Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L. var. botrytis) is a delicious vegetable if you’ve never tried it before. It is crunchy in texture yet easy to chew. It belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which includes other vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, kale, and Brussels sprouts (1). Originally grown in Asia, cauliflower has been grown and eaten since the 1500s. However, it was not cultivated in the United States until the 1900s (2).
Cauliflower is typically white but can have other hues of purple, green, and orange. The cauliflower contains small florets that make up a larger head, with green leaves surrounding it. It is typically available year-round in grocery stores, but its peak season is around September through November.
It can be eaten in a variety of ways and has most recently been popular for being a substitution for foods higher in carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, and bread.
Fun Fact: Today, California is the largest producer of cauliflower in the United States, with China being the world’s leading producer.
Table of Contents
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume Cauliflower
- Potential Risks of Cauliflower
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Cauliflower is full of important nutrients that support overall health. It contains tons of vitamins and minerals, all while being a nutrient-dense vegetable. This means that in proportion to its weight, cauliflower is a food that contains a lot of nutrients while being low in fat, added sugars, and calories. Check out all of the macronutrients and vitamins and minerals that an average serving of cauliflower contains.
Per one serving (one cup) of raw, chopped-up cauliflower, there are (3):
- Calories: 27 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 2.05 grams (g)
- Fat: 0.3 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 5.32 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.14 grams (g)
As you can see, a serving of cauliflower is low in calories and carbohydrates and high in fiber. In one serving of cauliflower, there are 2.14 grams of fiber which is around 8% of your daily needs (4). In addition to the above macronutrients, cauliflower is a rich source of amino acids. Amino acids are essential for the proper functioning of the human body. Studies suggest that when amino acid metabolism is disrupted, the association between cancer and disease increases (5).
Vitamins & Minerals
Below are just a few of the vitamins and minerals that you will find in a serving of cauliflower (6, 7):
- Calcium: 23.5 milligrams (mg) (2% of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for adults)
- Magnesium: 16 milligrams (mg) (4-5% of the DRIs for adults)
- Phosphorus: 47.1 milligrams (mg) (6-7% of the DRIs for adults)
- Potassium: 320 milligrams (mg) (6-7% of the DRIs for adults)
- Vitamin C: 51.6 milligrams (mg) (57-69% of the DRIs for adults)
- Folate: 61 micrograms (mcg) (15% of the DRIs for adults)
- Choline: 47.4 milligrams (mg) (8-11% of the DRIs for adults)
- Vitamin K: 16.6 micrograms (mcg) (around 14-18% of the DRIs for adults)
Cauliflower is most known for the amount of vitamin C, folate, choline, and vitamin K it contains, in addition to a plethora of additional nutrients. Choline is an essential nutrient that is required for the normal development of the brain. Thus it has been suggested during the perinatal period for supplementation (8). It has also been found to possibly be a protector of the brain by mitigating the adverse effects of neurodegenerative disorders (9).
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for a variety of different functions in the body. It contributes to coagulation in addition to the building of bones. It may also play a role in preventing heart disease, and cancer, increasing bone strength, and improving insulin sensitivity (10).
Summary: Cauliflower is full of tons of nutrients all great for health, some of the highlighted ones including fiber, vitamin C, folate, choline, and vitamin K.
If you haven’t heard, eating cauliflower regularly has been noted to have many health benefits. Below are just a few of them.
It is High in Antioxidants
All parts of cauliflower, including the leaves and stems, are rich sources of antioxidants in addition to amino acids. Antioxidants are important for stopping, slowing, and preventing the oxidation of free radicals, which cause harm to cells in the body (11).
Cauliflower also contains a high amount of vitamin C, around 57-69% of the DRI for adults. Vitamin C is essential, meaning it must be obtained from the diet (12). It is a potent antioxidant and helps to reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and infections (13).
Summary: Cauliflower contains a variety of antioxidants, all helpful for reducing the number of free radicals in the body, therefore helping to prevent oxidative stress.
May Prevent Cancer
In addition to antioxidants, cauliflower contains phenols like flavonoids and vitamin C. These nutrients not only exhibit antioxidant activity, but may also decrease the risk of disease and several different types of cancer.
Cauliflower contains compounds called glucosinolates. Studies have shown that the consumption of vegetables like cauliflower, in addition to cabbage and broccoli, had an inverse risk of cancer (14). The studies also looked at stomach cancer, lung cancer, colon, and rectal cancer, which all had an inverse association (15).
Newer studies have suggested that vegetables like cauliflower may even prevent or slow the progression of cancer (16). However, more research must be done on humans to solidify these findings.
Summary: Research suggests that cauliflower contains compounds that may help to decrease the risk of cancer and may help prevent it.
May Promote Digestive Health
Some research found that increasing the consumption of Brassica vegetables like cauliflower reduced the number of harmful bacteria in the intestines (17). This means that cauliflower may be beneficial for digestive health.
Since cauliflower is high in fiber, it is an easy choice for increasing the amount of fiber. Studies have found that a diet rich in fiber increases the number of good bacteria in the gut, promoting digestive health (18). Additionally, consuming adequate fiber is key for maintaining normal bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Summary: Eating vegetables like cauliflower can help promote digestive health and prevent digestive issues like constipation.
May Promote Weight Loss
It is no secret that obesity is a global issue and continues to increase for adults and children. An estimated 52% of adults were classified as overweight or obese by the World Health Organization with that percentage continuing to rise. Being higher than a healthy weight increases the risk for the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (19). Eating fruits and vegetables regularly, such as cauliflower, is a key way to prevent this issue.
As mentioned above, most non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower are nutrient-dense, meaning they contain a lot of nutrients with a low number of calories. Because of this, they are more likely to make you feel full for longer in addition to the fiber they have.
Increasing the number of vegetables you eat, like cauliflower, is associated with reducing the risk of weight gain and obesity (20). Additionally, consuming an average of four servings of vegetables or more decreased waist size in women (21).
Summary: Obesity is a global issue that continues to rise in adults and children. Cauliflower is a great vegetable to choose for reducing the risk of weight gain and obesity.
Ways to Consume Cauliflower
You may have seen popular substitutions for foods like rice and potatoes that use cauliflower as a substitute, like cauliflower rice, and cauliflower mash. Here are some more ways you can enjoy cauliflower:
- Cut it up and eat alone or with hummus or dip
- Steam it and add it as a side dish to a protein and grain source.
- Roast it with your favorite seasoning. Feel free to mix it up with other vegetables, too!
- Chop it up and add it to a fresh salad
- Substitute cauliflower crust in place of regular pizza crust
- Make cauliflower buffalo wings in place of chicken wings
- Prepare a cauliflower steak if you are looking for something lighter than a regular steak
- Steam then puree it and add to your favorite soup
- Make cauliflower hummus
It is important to note that cauliflower will lose some of its nutrient value once it is cooked. To get the most of its benefits and nutrients, it is best to consume it raw or lightly steamed.
Summary:There are a ton of ways to consume cauliflower, raw or cooked. Just keep in mind that the nutrient profile of cauliflower changes once it is heated.
Potential Risks of Cauliflower
There are minimal to no risks to the average adult when it comes to eating cauliflower. However, there are a few risks and side effects to be aware of when eating cauliflower for some people.
It May Decrease the Effects of Certain Drugs
If you are on blood clotting medications or have certain related health conditions, ask your doctor before consuming cauliflower. Due to its high amount of vitamin K, consuming considerable amounts of cauliflower can work against medications like warfarin and Coumadin.
It May Cause Digestive Distress
Cauliflower is a vegetable that contains a decent amount of fiber. If you have medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or related digestive issues, eating cauliflower may not be a good idea. It may worsen GI symptoms like stomach cramping, bloating, and gas. However, most people can tolerate foods like cauliflower in moderate amounts, just be sure to monitor your symptoms.
Summary: Overall, cauliflower is part of a well-balanced and healthy diet. However, people who are on blood-thinning medications or have issues digesting fiber should ask a doctor before consuming cauliflower.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What parts of the cauliflower am I supposed to eat?
Typically, most people eat the cauliflower florets in the center of the cauliflower. However, the stems and leaves are edible and rich in nutrients. If you don’t want to eat the stems or leaves, they can also be composted.
How do I pick the best quality cauliflower?
Inspect the leaves surrounding the florets and ensure they are fresh and green. The head of the cauliflower should be firm and tightly closed. Look for minimal spots and softness, as that may indicate the start of spoilage.
How long does cauliflower stay fresh?
When properly stored in the fridge, fresh cauliflower can last around 5 days, sometimes longer. Just be sure to look out for any moldy spots before consuming it. Keep in mind that you should only wash it once you are ready to use it as moisture can cause it to decay faster. Cooked cauliflower lasts in the fridge for around 3 to 5 days.
Fun Fact: Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable. It is called “cruciferous” because the flowers have four petals and resemble a Greek cross.
Cauliflower is a versatile and tasty vegetable that is a great option to add to your diet. It boasts an impressive nutrient profile and has tons of health benefits.
You can make cauliflower in a variety of ways that are easy and delicious to add to your diet, especially if you are looking to replace foods high in carbohydrates. You can also buy it prepared in its different forms from the grocery store.
Start experimenting today to find your new favorite way to consume cauliflower.