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Rice vs Couscous - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan by Arpi Gasparyan | Last updated on January 27, 2023
Medically reviewed by Igor Bussel Article author photo Igor Bussel
Rice
vs
Couscous

Couscous vs. Rice

Summary

A 100g of rice contains 6g more net carbs and 0.12g more fats, whereas couscous contains 1.1g more proteins and 1g more dietary fiber. 

Couscous is richer in most B complex vitamins, whereas rice is richer in most minerals.

Brown rice and whole-wheat couscous are healthier than refined white rice and couscous. 

Introduction

This article compares two well-known dishes: rice and couscous. Rice is one of the most consumed staple dishes worldwide. Couscous is the national dish of several countries, cooked in many different ways, made from durum wheat semolina granules, and topped with stew.

Classification

Durum wheat (Triticum durum), the main ingredient of couscous, belongs to the Triticum genus, Pooideae subfamily. 

Rice (Oryza sativa) is the seed of swamp grass belonging to the Oryza genus. 

Both wheat and rice belong to the Poaceae or Gramineae family, also known as grasses, and include corn, wheat, millets, rye, and barley.

Varieties & Types

Rice is classified by its kernel size: long-grain (jasmine and basmati rice), medium-grain (risotto rice: carnaroli and arborio, japonica rice, forbidden black rice), and short-grain (sushi rice and glutinous rice).

Rice color differs due to the degree of milling or hulling: white rice has the hull, bran, and germ removed, while brown, red, and black rice have only their hulls removed. The hull is removed in all types of rice, as it’s inedible. Interestingly, wild rice isn't related to rice species.

The main varieties of couscous are Moroccan (the smallest variety, cooks quickly), Israeli or pearl (larger than Moroccan and takes longer to cook), and Lebanese (the largest variety, takes the longest to cook). 

Couscous can also be whole-wheat, which is considered the healthiest type.

Nutrition

The nutritional values in this article are presented for cooked couscous and long-grain white rice enriched with iron, vitamins B1, B3, and folate.

Macronutrients and Calories

Rice is slightly denser in macronutrients than couscous: cooked rice consists of 68.4% water, whereas cooked couscous consists of 72.6% water.

A 100g of rice contains 6g more net carbs and 0.12g more fats, whereas couscous contains 1.1g more proteins and 1g more dietary fiber.

The average serving size of rice and couscous is one cup, which equals ~157g. A cup of brown rice equals to ~202g.

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Rice
2
:
Contains more Fats +75%
Contains more Carbs +21.3%
Contains more Other +61.5%
Contains more Protein +40.9%
Equal in Water - 72.57
3% 28% 68%
Protein: 2.69 g
Fats: 0.28 g
Carbs: 28.17 g
Water: 68.44 g
Other: 0.42 g
4% 23% 73%
Protein: 3.79 g
Fats: 0.16 g
Carbs: 23.22 g
Water: 72.57 g
Other: 0.26 g
Contains more Fats +75%
Contains more Carbs +21.3%
Contains more Other +61.5%
Contains more Protein +40.9%
Equal in Water - 72.57

Calories

A 100g of couscous, brown rice, and white rice provide 112, 123, and 130 calories, respectively.

Therefore, one cup of couscous provides 172 calories, one cup of white rice provides 205 calories, and one cup of brown rice provides 248.

Protein

Couscous is richer in proteins: 100g of couscous contains 3.8g of proteins, whereas rice contains 2.7g. 

Fats

Both couscous and rice are very low in fats, containing below 1g of fats per serving.

Carbohydrates

Couscous contains 6g less net carbs and 1g more dietary fiber than white rice. Couscous and brown rice have similar carb contents.

A 100g of couscous contains 23.22g of carbs, 1.4g of which is dietary fiber and 21.82g are net carbs.

A 100g of white rice contains 28.17g of carbs, 0.4g of which is dietary fiber and 27.77g are net carbs.

A 100g of brown rice contains 25.58g of carbs, 1.6g of which is dietary fiber and 23.98g are net carbs.

Vitamins

Rice and couscous are good sources of B complex vitamins. Couscous and unenriched rice contain similar quantities of B complex vitamins.

However, enriched rice contains 3.9 times more folate or vitamin B9,  2.6 times more vitamin B1, and 1.5 times more vitamin B3.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Rice
5
:
Contains more Vitamin B1 +158.7%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +50.2%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +82.4%
Contains more Folate +286.7%
Contains more Vitamin E +225%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.7%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%
Equal in Vitamin B5 - 0.371
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 0% 1% 0% 0% 41% 3% 28% 24% 22% 44% 0% 0%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 0% 3% 0% 0% 16% 7% 19% 23% 12% 12% 0% 1%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +158.7%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +50.2%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +82.4%
Contains more Folate +286.7%
Contains more Vitamin E +225%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.7%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%
Equal in Vitamin B5 - 0.371

Minerals

Rice and couscous are not particularly mineral-rich either.

However, enriched rice is three times richer in iron than couscous. A 100g of rice contains 1.2mg of iron, whereas one cup contains 1.9mg.

Rice is comparably higher in calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and copper and lower in sodium, while couscous is higher in iron, selenium, and potassium. 

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Rice
7
:
Contains more Calcium +25%
Contains more Iron +215.8%
Contains more Magnesium +50%
Contains more Phosphorus +95.5%
Contains less Sodium -80%
Contains more Zinc +88.5%
Contains more Copper +68.3%
Contains more Potassium +65.7%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 3% 45% 9% 19% 4% 1% 14% 24%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 3% 15% 6% 10% 6% 1% 8% 14%
Contains more Calcium +25%
Contains more Iron +215.8%
Contains more Magnesium +50%
Contains more Phosphorus +95.5%
Contains less Sodium -80%
Contains more Zinc +88.5%
Contains more Copper +68.3%
Contains more Potassium +65.7%

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) value of couscous is 65, considered medium; the glycemic load of couscous is 22, considered high. For a detailed article about couscous types and their glycemic indices, you can visit here.

Rice has a wide range of glycemic indices, from medium to high. Long-grain white rice has a mean GI value of 62, whereas instant and basmati rice have a mean GI value of 60. Jasmine rice has a mean GI value of 89. Brown rice has a mean GI value of 66, and Arborio (short-grain) rice has a mean GI value of 69 (1).

Rice has a glycemic load of 26, which is considered high. 

Insulin Index

The insulin index of couscous is 84.

The insulin index of white rice is 79, whereas the insulin index of brown rice is 62. Basmati and jasmine rice have an insulin index of 57 and 76, respectively.

Acidity

The pH value of cooked white rice is 6.00 - 6.70, whereas brown rice’s is 6.20 - 6.80 (2).

One study has evaluated the pH value of semolina, the main ingredient of couscous, to be ~6.20 - 6.40 (3).

Acidity can also be measured using the PRAL value, which indicates how much base or acid the food produces in the organism.

The PRAL value of couscous is 1.1, whereas the PRAL value of rice is 1.7. Both foods are considered acidic or acid-producing. 

Weight Loss & Diets

Couscous is a better choice for low-carb, low-calorie, and high-fiber diets than white rice.

Both are equally very low in fats and can be consumed during low-fat diets.

Both rice and couscous are allowed during the DASH diet. 

Couscous and brown rice may be consumed during the Mediterranean and anti-inflammatory diets; however, white rice is not recommended.

White rice is one of the main foods in the BRAT diet, which was recommended for diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; nonetheless, the diet does not always work and may even lead to malnutrition.

According to several studies, long-term white rice (but not brown, mixed, or multi-grain rice) consumption may lead to body weight gain; meanwhile, brown rice may lead to weight loss (4, 5, 6).

Related article: Couscous and Keto Diet - Are They Keto-Friendly 

Health Impact

Brown rice and whole-wheat couscous are healthier than white rice and couscous. Refined rice and couscous are lower in dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.

Cardiovascular Health

Several studies suggest that long-term white and brown rice consumption doesn’t increase heart disease risks. However, several other studies suggest that long-term increased white rice intake may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (7, 8, 9).

Couscous’s dietary fiber and selenium contents determine the food’s effects on the heart. Whole-wheat couscous has a higher dietary fiber content; intake of whole-wheat products may lower the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and all-cause mortality (10, 11, 12). Couscous is rich in selenium, an essential nutrient with immunity-boosting, antioxidant, and heart health-promoting properties. 

Selenium deficiency is associated with various heart disease risks: coronary heart disease, heart failure, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, etc. (13, 14).

Diabetes

Long-term regular white rice consumption is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The risk is likely more significant in South Asian countries. 

Substituting refined white rice with whole-grain brown rice may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and positively affect blood glucose levels (15, 16, 17, 18).

Couscous is also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes; however, choosing whole-wheat couscous over refined one is advocated (19).

Related article: Couscous and Diabetes - Is it Good For Diabetics 

Digestive Health

Brown rice, couscous, and whole-wheat couscous are good sources of dietary fiber.

Dietary fiber may relieve functional constipation by acting as a bulking agent, improving regularity, and decreasing intestinal transit time (20).

Dietary fiber may also be protective against certain gut diseases, such as duodenal ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel disease (21, 22, 23).

Cancer

Even though rice is high in arsenic, several studies suggest white and brown rice do not increase the risk of developing cancer, especially lung, kidney, or pancreatic cancer (24, 25, 26).

Selenium, present in couscous, may lower the risk of certain cancers. According to a meta-analysis, elevated selenium intake is associated with lowered breast, lung, esophagus, stomach, and prostate cancer risks. On the other hand, several studies suggest selenium may increase the risk of skin, prostate cancers, and squamous-cell carcinoma (27, 28, 29, 30).

Metal poisoning

Several heavy metals have been reported to be present in brown and white rice, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and chromium; the codex standard has only been exceeded for arsenic concentrations.

The germ layer in brown rice retains inorganic arsenic, leading to a higher arsenic concentration level than in white rice (31).

According to the WHO, long-term arsenic exposure may lead to bladder and lung cancers and skin lesions. Additionally, arsenic is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and neurocognitive defects in children (32).


 

Gluten-related disorders & Type 1 Diabetes

Gluten is a protein naturally present in wheat, rye, and barley.

Couscous consumption for people with gluten-related disorders such as Coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, dermatitis herpetiformis, and gluten ataxia will likely trigger the disease and lead to various symptoms. 

The most common of them, Coeliac disease, usually manifests with diarrhea (sometimes constipation), bloating, abdominal distension, weight loss or failure to gain weight, anemia, etc. (33, 34).

Celiac disease and type 1 diabetes often occur together, and a gluten-free diet has shown some beneficial effects on diabetes symptoms (35).

 

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Sources.

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/114/5/1625/6320814
  2. https://www.arrowscientific.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61:ph-values-of-foods-and-food-product
  3. Changes in the values of moisture content, pH and acidity of semolina
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0271531707002874
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30312545/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018597/
  7. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/1/164/4564257
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530655/
  9. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/1/199/4576494#110591545
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27301975/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27798329/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28155258/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446741/
  14. https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/22/19/10713
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22422870/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32873587/
  17. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/76/3/535/4677418
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6948352/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3146027/
  20. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1021949816301429
  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24876314/
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26811635/
  23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28731144/
  24. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ijc.29704
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7572641/
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4919813/
  27. https://www.nature.com/articles/srep19213
  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10963212/
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8879146
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6491296/
  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7663342/
  32. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187853521400032X
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538505/
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8793016
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185872/ 
Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: January 27, 2023
Medically reviewed by Igor Bussel

Infographic

Rice vs Couscous infographic
Infographic link

Fat Type Comparison

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Rice
2
:
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +300%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +18.8%
Contains less Saturated Fat -62.3%
32% 37% 32%
Saturated Fat: 0.077 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.088 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.076 g
25% 19% 56%
Saturated Fat: 0.029 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.022 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.064 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +300%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +18.8%
Contains less Saturated Fat -62.3%

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Rice Couscous
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in minerals ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Rice Couscous Opinion
Net carbs 27.77g 21.82g Rice
Protein 2.69g 3.79g Couscous
Fats 0.28g 0.16g Rice
Carbs 28.17g 23.22g Rice
Calories 130kcal 112kcal Rice
Starch g g
Fructose g g
Sugar 0.05g 0.1g Rice
Fiber 0.4g 1.4g Couscous
Calcium 10mg 8mg Rice
Iron 1.2mg 0.38mg Rice
Magnesium 12mg 8mg Rice
Phosphorus 43mg 22mg Rice
Potassium 35mg 58mg Couscous
Sodium 1mg 5mg Rice
Zinc 0.49mg 0.26mg Rice
Copper 0.069mg 0.041mg Rice
Vitamin A 0IU 0IU
Vitamin A RAE 0µg 0µg
Vitamin E 0.04mg 0.13mg Couscous
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Vitamin D 0µg 0µg
Vitamin C 0mg 0mg
Vitamin B1 0.163mg 0.063mg Rice
Vitamin B2 0.013mg 0.027mg Couscous
Vitamin B3 1.476mg 0.983mg Rice
Vitamin B5 0.39mg 0.371mg Rice
Vitamin B6 0.093mg 0.051mg Rice
Folate 58µg 15µg Rice
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin K 0µg 0.1µg Couscous
Tryptophan 0.031mg 0.049mg Couscous
Threonine 0.096mg 0.1mg Couscous
Isoleucine 0.116mg 0.147mg Couscous
Leucine 0.222mg 0.259mg Couscous
Lysine 0.097mg 0.073mg Rice
Methionine 0.063mg 0.059mg Rice
Phenylalanine 0.144mg 0.184mg Couscous
Valine 0.164mg 0.162mg Rice
Histidine 0.063mg 0.077mg Couscous
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Trans Fat g g
Saturated Fat 0.077g 0.029g Couscous
Monounsaturated Fat 0.088g 0.022g Rice
Polyunsaturated fat 0.076g 0.064g Rice

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Rice Couscous
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
13
Rice
7
Couscous
Mineral Summary Score
14
Rice
7
Couscous

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
16%
Rice
23%
Couscous
Carbohydrates
28%
Rice
23%
Couscous
Fats
1%
Rice
1%
Couscous

Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Sugar?
Rice
Rice is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.05g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Rice
Rice contains less Sodium (difference - 4mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Rice
Rice is lower in glycemic index (difference - 5)
Which food is cheaper?
Rice
Rice is cheaper (difference - $0.3)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Rice
Rice is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Couscous
Couscous is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.048g)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Rice - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168878/nutrients
  2. Couscous - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169700/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.