Cauliflower is considered by many to be one of the healthiest foods on Earth, and there is good reason why. With its rich supply of health-promoting phytonutrients, high level of anti-inflammatory compounds, and ability to ward off cancer, heart disease, brain disease and even weight gain, it seems there isn’t much this vegetable is unable to do.
Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetables family — also known as the Brassica oleracea family — along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and some other less common varieties. Thanks to all the attention that cruciferous veggies have gotten when it comes to cancer prevention, surveys show that the consumption of cruciferous vegetables has increased during the past two decades in the U.S.
What are the health benefits of eating cauliflower? Extensive studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables are an excellent source of natural antioxidants, as well as good suppliers of essential vitamins, carotenoids, fiber, soluble sugars, minerals and phenolic compounds. In fact, it’s believed that Brassica oleracea vegetables are the largest source of phenolic compounds in the human diet, and after reading all about the benefits of cauliflower nutrition, you’ll see why.
Cauliflower Nutrition Facts and History
Cauliflower first appeared in the Asia region many years ago as a variant on a type of cabbage plant that is no longer thought to be consumed. It first became popular as an edible crop in the Mediterranean region around 600 B.C, and today we still see it used in many Italian, Spanish, Turkish and French cuisines.
It’s believed that cauliflower made its way to the United States during the mid-16th century. At this time it became a commonly harvested vegetable that was utilized in many different dishes. Today the vegetable is used in nearly every type of cuisine in the world: Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, Indian, American and so on. Most people choose to only cook and consume the white “head” of cauliflower, since the tougher stem and leaves can cause digestive upset for some people and tend to be tougher in texture.
It is believed to be so beneficial due to its special combination of phytochemicals called carotenoids, tocopherols and ascorbic acid. These are all forms of antioxidants currently being extensively researched in order to understand more about how they keep the body healthy.
Due to recent search, Brassica crops like cauliflower are now highly correlated with preventing chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and various forms of cancers, just to name a few.
According to the USDA, one-cup serving (approximately 100 grams) of raw cauliflower nutrition (aka (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis L.) contains about:
- 25 calories
- 5.3 grams carbohydrates
- 2 grams protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 2.5 grams fiber
- 46.4 milligrams vitamin C (77 percent DV)
- 16 micrograms vitamin K (20 percent DV)
- 57 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)
- 303 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram manganese (8 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligrams pantothenic acid (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (4 percent DV)
- 15 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 44 milligrams phosphorus (4 percent DV)
Keep in mind these values are for only one cup of cauliflower. Due to the large volume but low calorie count of this vegetable, it’s very easy to eat two cups or more of cooked cauliflower at one time, especially when you use it mashed or chopped creatively in different recipes. This means you can get two to three times the health benefits of cauliflower with no problem.
Is cauliflower a carb or protein? While it does contain some protein, as most vegetables do, it’s technically considered a carbohydrate since it’s a plant-derived food. Is cauliflower keto-friendly? Yes — even though it contains some carbs, it’s still relatively low in carbohydrates considering its high fiber content, making it a good choice for people on a low-carb diet.
1. Helps Reduce Cancer Risk
Numerous studies have shown that there is a strong tie between someone’s diet and the risk for developing cancer. Studies demonstrate that cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower are especially useful for preventing breast cancer in addition to colon, liver, lung and stomach cancers. That’s why they’re some of the top cancer-fighting foods around.
Why is cauliflower a superfood when it comes to cancer prevention? It has been shown to have chemopreventive agents that stall early phases of cancer development to help shut off tumor growth. Studies have demonstrated that cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower can effectively inhibit the development of chemically induced carcinogenesis, acting as an anti-mutagen that halts tumor cells from further reproducing. Cauliflower also has chemopreventive effects due to its ability to modulate carcinogen-metabolizing enzymes.
When it comes to cancer prevention, which is better for you, broccoli or cauliflower? Broccoli has more vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and calcium compared to cauliflower. However, both are cruciferous vegetables, and eating from this plant family has been shown to aid in prevention of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates — a large group of beneficial sulfur-containing compounds. This special combination of compounds is what gives cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, sprouts and cauliflower their signature smell when they are cooked.
These protective chemicals are known to break down during the chewing and digestion process into biologically active compounds that help to prevent cancer cells from growing. Glucosinolates essentially act like natural pesticides in plant cells. When they are consumed by humans, they are utilized for DNA repair and help prevent cancer by slowing the growth of mutated cancer cells.
2. Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is at the heart of nearly all chronic diseases that we are faced with so commonly today. Cauliflower is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which lower oxidative stress and the presence of free radicals in our body. The important range of antioxidants found in cauliflower — including the vitamins listed above but also beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin and kaempferol — help reduce oxidative stress in the body. When left unregulated, oxidative stress can lead to cancer and various other conditions.
Just a one-cup serving of cauliflower contains about 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, helping reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and keep the body free of harmful bacteria, infections and common colds. In fact, a 2017 study conducted at the University of Basilicata’s Department of Sciences in Italy examined the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of a diet enriched with cauliflower leaf powder on rabbits. The researchers concluded that “preventive supplementation with CLP can protect rabbits from the inflammation and oxidative stress induced by LPS.”
3. Decreases Risk for Heart Disease and Brain Disorders
Researchers now know that high levels of inflammation are correlated with an increased risk for many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Cauliflower’s anti-inflammatory abilities — found especially in its supply of vitamin K, vitamin C, various antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids — help keep arteries and blood vessels free from plaque buildup, lessening the chances of high blood pressure and out-of-control cholesterol levels developing. These serious conditions can lead to further inflammation, allergies, autoimmune responses and even possible cardiac arrest. Cauliflower’s powerful nutrients help stop the immune system from operating on overdrive, creating autoimmune reactions that can lead to oxidative stress capable of damaging brain cells.
4. Provides High Levels of Vitamins and Minerals (Especially Vitamin C and Vitamin K)
In addition to vitamin C and other antioxidants, cauliflower is also a good source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means it is absorbed in the intestines along with fat. This is one reason why eating cauliflower — along with a source of healthy fat — is important. Vitamin K is responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and helps prevent conditions related to loss in bone mineral density like osteoporosis. Additionally, it helps with blood clotting as well as bone calcification. However, perhaps even more importantly, vitamin K has been shown to have direct positive impacts on turning off inflammation in the body.
It’s believed that a poor diet — much like the standard American diet that many people eat today — is one of the key factors playing into a vitamin K deficiency that so many people experience. Other reasons for vitamin K deficiency include long-term use of antibiotics, digestive and intestinal problems — such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease — and popular cholesterol-lowering pharmaceutical drugs. Luckily, cauliflower is able to provide a high dose of the much-needed essential vitamin, which can help offset problems associated with a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
5. Improves Digestion and Detoxification
Certain compounds found in cauliflower — sulforaphane, glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin and gluconasturtiian — are very useful for helping the body detox due to how they support liver function. Cruciferous vegetables are beneficial for liver health, digestion and detoxification because of their rich supply of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which support proper nutrient absorption and toxin and waste removal.
Glucosinolates stimulate what are known as phase II enzymes, the body’s natural antioxidant system. Therefore they help trigger the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes that block free radical damage. Glucosinolate can also help protect the vulnerable lining of the stomach, reducing the chances of developing leaky gut syndrome or other digestive disorders. At the same time sulforaphane facilitates detox and digestion by preventing bacterial overgrowth from occurring in the gut microflora, keeping bad bacteria from overwhelming the digestive system and allowing good bacteria to thrive.
6. Aids in Weight Loss
Why is cauliflower good for losing weight? It is extremely low in calories (only 25 calories per cup), has virtually zero grams of fat, is very low in carbs and sugar, and yet is high in volume and filling fiber. This makes it an excellent choice for those looking to lose weight, since you can consume large amounts of cauliflower and fill up without over-consuming calories, fat, sugar or carbs.
Is cauliflower a laxative? While its effects are much more subtle than laxative supplements, cauliflower can help reduce constipation and keep excess waste or water weight moving out of your body, which helps you to feel immediately better.
7. Helps Balance Hormones
Consuming a diet rich in whole foods and antioxidant-filled vegetables like cauliflower has been shown to help balance hormones partially by reducing unhealthy levels of estrogen. High-estrogen foods can be harmful to health when they begin destroying the vulnerable hormonal balance that many people struggle to maintain.
A poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle make hormonal imbalances very common. Processed foods like soy, meat, dairy, yeast and refined sugar can all lead to an unhealthy level of estrogen in the body. Too much estrogen in the bloodstream is associated with health issues like hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue and ovarian cancer.
8. Preserves Eye Health
The sulforaphane found in cauliflower has been shown to protect the vulnerable tissues of the retinal area from oxidative stress that can result in blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration and more.
Types and Uses
Believe it or not, there are over 80 different types of edible cauliflowers for sale around the world. There are four major groups of cauliflower that these varieties fall into: Italian (includes white, Romanesco, various brown, green, purple and yellow), Northern European (which is harvested in Europe and the U.S. in summer and fall), Northwest European (harvested in winter and early spring) and Asian (grown in China and India). While most cauliflower is found in white varieties, other types like purple, yellow and green cauliflowers can be found in certain parts of the world and are just as nutritious.
Luckily cauliflower is one of the most versatile vegetables there is. Adding more of it to your diet on a regular basis should not be very difficult. Here are some popular uses for cauliflower:
- You can choose to mash steamed cauliflower with probiotic-rich yogurt into a velvety smooth texture that can take the place of potatoes
- Grate it into rice-like particles to make cauliflower rice
- Use it as a meat substitute by dipping it in a batter of eggs, spices and almond flour to make cauliflower nugget
- Make roasted cauliflower topped with buffalo or hot sauce (a vegan stand in for buffalo wings)
- Use it for moisture and as a binding agent and a texture-enhancer in “cauliflower pizza crust”
Both cauliflower and potatoes are often used as grain alternatives. You can use them to make “rice,” grain-free “pizza crusts,” gnocchi and more. One benefit of using cauliflower over potatoes in recipes is that it’s lower in carbs, making it suitable for people on the keto diet or other low-carb diets.
How to Cook (Plus Recipes)
When it comes to purchasing cauliflower, look for cauliflower that is tightly packed with its pieces pressed firmly together and not splaying open. It should have a uniform texture and color across the whole head of cauliflower and no major bruises or color spots on the cauliflower head. It’s best to use cauliflower within three to seven days after purchasing if possible in order to ensure its nutrients are all still intact.
Uncooked cauliflower lasts in your refrigerator longer than cooked cauliflower (about one week), so store it uncooked in a dry container or plastic bag if possible, along with a paper towel to absorb moisture and keep it from molding.
Is cauliflower better for you cooked or raw? Researchers have looked at the various ways to prepare and cook cauliflower in order to understand which cooking methods preserve cauliflower’s health benefits best.
According to studies, water boiling and water blanching processes have the biggest impact on reducing cauliflower’s nutrients. These methods caused significant losses of dry matter, protein, and mineral and phytochemical contents (roughly a 20 percent to 30 percent loss of certain nutrients after five minutes of boiling, 40 percent to 50 percent after 10 minutes and 75 percent after 30 minutes).
Instead, surprisingly, cauliflower kept its nutrients most intact when microwaved or gently stir-fried. These cooking methods maintained the methanolic extract of fresh cauliflower and significantly preserved the highest antioxidant activity.
The very best method for cooking cauliflower seems to be gently sautéing it on the stove top, with a bit of water, broth, lemon juice or a healthy source of fat, which can make its nutrients more absorbable. Of course, eating it raw, perhaps dipped in some healthy hummus or another type of dip, also preserves its nutrients. If you’re in a hurry to make that weeknight dinner, cauliflower can be prepared quickly or even chopped up and eaten raw.
Try one of these healthy and easy cauliflower recipes below to get you started with creatively using cauliflower in place of less healthy ingredients and also on its own as a fantastic and filling side dish.
- Cauliflower Mac ‘n Cheese
- Mashed Cauliflower Fauxe-tatoes
- Roasted Cauliflower with Chili Lime Butter Recipe
That’s not all. You can experiment with cauliflower casseroles, parmesan-roasted cauliflower, “cauliflower steaks” and some of the other trending recipes that use this versatile vegetable.
Risks and Side Effects
What happens when you eat too much cauliflower? Let’s take a look at some concerns regarding cauliflower consumption:
1. Thyroid Function
According to the research, it takes large amount of cruciferous vegetables to cause hypothyroidism, and it appears that this risk only exists for those who already have an iodine deficiency. One study in humans found that the consumption of five ounces a day of cooked cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, specifically) for four weeks had no adverse effects on thyroid function. If you have a known thyroid problem, it’s best to consume cruciferous vegetables that have been cooked and keep them to about one to two servings daily.
2. Digestive Problems, Including Gas
Some people have a difficult time digesting raw cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Cooking these vegetables usually helps relieve the problem. The problem is thought to occur due to the carbohydrates found in these vegetables (which all vegetables actually contain to some degree) that do not get broken down entirely in the digestive tract, combined with the high amount of fiber and sulfur.
3. Can Enhance Symptoms in Those with Existing Kidney Stones or Gout
Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds called purines, which can sometimes break down to form uric acid in the urine. If you have a pre-existing condition like kidney stones and gout, you should to speak with your doctor before consuming large amounts of cauliflower, although in small doses the risk if not thought to be anything to worry about.
- Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetables family — also known as the Brassica oleracea family — along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and some other less common varieties.
- It’s considered one of the healthiest foods on Earth due to its rich supply of health-promoting phytochemicals, high level of anti-inflammatory compounds, and ability to ward off cancer, heart disease, brain disease and even weight gain.
- Cauliflower benefits include its ability to help reduce cancer risk, fight inflammation, decrease the risk of heart disease and brain disorders, provide high levels of vitamins and minerals, improve digestion and detoxification, aid in weight loss, balance hormones, and preserve eye health.
- The best ways to cook it is to gently sauté or stir-fry it to maintain its nutrients — or, of course, to consume it raw.
- It’s best to use cauliflower within three to seven days after purchasing if possible in order to ensure its nutrients are all still intact.