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Superfood: Cauliflower

Don’t fear cauliflower’s bitter taste or unusual all-white (even after Labor Day) look. This superfood is rich in vitamin C and cancer-fighting compounds.
Superfood: Cauliflower
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Cauliflower is more than broccoli’s white-headed step-child. This super-power-packed veggie has plenty of benefits of its own. Part of the cruciferous family (including other superfoods like broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts), cauliflower includes plenty of vitamins and minerals, but its real power comes from cancer-fighting compounds known as glucosinolates.

Cauli-Flower Power — The Need-to-Know

When we snack on cauliflower, glucosinolates split into isothiocyanates and indoles (is that even English?). These plant chemicals— technically known as phytochemicals— are responsible for cauliflower’s sometimes bitter flavor, but they may also help fight cancer. Specifically, glucosinolates and isothiocyanates have been shown to prevent damage to the lungs and stomach by carcinogens, and potentially protect against those cancers— though that’s no excuse to light up [1] [2] [3] [4]. Thanks to interactions with estrogen, cauliflower might even help prevent hormone-driven cancers like breast, uterine, and cervical, too [5].

But that’s not all this fluffy white veggie does. Research comparing a variety of fruits and vegetables found that produce with white flesh (like cauliflower) was associated with reduced risk of stroke. It also has a healthy dose of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber, but very few calories (25 per 1 cup).

Call Up Cauliflower — Your Action Plan

Cooks new to this vegetable will be glad to know it pairs well with rich (but healthy) foods like nuts, mushrooms, and garlic, and it’s sometimes bitter flavor is often toned down by these flavors and by cooking. Plus, it can be enjoyed almost any ol’ way— roasted, steamed, raw, or even microwaved (or try it instead of rice, a Paleo hack). But avoid boiling to reap as many nutrients as possible from the florets.

Speaking of vitamins, cauliflower does boast a healthy dose of vitamin K, though it’s worth noting deficiencies in vitamin K are not common. Another potential downside: Cauliflower may cause gas, so be weary of surroundings when adding this vegetable to lunch or dinner.

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli

Photo by Kate Morin

Serves 4

What You'll Need:

  • 1 head broccoli, broken into 1-inch florets
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What to Do: 

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Toss broccoli and cauliflower with oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast until browned and tender, 25 minutes, tossing veggies halfway through.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven, toss veggies with Parmesan, and return to oven for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve alongside a lean protein for a healthy and filling dinner!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy cauliflower?

Works Cited +

  1. Chemoprevention of tobacco-related lung cancer by cruciferous vegetable. Balcerek, M. Katedra i Zakład Farmakognozji, Collegium Medicum UMK w Bydgoszczy, Poland. Przeglad Lekarski, 2007;64(10):903-5.
  2. Effects of cruciferous vegetables and their constituents on drug metabolizing enzymes involved in the bioactivation of DNA-reactive dietary carcinogens. Steinkellner, H., Rabot, S., Freywald, C., et al. Institute of Cancer Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria. Mutation Research, 2001 Sep 1;480-481:285-97.
  3. Effects of cruciferous vegetable consumption on urinary metabolites of the tobacco-specific lung carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone in singapore chinese. Hecht, S.S., Carmella, S.G., Kenney, P.M., et al. University of Minnesota Cancer Center, Minneapolis, MN. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 2004 Jun;13(6):997-1004.
  4. Chemoprevention by isothiocyanates and their underlying molecular signaling mechanisms. Keum, Y.S., Jeong, W.S., Kong, A.N. Department of Pharmaceutics, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ. Mutation Research, 2004 Nov 2;555(1-2):191-202.
  5. Indole-3-carbinol is a negative regulator of estrogen. Auborn, K.J., Fan, S., Rosen, E.M., et al. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Research Institute, Manhasset, NY. The Journal of Nutrition, 2003 Jul;133(7 Suppl):2470S-2475S.

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