Cauliflower has exploded in popularity recently—making its way into everything from pizza crust to hot cereal, and also replacing rice in grainless bowls, stir-fries, sushi, and more. The rise in status of this white vegetable may be a surprise to some, but it makes sense from a nutrition perspective. Here are seven reasons why you should jump on the cauliflower bandwagon.
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Cauliflower is nutrient dense
One cup of raw cauliflower provides over 75% of the daily minimum target for vitamin C. In addition to supporting immunity, this nutrient is needed for DNA repair and the production of both collagen and serotonin. (The latter promotes happiness and healthy sleep.)
Cauliflower’s vitamin K (20% of the daily target per cup) is required for bone formation, and a shortfall is linked to increased fracture risk. The veggie’s choline, roughly 10% of the daily goal per cup, plays a role in sleep, memory, and learning and muscle movement. Cauliflower also provides smaller amounts of other essential nutrients, including B vitamins, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
Cauliflower is anti-inflammatory
Bioactive compounds found in cauliflower are known to reduce inflammation. The veg is also rich in antioxidants, including types known to counter oxidative stress. In a nutshell, oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects, which include premature aging and disease risk.
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Cauliflower fends off the nation’s top two killers
Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, and bok choy. As such, it helps reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the US.
Cruciferous veggies contain natural substances that protect the bends and branches of blood vessels—areas most prone to inflammation, making it a potent protector of your heart. This is likely why, among women, a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of hardening of the arteries.
Natural substances in cauliflower and other cruciferous have also been shown to disable cancer-causing substances and stop cancer from growing and spreading. A review of existing research has shown an inverse relationship between the intake of cruciferous vegetables and the risks of heart disease, cancer, and death from any cause, making cauliflower a key health-protective food.
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Cauliflower fights aging
Some studies show that natural substances in cauliflower, like sulforaphane, may influence genes in ways that slow the biochemical process of aging. Cauliflower compounds have also been shown to protect brain and nervous system function and slow age-related cognitive decline.
Cauliflower helps you detox
Natural compounds in cauliflower are involved in detoxification. Many health professionals dislike the word detox, because it’s often overused and over-exaggerated. But detoxification essentially means helping to deactivate potentially damaging chemicals, or shuttle them out of the body more quickly.
Cauliflower is fiber rich
The fiber in cauliflower—nearly 12 grams per medium head—supports digestive health, promotes bowel regularity, and feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut tied to anti-inflammation, immunity, and mood.
It’s important to note, however, that cauliflower is a high FODMAP food, so it may cause digestive upset for some—particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream and are rapidly fermented in the gut. This combo can trigger the production of gases, which may lead to digestive bloating, pain, cramps, and flatulence. If you have a sensitive digestive system, or you’re not used to eating much fiber, it’s not unusual to experience some GI issues should you up your cauliflower intake.
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Cauliflower supports healthy weight loss
Cauliflower’s fiber supports weight management by boosting fullness, delaying the return of hunger, and helping to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. One cup raw also provides about 3.5 ounces of water, which helps promote satiety. And eating cauliflower in place of white rice can seriously displace calories and carbs, without the need to sacrifice volume.
A three-quarter cup portion of riced cauliflower contains about 25 calories and 1 gram of net carbs (3 grams total with 2 grams as fiber). The same serving of cooked white rice provides about 150 calories and 30 grams of carb.
How to enjoy cauliflower
There are seemingly endless ways to eat cauliflower. It can be whipped into smoothies, “riced” and added to oatmeal or overnight oats, and folded into or used as a replacement for white rice in just about any dish. I also adore oven-roasted cauliflower, prepared with a little avocado olive oil, and sprinkled with a combo of sea salt, turmeric, and black pepper. It’s fantastic steamed or grilled and drizzled with a bit of dairy-free pesto or seasoned tahini, or steamed and mashed, flavored with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and fresh or dried herbs.
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In addition to white, this veg naturally comes in purple, orange, and green varieties. I recommend mixing it up to expose your body to an even broader spectrum of antioxidants. And if you’re adventurous, you can incorporate cauliflower into the many dessert recipes available online, like cauliflower brownies, cake, pudding, and cheesecake. While these goodies should still be occasional treats, it’s one more way to eat less-refined carbs and up your veggie intake!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.