You have probably heard that the most nutritious foods are the ones that are the most colorful. There are even several fad diets that tell you to avoid any white or colorless food, but don't write off cauliflower and other white veggies just yet.
The grain-refining process used in white breads and pastas are processed to remove the bran and the germ parts of the grain, which lower fiber and B vitamin content so it's perfectly fine to avoid these nutrient-lacking foods. Cauliflower, by contrast, is naturally high in both fiber and B-vitamins.
As part of the brassica family, more commonly known as cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower contains antioxidants and phytonutrients that can protect against cancer, fiber that helps with satiety, weight loss and a healthy digestive tract, choline that is essential for learning and memory as well as many other important nutrients.
Cauliflower even ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which measures vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content. To earn high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of cauliflower and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more cauliflower into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming cauliflower.
Possible health benefits of consuming cauliflower
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like cauliflower decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Cauliflower contains antioxidants that help prevent cellular mutations and reduce oxidative stress from free radicals. One of these is indole-3-carbinol or I3C, commonly found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower/ I3C has been shown to reduce the risk of breast and reproductive cancers in men and women.
For the past 30 years, eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer; namely lung and colon cancer. Recently, studies have suggested that the sulfur-containing compounds (namely sulforaphane) that give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite are also what give them their cancer-fighting power.
Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or impede cancer with early promising results associated with melanoma, esophageal, prostate and pancreatic cancers. Researchers have found that the sulforaphane compound can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future.
Cauliflower is high in both fiber and water content, which helps to prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract and lower the risk of colon cancer.
Adequate fiber promotes regularity, which is crucial for the daily excretion toxins through the bile and stool, but good digestion is far from all that fiber can do for your body.
Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation, consequently decreasing the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Choline is a very important and versatile "vitamin-like factor" in cauliflower that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture and osteoporosis. Adequate vitamin K consumption improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Nutritional breakdown of cauliflower
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of chopped raw cauliflower (1/2 inch pieces, about 107 grams) contains 27 calories, 2 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of fat, and 5 grams of carbohydrate (including 2.1 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar).
Eating one cup of raw cauliflower will provide 77% of your vitamin C needs, 20% of vitamin K, 10% or more of vitamin B-6 and folate needs for the day, as well as smaller amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.
How to incorporate more cauliflower into your diet
Cauliflower is most commonly found fresh or frozen. When choosing fresh cauliflower, look for a firm head with no dark spots and bright green leaves attached to the stem. Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to five days.
New and trendy ways to use cauliflower include cauliflower crust pizza, cauliflower "rice" and buffalo cauliflower "wings."
Potential health risks of consuming cauliflower
Foods that are high in fiber such as beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lentils, Brussels sprouts, onions, whole grains and cereals may cause increased bloating and flatulence however most people can tolerate these foods in proper portions.
Since vegetables and whole grains are a healthy part of the diet, increase your intake of these foods gradually and monitor your symptoms to determine which foods could be causing bloating.
If you are taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.