For the common vegetable cauliflower nutrition and health benefits are sadly under-recognized and underappreciated. While its nutritional reputation may pale in comparison to that of broccoli and its other cruciferous cousins, cauliflower is actually a nutritional powerhouse. This low-calorie, low-carb, high-fiber food, much like the other cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, cabbage, and others—is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and packed with rare phytochemicals responsible for its fantastic array of health benefits. Not only that, but cauliflower is way more versatile and mild tasting than other vegetables from the Brassica family, making it easy to use in a wide variety of delicious recipes. (Read more about the Brassica family of vegetables in “The Best Cholesterol Lowering Food.”)
One cup of cooked cauliflower contains only 29 calories, making it a very low calorie food. This amount of cooked cauliflower has 2.28 grams of protein and 0.56 grams of fat, including 0.21 grams of omega-3 fats. It contains 5.1 grams of carbohydrate, more than half of which is fiber (2.9 grams) to help keep you full and satisfied.
Cauliflower Nutrition—Vitamins and Minerals
In terms of essential vitamins and minerals, you’ll find that cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, choline, folate, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6. The chart below lists cauliflower’s vitamins and minerals from highest percent DRI/DV to lowest, along with their important health benefits.
This cauliflower nutrition data, from the US Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, is for cauliflower that has been boiled and drained. Numerous studies have shown that boiling is the worst cooking method for cauliflower in terms of nutrient retention. The nutrients are lost both because of the high heat and because they leach out into the water. Steaming, sautéing, and microwaving all preserve significantly more nutrients, with steaming preserving the most. No studies could be identified that have evaluated the effects of roasting on cauliflower nutrition.
Perhaps more important than cauliflower’s vitamins and minerals is its phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are bioactive chemicals in plants that provide flavor and color, and may even reduce the risk of chronic diseases. The most important phytonutrients in cauliflower are a group of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates.
Glucosinolates are most known for their ability to support detoxification, decrease inflammation, and prevent cancer. It is not the glucosinolates themselves that do the work. Rather, it is the compounds into which they degrade after being chopped, chewed, and acted upon by gut bacteria. Two of cauliflower’s glucosinolates, glucoraphanin and glucobrassicin, degrade into sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C), respectively. I3C then degrades even further into diindolylmethane (DIM). Sulforaphane and DIM prevent and treat cancer by stimulating cellular detoxification and antioxidant activity, by inducing apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells, and by blocking cancer cells from replicating.
The exact amount of total glucosinolates in cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables varies, depending on the variety, growing conditions, and preparation. Besides that, the exact level needed for specific health benefits is unknown. Therefore, instead of trying to calculate and consume a certain level of glucosinolates, aim for eating at least five servings (2 and one-half cups) of cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower, per week. This amount appears to substantially reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Read about how cauliflower can even protect you from toxins here. It may even help with allergies! Read more here.
Cauliflower’s Amazing Culinary Versatility
Cauliflower’s mild flavor and unique texture make it exceptionally versatile in the kitchen and on your plate. Roast cauliflower to bring out its sweeter notes. Slice cauliflower thinly on a mandolin for a great salad. As low-carb and paleo eaters know, cauliflower can replace high-carb starches and grains in a myriad of ways. Try out recipes for cauliflower rice, hummus, bread, and even pizza crust. For even greater cauliflower nutrition, sautee it with turmeric, which will enhance its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. You simply can’t go wrong incorporating more cauliflower into your diet.
This post originally appeared in 2015 and has been updated.