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Couscous vs. Quinoa: Nutrition, Benefits, and Recipes

You may be ready to swap out your standard rice dish or pasta salad for something else … zhuzhy. Give quinoa and couscous.

Couscous and quinoa may have similar textures and are comparatively tasty, but they have several important nutritional differences.

What is the difference between quinoa and couscous?

Couscous and quinoa are great to toss a salad or a sub for rice into a dish. However, they have a few key differences:

  • Quinoa is a seed and couscous is a grain.
  • Quinoa is gluten-free, while couscous contains gluten.
  • Quinoa is a complete protein and couscous is not.

Quinoa provides more fiber and protein. But couscous adds fewer carbohydrates and calories to your daily diet.

Which one is “better” for you depends on your health needs, your level of activity and your lifestyle.

Here’s how these two foods stack up against each other and what benefits to expect from each.

Share on PinterestDesign by Viviana Quevedo; Photos from left to right: Alessio Bogani / Stocksy United, Melanie DeFazio / Stocksy United

Quinoa and couscous both contain a nutrient wallop that adds fiber, protein, and a whole host of essential vitamins and minerals to your diet.

But quinoa has the edge on the fiber and protein front. Fiber and protein can help you feel full longer by slowing digestion and keeping your blood sugar stable (whoa, there stable, blood sugar).

The fiber benefits should prick up your ears if you live with diabetes or are at risk for the disease.

The dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily, depending on your age group and gender. Read the guidelines to find the amount you should consume.

Quinoa and couscous are considered whole foods, which means they have minimal processing and still have their natural nutritional benefits.

Deciding what is “better for you” also depends on how you prepare quinoa or couscous.

Adding excess salt or saturated fat to your cooking will make these dishes less heart-healthy (although saturated fats can have an unwarranted bad reputation).

However, seasoning quinoa and couscous with vegetables and spices can improve both the nutritional play and the mmmmmmm factor.

It is more important to consider how quinoa or couscous fits into your general eating habits than to judge each food for itself.

Fancy Quinoa: The Powerful Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids (so it’s like the smug kid in the playground who really got all the Pokémon cards).

It’s also a boss source from:

In addition to its abundant fiber, quinoa also contains beneficial plant compounds called flavones. Research suggests that some flavones have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and protect against damage from harmful free radical molecules.

Free radicals contribute to the development of many types of cancer and other diseases. By providing your body with regular antioxidants, you can help keep your cells healthy and reduce your risk of cancer and other health problems.

Quinoa contains two superstar compounds called quercetin and kaempferol (yes, try saying that with a sip of them). Quercetin and kaempferol keep viruses, bacteria and fungi at bay and help your immune system reduce the risk of infection.

Quinoa not only helps your immune system with these fancy compounds. Its excellent fiber content feeds the “good” bacteria in your intestines – another very important factor in maintaining a strong immune system.

Couscous benefits

Couscous is a tasty way to increase your intake of whole grains. While carbohydrates have got a bad rap, whole grains offer a number of benefits.

In a 2020 study, people who ate whole grains regularly had a 29 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than people who ate minimal amounts of whole grains.

A review of the studies in 2016 found that consuming three servings of whole grains per day was linked to reductions in death rates from all reasons, including:

  • Heart disease
  • cancer
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Nervous system disorders

In a 2016 study, 40 adults over the age of 50 followed a diet for 8 weeks. Every aspect of their diet was the same except that one group ate whole grains and the other ate refined grains. After that, they took a much-needed 10-week break and then switched diets for 8 weeks.

The researchers found that the groups lost the same amount of weight and had the same levels of cholesterol. However, those who ate whole grains had a three-fold improvement in blood pressure.

Which is better for bodybuilding?

Quinoa and couscous provide similar amounts of macronutrients. Your calories come mainly from carbohydrates.

Although quinoa contains a little more protein than couscous, most bodybuilders still need additional protein from other sources to increase those gains 💪🏾. Lean meat, tofu, or supplements can help muscle flexors get enough protein to recover from intense weight lifting.

If you’re just trying to build more muscle, a progressive strength training routine is your ticket to Tonk Town. As long as you are consuming enough calories and protein to support your activity level, your body will have enough fuel to build muscle.

Quinoa and couscous can each add nutrients to a successful bodybuilding program. You just need to make sure that the other components of your eating plan provide the rest of the nutrients you need.

Which one is gluten free?

Since quinoa is technically a seed, it’s naturally gluten-free. Quinoa’s texture makes it a handy substitute for dishes with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity in cereal-based dishes. (But if you’re on the paleo diet, quinoa is a no-go.)

Couscous is made from semolina obtained from durum wheat. People who cannot eat gluten should avoid it.

Gluten Klaxon! Be careful with quinoa

When replacing couscous with quinoa, be sure to check the label for gluten-free certification.

Some establishments that process quinoa also process grains that contain gluten. Cross contamination is possible and you don’t want to poke the gluten bear.

🚨 reading. Those. Labels. 🚨

Bulgur is another hearty whole grain that can be easily swapped for quinoa and couscous.

Similar to couscous, bulgur is made from wheat (meaning it’s not gluten-free – quinoa has the advantage here). Traditionally, bulgur has played a leading role in Middle Eastern cuisine, including dishes such as tabbouleh and kibbeh.

Compared to couscous and quinoa, bulgur is exceptionally high in fiber and contains 8 grams per cooked cup. Bulgur, however, contains slightly less protein at 5 grams per cup.

Bulgur’s texture isn’t all that different from that of couscous and quinoa. You can add bulgur to couscous or quinoa dishes for more texture and a little nutritional variety. You can also submit it for other grains to swap things over.

Diversity is the spice (and grain) of life.

Use couscous as a base for stir-fry by adding other nutritious ingredients. Try sprinkling this mixture on top:

Or get creative with a salty and sweet Mediterranean-inspired couscous salad with:

Try cooking couscous in vegetable broth and mixing it with red beans and tomatoes to add flavor to rice and beans.

You can even add sweet potatoes, peppers, celery, carrots, and zucchini for added nutrients, color, and flavor.

Incorporating couscous into vegetable-based soups or using it as a salad topper can result in a heartier, more robust dish. Couscous is very versatile and goes well with many different dishes. Get it, couscous!

Quinoa is also super versatile.

It serves a nutty and chewy texture that mixes well with other ingredients. You can incorporate it into sweet or savory dishes.

Popular ways to cook quinoa include:

If you like the taste of quinoa, there are creative ways to easily add it to most of your favorite dishes. Anytime a recipe calls for rice, pasta, or oatmeal, there’s likely a way to toss quinoa into the mix.

Both quinoa and couscous offer a number of benefits as part of a nutritious meal plan.

Experimenting with flavourful dishes from around the world can help you find new ways to enjoy these healthy ingredients.

Try using new spices, vegetables, and cooking methods to add variety and excitement to your plate.

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