Couscous Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

couscous

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 nutritious addition to your meal.

Nutrition Facts

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

  • Calories: 176
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 8mg
  • Carbohydrates: 36g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 6g
  • Zinc: 0.4mg
  • Selenium: 43.2mcg
  • Niacin: 1.5mg
  • Vitamin B5: 0.6mg
  • Folate: 23.6mcg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1mg

Carbs

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

Plain couscous that has been cooked in water with no added 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

You'll get a nice six-gram boost of plant 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.

Vitamins and Minerals

Couscous provides 6 mg of niacin in a single serving of couscous, along with a healthy dose of vitamin B5 (0.6mg), 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.

Couscous Calories

Couscous contains 176 calories per cooked cup (157g). Of those calories, 85% come from carbs, 14% from protein, and 1% from fat.

Here are some calorie counts of comparable grains and grain-based foods per one cup serving:

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.

Improves Digestive Health

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 with 3 grams per cup. Fiber supports 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.

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 Red Mill Whole Wheat Pearl Couscous provides 7 grams of fiber.

Source of Muscle Supporting Protein

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.

Source of Energy Boosting Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy. Active individuals should include even more carbohydrates in their balanced diet to support training and recovery. If you can find it, choose whole grain couscous as approximately half of your daily grain intake should come from whole grains.

May Help Prevent Cancer

Choosing whole grain couscous may help prevent cancer. People who consume a greater amount of grains than those who eat less tend to have a lower risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and gastric cancers. Researchers have found overwhelming evidence that those consuming more whole grains have fewer total deaths from cancer.

May Help Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

Whole grain couscous may improve overall heart health due to its fiber content. Consuming enough fiber improves weight balance and cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Improving these aspects of your health also benefit your heart health, reducing their risks of heart disease and research shows those who consume more whole grains have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Allergies

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.

If you have a gluten-allergy you should avoid couscous. 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."

Storage and Food Safety

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.

How to Prepare

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, the total calories will increase as well as the fat content, depending on the amount of butter or oil you use. 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.

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.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. USDA, FoodData Central. Couscous, cooked.

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Glycemic Index for 60+ Foods.

  3. USDA, FoodData Central. Rice, white, glutinous, unenriched, cooked.

  4. USDA, FoodData Central. Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked.

  5. Holscher HD. Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiotaGut Microbes. 2017;8(2):172-184. doi:10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756

  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fiber.

  7. Bob's Red Mill. Whole Wheat Pearl Couscous.

  8. McRae MP. Health benefits of dietary whole grains: An umbrella review of meta-analysesJ Chiropr Med. 2017;16(1):10-18. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.008

  9. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat.

  10. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Near East Couscous Broccoli & Cheese Rice. March 19, 2021.

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.