How healthy is couscous?
Couscous is made from semolina, which is the hard part of the grain of whole wheat. Traditional methods of making couscous in ancient Africa involved using whole wheat, which retains all of the nutrients found in whole wheat. Whole wheat couscous is an excellent source of fibre, with no fat or added sugar.
How healthy is couscous? is one of the questions I asked myself shortly after being diagnosed with diabetes. I was trying to make better food choices and asking questions like this become the norm in the immediate aftermath of my diagnosis. Couscous is one of those foods that featured regularly on my dining table and chances are, if you have ever been to any part of Northern Africa, you have likely encountered couscous during your travels. Anecdotal evidence has it that one of the earliest known recipes for couscous came from a 13th century Moroccan cookbook. Couscous is also an integral constituent of the traditional African diet.
Couscous is made from semolina, which is the hard part of the grain of whole wheat. The process of making couscous begins with crushing the semolina which is then rolled and into the small pellets that characterise couscous. Traditional methods of making couscous in ancient Africa involved using whole wheat. Husk and grain were crushed and rolled into pellets by local women in large groups. Today, couscous is made from either whole wheat or from white flour.
Couscous made from white flour is no healthier than cakes, white bread or pasta. It’s nutritional content is low as these have been stripped away during the refinement of the white flour, and the refined flour base means it has a high glycemic index. Food items with high glycemic index (GI) are broken down and absorbed easily into bloodstream leading to trigger spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which in the long term, can be detrimental to health.
However, couscous made from whole wheat flour retains all of the nutrients found in whole wheat. These include valuable antioxidants that help keep a whole host of illnesses at bay, and potent anti-aging properties. Couscous is an excellent source of fibre, containing at least five grams of fibre per cup. Fibre is an important constituent of a healthy diet as it plays a key role in digestive health and for people with weight loss goals, fibre leaves one feeling full for longer. Whole wheat couscous also contains no fat or added sugar, and when consumed as part of a balanced diet, helps to decrease one’s risk of developing Type II diabetes.
Cooking couscous the right way
Food preparation has a lot to do with how healthy or how unhealthy a food item turns out. If you start out with healthy and wholesome ingredients and cover it fat, sugar and salt, that’s gone right down the healthy ladder. Luckily, most couscous recipes require steaming, which is a healthy method of food preparation that preserves valuable vitamins and nutrients.
The key to achieving perfect fluffy and healthy couscous is to use a gentle steam. Boil couscous too quickly and you end up with a starchy and sticky blob. Like most whole grains, couscous is rather bland on its own, and needs spices, herbs and other seasoning to tease out its flavours. It is incredibly versatile too and can be enjoyed sweet as a breakfast recipe or a snack, as a side dish, a salad, and makes for a great alternative to rice or pasta.
Ready to try some couscous recipes?