Couscous vs Quinoa vs Rice: (Nutrition, Taste, Calories)

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Couscous, rice, and quinoa are all popular grains that are used in similar recipes for the most part.

You can swap them out for each other without having too much of an impact on most recipes, which you might want to do based on your health goals.

Let’s take a look at how these 3 grains stack up (note that I’ve included both white and brown rice).

Calories and Macronutrients

The data on this page is collected from the USDA’s nutritional database. In real life, nutrition will vary a bit by brand, but not by too much.

In the table below, data is per 100 gram cooked serving, as is all the other data on this page.

For reference, a typical serving size is about 200 grams (cooked) of each grain, although larger people typically eat more than that.

  Couscous Quinoa White Rice Brown Rice
Calories (kcal) 112 120 130 111
Fat (g) 0.2 1.9 0.3 0.9
Carbohydrates (g) 23.2 21.3 28.2 23.0
Fiber (g) 1.4 2.8 0.4 1.8
Protein (g) 3.8 4.4 2.7 2.6

Grains are known for not having much fat or protein, and being mostly carbohydrates.

These 4 grains are quite similar in their macronutrient profile. However, there are still some differences:

  • Quinoa is significantly higher in fat, fiber, and protein than the rest.
  • White rice has more calories and carbohydrates than brown rice, but less fat, fiber and protein.

If you had to rank them in terms of overall healthiness based on these numbers, it would likely look something like:

  1. Quinoa
  2. Brown rice
  3. Couscous
  4. White rice

Nutrition Comparison

Calories and macronutrients aren’t everything when it comes to how healthy foods are.

So let’s look at a few other aspects.

First, how processed is each grain?

  • Couscous – Made from steamed balles of crushed durum wheat semolina (one of the “healthier” flours, but still processed a bit).
  • Quinoa – Not processed at all. Quinoa is a whole grain that is actually a seed.
  • Brown rice – Not processed as brown rice is the entire grain.
  • White rice – Fairly processed, as white rice is made by removing the bran and germ from brown rice.

Next, let’s look at the vitamins and minerals in a 100 gram cooked serving of each. All values are the % of recommended daily value.

  Couscous Quinoa White Rice Brown Rice
Thiamin 4 7 11 6
Riboflavin 2 6 1 1
Niacin 5 2 7 8
Vitamin B6 3 6 5 7
Folate 4 10 14 1
Calcium 1 2 1 1
Copper 2 10 3 5
Iron 2 8 7 2
Magnesium 2 16 3 11
Manganese 4 32 24 45
Phosphorus 2 15 4 8
Potassium 2 5 1 1
Selenium 39 4 11 14
Zinc 2 7 3 4

Overall, they’re all pretty disappointing in terms of vitamin and mineral content.

My main observations would be:

  • Quinoa has the highest overall mineral content
  • Couscous has the worst overall vitamin and mineral profile
  • White rice and brown rice have different strengths and weaknesses here

Glycemic Load Comparison

One final aspect that can be considered when looking at how healthy a food is, is the glycemic load.

The glycemic load is a number that tells you approximately how much the amount of food (100 g in this case) raises a person’s blood glucose levels.

It’s typically recommended to stay below 100 for the day (adding all your foods together), for reference.

  Couscous Quinoa White Rice Brown Rice
Glycemic Load (of 100 g) 12 10 15 11

Quinoa is a bit higher in fiber and protein than the rest, so it’s not surprising that it has less of a glycemic load.

Still, they’re all relatively similar, so it’s only a big factor if you plan on eating a ton.

Taste Differences

Taste is a hard thing to summarize, but I’ll try my best.

This will obviously vary across the type of each food, as well as brand, especially for rice (i.e. jasmine rice tastes different than basmati).

Couscous Quinoa Rice
Mild and neutral taste. Sometimes it has a slightly nutty flavor. Mild, nutty flavor. Fairly similar to couscous. White rice is soft and has very little flavor. Brown rice has a nutty flavor and firmer texture.

These grains are typically paired with herbs, lemon, nuts, and fruit. And while they are interchangeable to a degree, there are distinct differences.

Despite that they all have a somewhat similar taste and texture, you’ll find that each one goes slightly better with different foods.

The classic example would be putting soy sauce on white rice, which is great. I’m not a big fan of putting soy sauce on any of the others.

Which is Best: Couscous, Quinoa, or Rice?

Let’s try to put all that together and some up which of the 3 types of grains is the best for:

  • Weight loss – Brown rice and couscous are lowest in calories, which is preferable for weight loss.
  • Healthiest (nutritional value) – Quinoa and brown rice are the most nutritious of the 4 types of grains. They have the most overall vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.
  • Taste – They’re all tasty in different types of recipes, this is a very personal factor.

None of these are particularly super healthy or unhealthy, which makes it important to pair them with other nutritious foods like nuts, beans, and vegetables.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.