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Is Couscous Healthy?

If you're looking to expand your family's culinary horizons, including couscous in your meal plans is a great place to start. Made from crushed steamed wheat, couscous has an adaptable grainy flavor that tastes similar to pasta on its own, but can be used to make traditional North African and Sicilian dishes that will introduce your family to new seasonings and flavors. As far as nutritional value, couscous isn't too bad – it supplies a few beneficial nutrients – and you can keep it as healthy as possible by choosing whole-grain varieties.

Basic Nutritional Information

Like most staple starches, couscous is relatively high in calories. A cup of couscous cooked in plain water has 176 calories. Not surprisingly, most of those calories come from carbohydrates, and each cup of couscous supplies 36 grams of total carbs. You'll also get about 6 grams of protein and less than half a gram of fat. Couscous' carb-heavy nutritional profile means its good for fueling your family's active lifestyle, but it should be eaten in moderation. If you have smaller children, consider limiting their portion size to 1/4 or 1/3 cup to avoid overeating.

Some Essential Vitamins and Minerals

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Couscous isn't exactly a nutritional powerhouse, since it provides only small amounts of essential nutrients like iron, B-complex vitamins and dietary fiber. However, it is a good source of selenium, an essential mineral. Selenium is an antioxidant, which means it helps protect your tissues and cells from damage. It's also used for thyroid function and plays a role in DNA replication, a crucial stage in new cell growth. Those physiological functions make selenium especially important for growing kids, because thyroid dysfunction might affect reproductive development. A cup of cooked couscous has 43 milligrams of selenium, which is 78 percent of your daily selenium needs. And the 11 milligrams found in 1/4 cup of cooked couscous can cover between 20 and 75 percent of the selenium needs for your child, depending on age.

The Drawback: Refined Carbs

One major downside? Most couscous is made using refined wheat, which means it's not a whole-grain food. While that shouldn't count couscous out completely, it does mean you need to limit how much you serve to your family, because at least half of your daily grain intake should come from whole grains. Refined grains lack some of the nutrients found in whole grains, which is why they're generally lower in fiber. And a diet rich in whole grains lowers the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease compared to a diet of refined grains – so if you're primarily getting your carbs from processed grains like refined couscous, you're missing out. If your family loves couscous, seek out the whole-wheat variety to keep your meals healthy.

Couscous Vs. Israeli Couscous

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When you're shopping for couscous, don't get distracted by the Israeli variety, sometimes called pearl couscous. While the two foods may have the same name, they have markedly different tastes and textures. Israeli couscous has much larger grains and a pasta-like texture and flavor, compared to the finer texture of regular couscous. It's also higher in calories and carbs, at 220 calories and 46 grams of carbs per serving. If you want to try pearl couscous, seek out a whole-wheat variety, and measure your portions carefully, since calorie-dense foods like Israeli couscous are very easy to overeat.