The more information there is about the harm to the body of ordinary grains, the more we ask ourselves – is there a useful alternative? And is such an alternative, for example, couscous, and what is it?
Many people confuse the couscous with quinoa (quinoa) because of their resemblance, although two of these products belong to different families: a couscous grains, quinoa and amaranth to. However, while quinoa is a gluten-free grain, couscous actually contains gluten (gluten) and is usually not sold as whole grains.
While whole grain couscous can be a healthy product, it is not the kind of food that should be eaten regularly, unlike, for example, amaranth or quinoa . You should figure out why. In the article we will consider in detail: what is couscous, the benefits and harms to human health and how to use it properly.
What is couscous
Most consider this product to be grain, but this is not entirely accurate. Technically, couscous is pasta. It is made as follows: semolina or coarsely ground wheat grain is wetted with water, forming small particles, which are then crumbled in wheat flour or semolina to get small balls with a diameter of about 1 mm. Wheat flour, as well as semolina, contains a lot of gluten, which is why this flour is used to create pasta and couscous – it creates strong and non-sticky noodles, unlike other types of flour.
Usually quality couscous is made from semolina obtained from durum wheat . Durum wheat also produces top-quality pasta.
Interestingly, durum wheat contains quite a lot of protein. It also contains about 3% more extractable (“wet”) gluten than regular wheat, which is used to make most bread products.
Couscous used to be cooked by hand. Today, the process is mechanized, and its manufacture is quite fast. As a rule, prepared couscous is used as an ingredient in salads, stews or other recipes. The dish containing this cereal is hearty and tasty.
Is couscous a healthy product?
Now that we have answered the question of what is couscous, it is important to find out if it is a healthy food, what are its benefits and, possibly, harm. At the moment, couscous is not a well-studied cereal in terms of health benefits, but knowing the ingredients, we can highlight some common advantages of using this product in human nutrition.
All the beneficial properties of couscous can only be attributed to that made from whole grain wheat, since endosperm, germ and bran (which are usually removed) have the greatest number of health benefits. Next, we will consider in detail the advantages and disadvantages of couscous for human health
Couscous Health Benefits
We highlight the beneficial properties of this wheat product.
1. Reduces the risk of developing chronic forms of disease
Over the years, the effect of whole grains on the development of various kinds of diseases has been studied. Many large observational studies have noted that a diet that includes whole grains correlates with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer ( 1 , 2 ).
Couscous contains a significant amount of several important nutrients such as niacin, thiamine and folic acid, all of which are necessary for a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.
Most people do not need to follow a diet that excludes all grains, even if you are on a gluten-free diet. However, if you feel that it becomes easier for your body to exclude grains from the diet, then whole wheat grains, such as couscous, can help your body protect itself from certain chronic diseases.
2. Contains antioxidants
One reason that whole grains can protect against disease is that they contain antioxidants. Many people do not think of whole-grain foods as foods high in antioxidants, but whole grains, including whole wheat durum (of which couscous is made), have a comparable amount of antioxidants for most fruits and vegetables.
Some phytochemicals and antioxidants in all grains are considered unique, and may include beneficial nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and β-cryptoxanthin. It is important to note that these antioxidants are found almost entirely in wheat germ and bran, which means that ordinary couscous (which is made from peeled grains) is unlikely to boast the presence of these antioxidants and their health benefits.
However, if couscous is made from whole grains, then in one serving (150 grams) will contain as much as 62% of the daily norm of selenium – a vital antioxidant mineral that has many useful properties. Selenium was the subject of a study associated with a positive antiviral effect, fertility of men and women and a reduced risk of cancer, autoimmune diseases and thyroid diseases ( 3 ).
In general, antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress associated with high levels of chronic inflammation and the risk of developing chronic forms of disease.
3. Helps digestion
Due to the content of dietary fiber in couscous, its use benefits digestion, supporting the overall health of the gastrointestinal tract. Fiber in whole grains functions as a prebiotic, helping digestion and intestinal health. Prebiotic fibers are also associated with increased immunity, as it is proved that 80% of the human immune system is in the intestine.
4. Promotes weight loss
The effect of couscous and other whole grains on digestion is also associated with the ability to have a positive effect on getting rid of excess body weight. While there are many diets for weight loss, if you tolerate gluten well, the inclusion of couscous and other whole grains in your diet when consumed in moderation, will help to systematically reduce your weight.
Possible Couscous Health Damage
Surprisingly, the health benefits of couscous have ended. It is time to study the possible harm from eating this grain.
1. Made from hybrid wheat
Despite the fact that durum wheat is not a product of genetic modification, unlike, for example, corn , it is created by the process of natural hybridization. Creating hybrid wheat is the process by which scientists (or nature) combine genes of different species to create a new species. Although the hybridization that occurs in durum wheat does indeed occur in nature, studies are currently underway to find out ways to genetically modify this hybrid species to make it easier to produce commercially ( 4 ).
Why does it matter? While current scientific trends have not allowed much research on this topic, Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, gives his opinion on wheat hybridization: ( 5 )
By definition, hybridization, backtracking, and mutation methods are difficult to control, unpredictable, and produce many unexpected results. In short, they are worse than genetic modification … I am not an advocate of genetic modification, but it’s sheer madness when apologists for agribusiness protect modern wheat because it is not yet the recipient of the “genetic modification ”.
On the other hand, some agricultural experts and scientists argue that neither genetically modified foods nor hybridized foods (such as couscous) are harmful or hazardous to health and are designed to optimize and improve production processes.
Ultimately, you will need to decide what suits you and your family. Many nutritionists prefer to stay away from such hybrid foods when you can eat foods that grow naturally without human intervention to manipulate them.
2. Contains gluten
Couscous contains gluten, and that’s it. More and more scientists – doctors agree that those who are sensitive to products containing gluten or celiac disease will greatly contribute to the spread of gluten-free nutrition programs.
If you have a sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease, couscous is contraindicated for you. This grain will not bring any benefit to your body, only great harm.
Gluten often becomes a factor that, among others, helps maintain the inflammation that underlies most diseases. Animal studies show that eliminating gluten from food can help in weight loss as well as in reducing inflammation ( 6 ). In healthy people, gluten-free diets can lead to an improvement in the functioning of the intestines and intestinal bacteria (diversity in the microbiome), a decrease in inflammation, and an improvement in immune responses ( 7 ).
3. High glycemic index
Despite the fact that couscous is made from wheat grain, it has a high glycemic index. Although it is believed that eating whole grains as a food will benefit health, eating foods with a high glycemic index and glycemic load often causes type 2 diabetes.
Products with a glycemic index (GI) of 50-70 have an “average” level, and products up to 50 on a GI have a “low” level. Anything above 70 is considered “high.” Couscous matters – 65 points on the glycemic index per 150 grams of product. For reference, a similar number of whole wheat grains have a value of 45, brown rice – 50 and quinoa – 53 ( 8 ).
The benefits of consuming more foods with a low glycemic index include not only a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, but also a more normalized blood sugar, decreased appetite and a stable energy level.
Nutrition Facts and Nutrients in Couscous
One serving of couscous contains a decent amount of vitamins and minerals. Consider the nutrient profile of this product. It is somewhat similar to the profile of brown rice and quinoa, although quinoa definitely wins in terms of vitamins and minerals per serving.
One cup of cooked couscous (about 150 grams) contains approximately:
Calories : 176 calories
Carbohydrates : 36.5 gr.
Protein : 5.9 gr.
Fat : 0.3 gr.
Fiber : 2.2 g
Selenium : 43.2 mcg (62%)
Niacin : 1.5 mg (8%)
Thiamine : 0.1 mg (7%)
Manganese : 0.1 mg (7%)
Folic acid : 23.5 mcg (6%) )
Pantothenic acid : 0.6 mg (6%)
Vitamin B6 : 0.1 mg (4%)
Iron : 0.6 mg (3%)
Magnesium : 12.6 mg (3%)
Phosphorus : 34.5 mg ( 3%)
Zinc : 0.4 mg (3%)
Copper: 0.1 mg (3%)
Phosphorus : 34.5 mg (3%)
Couscous and its alternatives
In terms of nutritional value, couscous is similar to many cereals and grains. By and large, it differs only in the presence of gluten and the method of manufacture (from whole grain or refined wheat).
For comparison, white rice has a higher glycemic index than couscous (white rice index – 72), and brown rice lower glycemic index (brown rice index – 50). Corn is 48 and barley is 25. If we compare products made from durum wheat (such as the product we are considering), we list the following options: fettuccine noodles (32), pasta (50), white spaghetti (46) and whole grain spaghetti (42).
As for gluten, most pasta contains gluten, since it was thanks to gluten that they were produced and can have such a diverse and attractive form. Rice, as a rule, does not contain gluten, but grains – may or may not have gluten in the composition. Some grains, such as buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa, are gluten-free, while others, such as bulgur , barley, and rye , contain gluten.
Couscous or quinoa – which is better
The wheat product we are considering is often confused with quinoa, due to their external and taste similarities. However, when it comes to health benefits and harms, quinoa clearly wins this battle with couscous. We have listed the benefits of couscous above, and quinoa is considered a superfood or superfood, which means concentrated usefulness for the body due to the variety of nutrient compounds in the composition.
Quinoa promotes weight loss, can help fight cancer, maintain a healthy heart, contains copious amounts of antioxidants known as bioflavonoids, helps maintain a healthy digestive system, maintains proper bone health, and can also reduce the risk of diabetes.
When you need to choose, stop at quinoa – your body will say “thank you” for that.
What is couscous used for and how to cook it
Couscous is actually quite easy to use and easy to make. It can be welded – it will take you no more than 2-3 minutes. Or you can simply pour boiling water over it and let it stand for 5 minutes under a closed lid. After cooking, couscous turns into soft and tender porridge.
As for the taste, couscous tends to absorb the taste of the product you are cooking, so many people prefer to cook it in broth or add it to vegetables at the end of cooking.
Side effects and risks of eating couscous
- As previously mentioned, couscous is pasta containing gluten, so anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid eating this product.
- Couscous can also cause unwanted spikes in blood sugar due to its high glycemic index, and should be eaten with caution by people with diabetes symptoms.
- Manifestations of an allergy to couscous are rarely possible. If you have previously experienced symptoms of a food allergy, then before you try couscous for the first time, do a sensitivity test – eat no more than half a teaspoon. If you begin to experience allergy symptoms (such as swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, rash, or itching / burning around your mouth), stop eating and consult your doctor.
Final thoughts on couscous
So, we examined questions about what constitutes couscous, its benefits and harms to human health. To summarize a brief summary.
- Couscous is a healthy and tasty food. At its core, it is a kind of pasta that historically originated in the North African region of the Sahara desert, known as the Maghreb. It has been consumed in this region for centuries, and only in the last few years couscous has gained attention in the Western world.
- When consuming couscous made from whole, unrefined grains, it can have some health benefits that are inherent in any whole grain product, namely: reducing the risk of chronic diseases, high antioxidant load, digestion support and weight loss.
- However, the potential disadvantages of couscous include the fact that it is made from hybrid wheat, it contains gluten and has a high glycemic index.
- There are a variety of recipes for cooking couscous, as it takes on the taste of what has been cooked, and can become an ingredient in a large number of dishes. It has a mild flavor, similar to the taste of pasta.
However, some nutritionists believe that there are more effective alternatives to couscous that either are gluten-free or have been found to directly affect health. Among them: buckwheat, amaranth, bulgur, millet and, of course, quinoa.