Cauliflower has become a food star, exploding onto the culinary scene as a nourishing stand-in for white rice, pasta, potatoes and flour. And there’s no shortage of cauliflower used as a low-carb alternative in pizza crusts, breads, bagged salads and veggie bowls.
For waistline watchers, cauliflower is appealing for its low amount of carbohydrates and calories — 1 cup of raw cauliflower contains just 27 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of dietary fiber, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. However, cauliflower’s nutrition story goes way beyond the basics.
Cauliflower is considered a powerhouse vegetable, as it falls into a category of foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk. It ranks among the top 25 fruits and vegetables for nutrient density, which means you get a ton of nutritional value for the caloric buck.
Cauliflower and cancer prevention
Cauliflower is a standout among its cruciferous (or Brassica) clan, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and arugula.
“I love cauliflower because it’s a cruciferous vegetable, which means it’s packed with cancer-fighting compounds, as well as fiber,” says Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, a culinary dietitian and author based in Chicago.
From a cancer-prevention standpoint, cauliflower, as well as other crucifers, contains powerful anti-cancer phytochemicals called glucosinolates which, when broken down during digestion, release a plant hormone called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Extensive research shows that I3C may suppress the spread of various cancer cells in the body, including breast, colon, prostate and endometrial cancer cells.
Cauliflower also packs an anti-cancer punch with sulfur compounds. These include sulforaphane, responsible for cauliflower’s bitter taste and pungent aroma, which may defend against cell damage. Sulforaphane also has been studied for its anti-cancer activities.
The culinary side of cauliflower
Home cooks and chefs are getting creative with cauliflower in kitchens across the globe. “I love the flavor of simply roasted cauliflower,” Haas says. She tosses cauliflower with olive oil, roasts it and tosses it with sea salt, pumpkin seeds, fresh lime juice and avocado.
For riced cauliflower, chop the vegetable into tiny pieces in a food processor until it is roughly the size of rice. It then can be incorporated into dishes from pizza crusts to burrito bowls.
“I also like to use riced cauliflower in homemade veggie and bean burgers,” Haas says. “Riced cauliflower is awesome tossed into chilis and hearty stews. Roasted and puréed, it can add creaminess to soups and even sauces.”
Another recent culinary trend is to roast cauliflower “steaks” by cutting the head into thick, long slices and roasting the slices with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic cloves, salt and black pepper. The slices are usually served as a side dish or a vegetarian main course.
No matter how you slice it or rice it, cauliflower is a low-carb, nutritious option that is earning its place as a plant-food powerhouse.
Got gas from cauliflower? Here’s how to get relief
While you may love the taste of cauliflower, as well as cauliflower-fortified foods, your gastrointestinal tract may not always love cauliflower back. Like all cruciferous veggies, cauliflower contains a hefty dose of insoluble fiber than can create painful gas and bloating. It also has a complex starch called raffinose that can cause similar symptoms.
So, what can you do? Eat small amounts of cauliflower at a time, sip water while eating it and cook your cauliflower to break down its fiber. You can also try moving with light walking or stretching after consuming cauliflower, as this can help ease digestion.