Couscous and quinoa are gaining popularity and starting to compete with brown rice. For this reason many of my clients ask me about them during our health coaching sessions. All are considered healthy which leads to the question, which is better, couscous, brown rice or quinoa?
Quinoa is better than couscous and brown rice due to its higher percentage of protein and minerals. It has a better glycemic index than brown rice and couscous. It also provides all nine essential amino acids while couscous and brown rice don’t. Quinoa and brown rice are gluten free and couscous isn’t.
This article will include a side-by-side nutrient comparison. In addition, I’ll examine their prices, glycemic index, satiety index and health benefits.
As a Certified Health Coach I’ve coached clients about all three foods. In addition, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed them prior to, during and after writing this article.
Many people are familiar with brown rice, but many may not know much about couscous or quinoa. Therefore, a common question asked is, what’s the difference?
Brown rice is a whole grain rice with the outer hull removed and the bran and germ layer remaining. Couscous is a pasta produced from semolina wheat flower and quinoa is the seed from a Chenopodium quinoa plant.
- Brown rice is a light brown color. Couscous is white to yellow. Common quinoa colors are white, red and black.
- Quinoa and brown rice are cooked in water. Couscous can be steamed or cooked in water.
- Quinoa provides a higher percentage of protein and minerals than the other two.
- Brown rice and couscous are lower in calories and total fat.
- Quinoa has a better glycemic index than the other two.
- Brown rice and quinoa have a nuttier flavor.
- Brown rice costs less money than the others.
Couscous vs Brown Rice vs Quinoa: Nutrient Comparison
All three provide many of the same nutrients, although there are some important differences.
The following table is a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients contained in 100-grams cooked.
|Couscous (100 g)||Brown Rice (100 g)||Quinoa (100 g)|
|Protein||3.79 g||2.32 g||4.40 g|
|Carbohydrates||23.2 g||23.5 g||21.3 g|
|Fiber||1.40 g||2.8 g||2.8 g|
|Fat||0.16 g||0.83 g||1.92 g|
|Sugar||0.10 g||0.40 g||0.87 g|
|Vitamin A||0 IU||0 IU||5 IU|
|Beta-carotene||0 mcg||0 mcg||0 mcg|
|Vitamin C||0 mg||0 mg||0 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.05 mg||0.14 mg||0.12 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||15 mcg||4 mcg||42 mcg|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.06 mg||0.10 mg||0.10 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.02 mg||0.01 mg||0.11 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.98 mg||1.33 mg||0.41 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.37 mg||0.39 mg||0.33 mg|
|Magnesium||8 mg||44 mg||64 mg|
|Phosphorous||22 mg||77 mg||152 mg|
|Potassium||58 mg||79 mg||172 mg|
|Iron||0.38 mg||0.53 mg||1.49 mg|
|Copper||0.04 mg||0.08 mg||0.19 mg|
|Calcium||8 mg||10 mg||17 mg|
|Zinc||0.26 mg||0.62 mg||1.09 mg|
As you can see, all three contain many of the same nutrients. At first glance it may look like a toss up or a sea of numbers. I’ll break it down and answer the question, which is healthier?
Quinoa is healthier than brown rice and couscous due to its higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa provides more magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, calcium, zinc, folate and riboflavin.
Quinoa is a complete protein meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids, the other two doesn’t. It has a better glycemic index and fewer carbohydrates.
Brown rice and couscous contain fewer calories, total fat and sugar. All three are healthy but quinoa is more nutrient dense than the other two.
I consume all three but probably eat brown rice and quinoa more often. This is due to their nutrients and availability.
Which to Choose?
Choosing one may depend on your particular goal. Let’s examine some of the popular goals many people have.
Losing weight may be the most popular goal. If you want to lose extra pounds from the mid-section, you may ask, which is better for weight loss?
Brown rice is better for weight loss than couscous or quinoa due to its 7% fewer calories than quinoa and 100% more fiber than couscous. It contains 112 calories per 100 grams. Quinoa contains 120 calories per 100 grams. Couscous contains 112 calories per 100 grams.
Although the other two have the same calories, brown rice has more fiber. Fiber has been shown to increase the feeling of fullness and is associated with weight loss.
Some people are trying to consume a gluten-free diet. If you are consuming a gluten-free diet or have celiac disease, this can make or break your choice. Between the three, which is gluten free?
Brown rice and quinoa are naturally gluten free while couscous isn’t. Therefore, if you require a gluten free diet, they are good options.
In addition, quinoa can be made into flour and used as a substitute for regular flour in gluten free recipes.
My Vitamix blender I use at home can make quinoa, almond or any nut flour in less than one minute. Check out my blender review here, Vitamix Venturist V1220 Review.
Important: Although they are gluten free, they may come in contact with gluten-containing grains in storage or during transportation. Always check the label of product to determine if its gluten free.
In the following video a doctor compares couscous to brown rice and quinoa.
Low-carb or Keto Diet
Carbohydrates may be your number one concern if your goal is a Keto or low-carb diet. If you’re on a low-carb diet, you may ask which has more carbohydrates?
Quinoa contains 9% less carbohydrates per 100 grams than couscous and 10% less than brown rice making it better for a low-carb diet. Quinoa contains 21.3 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams cooked.
If you’re bodybuilding or just have a goal to gain lean muscle mass, there’s a good chance you’re lifting weights at home or the gym. Which is better for bodybuilding?
Quinoa is better than couscous or brown rice for bodybuilding due to its higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals. It provides 4.40 grams of protein per 100 grams cooked. Couscous provides 3.79 grams of protein per 100 grams and brown rice 2.32 grams.
This means quinoa provides 16% more protein than couscous and 90% more than brown rice per 100 grams cooked. The extra amount of protein, vitamins and minerals help to repair and build new muscle after exercise.
While the other two contain more carbohydrates, quinoa also provides a good amount. The carbohydrates help to fuel energy and increase exercise performance when lifting weights and exercising.
Supplements for bodybuilding are expensive, and the costs add up pretty fast. For more details about the prices of all three, check out the cost section of this article.
I often eat quinoa during the morning on the days I train at the gym. The extra carbs help fuel my workout and I’m getting protein at the same time.
How does potatoes compare? Find out in my article, Potato vs Rice Nutrition: Which is Better?
To conduct some original research and get the opinions of real people like you, I polled my readers, clients and members of some food groups. I asked them which one tasted better?
- 41% said the best one was brown rice which was the winner of the poll.
- 34% said quinoa which came in 2nd place.
- 25% said couscous which came in 3rd place.
To conduct more research I setup and participated in my own taste test at home. Two out of three picked brown rice and the third person chose quinoa.
Couscous Quinoa and Rice: Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 4. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications affecting the eyes, kidneys and the heart 5.
Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:
- Low-GI foods: 55 or under
- Medium-GI foods: 56-69
- High-GI foods: 70 or over
How blood sugars levels are affected:
- Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.
Knowing more about the glycemic index of food and how it raises blood sugar, many people ask, of the three which one has a better glycemic index?
Quinoa has a better glycemic index than couscous and brown rice making it more desirable for diabetics. It is a low GI food, couscous a low to medium and brown rice is a medium to high GI food.
- Couscous boiled for 5 minutes has a glycemic index of 70.
- Brown rice boiled for 25 minutes has a glycemic index of 72.
- Red quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 54.
- White quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 50.
The glycemic index alone shouldn’t be a reason to pick one food over the other. It’s one piece of the puzzle which may be considered. Always check with a physician as many people may require different nutritional needs.
The following video discusses if brown rice or quinoa is better.
Find out how oatmeal compared to rice in my article.
Satiety is a term used to explain the feeling of being full and the loss of appetite which occurs after eating food. The satiety index is a scale showing how full a person feels after eating a certain food.
The satiety index was developed in 1995 from a study which tested 38 foods. The foods were ranked how they satisfied a person’s hunger. Foods scoring under 100 are considered less filling and foods scoring above 100 are considered more filling 6.
The table below shows the satiety scores of a few filling foods.
|Food||Satiety Index Score|
In the study, couscous or quinoa wasn’t included. I researched scientific studies and found the following studies which tested the satiety of both.
A study in 2005, by the University of Milan, tested the satiety of quinoa, oats and buckwheat compared to eating rice. All three had a higher satiating efficiency than rice 7.
A study published in 2018 compared the satiety of couscous and buckwheat. The researchers found both reduced the participants appetite over a two-hour period, although they both were equally effective 8.
High satiety foods are likely to have a high satiety score for the following reasons:
- High in protein.
- High in fiber.
- High in volume (foods containing a lot of water or air).
- Low in energy density (foods low in calories for their weight).
Since rice has satiety scores of 132% and 138%, we may be able to assume quinoa has a higher satiety score more than brown rice and 138%. In addition, quinoa has more protein and fiber than couscous.
Find out how lentils compared in my article. Was it better?
The prices at the supermarket seem to go up weekly. The cost of food certainly matters to most people, especially with the rising costs of everything else.
Therefore, the price may sway your decision about which one to use more often. Let’s examine, which one costs more?
Brown rice costs less than quinoa and couscous. The average price for quinoa is $0.57 per 1/4 cup. The average price for couscous is $0.44 per 1/3 cup and brown rice is $0.30 per 1/4 cup.
The prices for all three foods vary depending on the store, location and sales offered.
To conduct some original research, I decided to conduct a search of various different stores to compare the prices of all three.
I visited the Shoprite supermarket first:
- Wholesome Pantry White Quinoa
- $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
- Wholesome Pantry Tri-Color (White, Red, Black)
- $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
- Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Couscous
- $3.99 per 16 oz bag (9 servings) equaling $0.44 per 1/3 cup serving.
- Brown rice
- $2.99 per 12 oz bag (10 servings) equaling $0.30 per 1/4 cup serving.
I then checked Walmart:
- Food to Live White Quinoa
- $10.99 per 1 pound bag
- Food to Live Organic Red Quinoa
- $13.48 per 1 pound bag
- Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Couscous
- $6.33 per 1 pound bag
- Bob’s Red Mill Golden Couscous
- $8.15 per 1.5 pound bag
- Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain Brown Rice
- $8.01 per 1 pound
The nutrients in all three are similar just in different percentages. Therefore, the benefits are similar but also in different degrees of effectiveness. The following describes how each nutrient may benefit health and which food provides the greater percentage.
Find out how each quinoa type compared to each other in my article. Is one color better?
Quinoa has a significantly higher percentage of every mineral listed in the table above. Let’s take a closer look at some of these minerals and how they benefit health.
Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 9.
Magnesium helps control the following:
- Blood pressure
- Nerve function
- Blood sugar
In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 10.
One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.
In the following video Healthline examine the benefits of white rice.
Iron is essential in the creation of red blood cells and is a necessary part of any healthy diet. Iron is also vital for growth and development, as some hormones need iron to be appropriately balanced 11.
Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 12.
Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 13.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 14. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.
Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
- Promote bone and teeth health.
- Help the kidneys remove waste.
- Muscle contraction and recovery.
- Help the body manage and store energy.
Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 15.
Calcium also helps the following:
- Help the muscles to function properly.
- Maintain and build strong bones.
- Helps nerve function.
Find out how these two varieties compared in my article, White Quinoa vs Black Quinoa: What’s The Difference?
The following video explains how to cook couscous.
Quinoa provides a higher percentage of B vitamins than the other two. The B vitamins provided include the following:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B9 (folate)
B vitamins help support the following:
- Brain function.
- Red blood cells.
- Nerve function.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Energy levels.
A lack of B vitamins has been associated with oxidative stress and neural inflammation.
In a study released in 2018 32 healthy adults were given B vitamin supplementation for six months. The results indicated preliminary evidence B vitamin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and inflammation 16.
Find out how bulgur compared in my article and if it has more nutrients.
Protein & Fiber
Soluble fiber is helpful for many reasons 17. What makes fiber soluble is it dissolves in water.
Soluble fiber is known for the following:
- Manage the blood glucose levels which helps decrease the risk of diabetes.
- Aids greatly in weight management because it allows you to feel full faster and eat less.
- Help overall digestive health.
- Helps avoid constipation and have a more regular stool.
Protein may help benefit the following:
- Reduce appetite
- Build and repair muscle
- Boost metabolism
- Weight loss
As noted earlier in the nutrition section of the article, quinoa wins this category because it is a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids.
If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.
Read Next – More Food Articles!
- USDA: Rice, brown, medium-grain, cooked
- USDA: Quinoa, cooked
- USDA: Couscous, cooked
- Harvard Health Publishing: Glycemic index for 60+ foods
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: A satiety index of common foods
- Pub Med: Effect on appetite control of minor cereal and pseudo cereal products
- Wiley Online Library: The effect of buckwheat and couscous on satiety and short-term food intake in young males
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure
- Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, NIM NIH: The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, NIH Gov: Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention