How healthy is the low-carb veggie, really? We'll tell you.

Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
December 19, 2019

Pictured recipe: Cheesy Roasted Cauliflower

If you think so-called white foods are off-limits, think again. Yes, you still want to be mindful of and limit how much white bread and white sugar you eat—after all they are limited in what they offer nutritionally. But white vegetables like onions, garlic, potatoes and cauliflower? Don't skimp!

Cauliflower is one white veggie that you should be sure to throw in your grocery cart. For one, it's quite affordable—a whole head is usually just a few dollars, and a bag of florets (fresh or frozen) typically costs less than $5. But also, cauliflower is incredibly nutritious and also quite versatile from a culinary standpoint. Read on to find out about the nutrition in cauliflower and what makes this vegetable so healthy.

Here is some basic nutrition information on cauliflower

A cup of raw cauliflower contains the following:

Calories: 27

Total fat: 0 g

Protein: 2 g

Carbohydrate: 5 g

Sugars: 2 g

Fiber: 2 g

You also get about 60% of your daily vitamin C needs and 14% of your daily dose of bone-building vitamin K, as well as healthy doses of folate, vitamin B6 and potassium.

Cook cauliflower, though, and you'll lose some of those vitamins and minerals. Researchers found that boiling and blanching cauliflower caused the largest losses (decent amounts of the nutrients leached into the water), while steaming, stir-frying and microwaving preserved the most nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals.

The health benefits of cauliflower

Pictured recipe: Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

Lower risk of heart disease and cancer

Although its coloring is different (i.e., it's a lot less vibrant), cauliflower is a part of the crucifer (Brassicaceae) family and so is a relative of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, etc. Eating cruciferous vegetables has been linked with lower risks of heart disease and cancer, which are the two leading causes of death in the U.S. There's even research that suggests the compounds in cauliflower and other crucifers could help keep cancer from developing in the first place.

Healthier arteries

In a study published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that eating cruciferous vegetables daily helped keep older women's arteries healthy, and thus lower their risk of developing atherosclerosis. Specifically in the study, women who were 70 years old or older and ate 3 or more vegetable servings a day—with a focus on cruciferous veggies specifically—had lower measures of carotid artery intima-media thickness, a measure of the age of one's carotid arteries and also their risk of developing atherosclerosis when other symptoms aren't present. Perhaps most interesting of all is that as little as one extra serving of daily veggies made a difference: women who ate two veggie servings a day had noticeably less-healthy arteries (i.e., significantly higher measures of carotid artery IMT).

Keep your brain healthy

Cauliflower also contains the disease-fighting compound called sulforaphane. (The other cruciferous veggies do too.) And a growing body of newer research shows that sulforaphane activates a pathway that makes antioxidants more available and also quells harmful oxidative stress in our brains, thus helping to protect against central nervous system diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke and more.

Delicious ideas for enjoying cauliflower

Of course, cauliflower is always delicious straight up—raw, steamed, roasted, covered in a little bit of ooey-gooey cheese sauce.

But cauliflower has also branched out in recent years: it's a coveted lower-carb alternative to pizza crust, rice and even some pastas. For example, a ½-cup serving of cooked cauliflower has only 3 grams of carbohydrate (half of which are fiber) while a ½-cup serving of cooked white rice has about 22 grams of carbohydrate (and no fiber whatsoever). Cauliflower has 84% less carbs and 79% fewer calories per 1/2 cup than potatoes. Cauliflower can mimic potatoes as mashed cauliflower, becomes "rice" when it's finely chopped and can even be used to make pizza crust and English muffins.

It's also a popular center-of-the-plate item in plant-based diets (think: cauliflower steak).

Anyway you slice it, cauliflower is a super-healthy and nutritious vegetable that deserves a spot on your plate.

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