, the information on the label is for cooked couscous. If not, you can usually tell by the serving size. A single serving of cooked couscous is one cup. If you see a serving size listed as one-third cup then the data provided is probably for the dry product (which expands to one cup during preparation).

How long does a box of couscous stay fresh?
If you buy a packaged variety of couscous and keep it sealed, it should stay fresh for roughly twelve months. However, once the product is cooked it should be refrigerated and will only stay fresh for a few days.

Recipes and Preparation Tips

The way you prepare your couscous makes a big difference in the nutritional benefits you gain when you eat it. Many people boil it in water with a small amount of butter or olive oil. In that case, your couscous calories will increase to about 236 per cup and you'll also gain 8 grams of fat and five grams of saturated fat. If you sprinkle parmesan or other toppings into couscous, that will add more calories.

If you boil couscous in chicken stock or if you use a packaged brand of couscous, the calories may not change significantly, but the sodium level may increase. Plain couscous boiled in water only provides 13 milligrams of sodium, but when you cook it in salted chicken stock or if you add salt to the water, you'll increase your sodium intake. The Near East brand Broccoli and Cheese Couscous, for instance, provides 230 calories and 610 milligrams of sodium per serving. The Parmesan Couscous provides 220 calories and 510 grams of sodium.

If you want to include couscous in a healthy well-balanced meal, serve it as the base for other nutritious foods. Some traditional couscous dishes are served with creamy, high-fat sauces. But you can cut the sauce and focus on fresh ingredients for a lower fat meal. Try preparing a roast chicken with couscous or couscous with roasted red peppers, Feta, and Mint.

Keep in mind that you don't need a recipe to make couscous. Simply boil the grain in water or stock as directed on the package label. Depending on the amount you cook, it will take just a few minutes to fluff up and cook. Then throw in fresh herbs, top with your favorite roasted vegetables or simply spoon it next to a piece of lean grilled fish or poultry for a healthy, satisfying meal.

Allergies and Interactions

If you have a wheat allergy, you should avoid couscous, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education Center. You may experience symptoms including hives or even severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis. The source recommends keeping an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen, with you at all times. 

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