Health Benefits of Cauliflower

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 16, 2023
5 min read

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable that looks like a white version of its cousin, broccoli. Like broccoli, cauliflower has tightly bunched florets connected by a thick core, often with a few light leaves surrounding it.

While white is the most common color, you’ll also find cauliflower in shades of orange, purple, and green. No matter the color, the taste is the same: mild, slightly sweet, and a little nutty.

Cauliflower originally came from the Mediterranean region and arrived in Europe around the end of the 15th century. It's an offshoot of a type of wild cabbage that's also the ancestor of kale, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.

A serving is 1 cup, or about 100 grams, of chopped cauliflower. One serving of raw or cooked cauliflower has:

  • 25 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 2 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 30 milligrams of sodium

As for vitamins and nutrients, one serving of cauliflower has:

  • 54% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C
  • About13% of your daily vitamin K
  • 2% of your daily calcium and iron
  • 6% of your daily potassium
  • More than 3% of your daily magnesium

Cauliflower is also rich in:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamins B5 and B6
  • Manganese
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Antioxidants

Cauliflower is a rich source of fiber, which is essential for a good digestive system and a healthy heart. It also contains almost your entire day’s worth of vitamin C, which boosts your immune system and may help reduce the seriousness of the common cold.

The folate in cauliflower is necessary for healthy cell growth. Doctors recommend that people who are or might become pregnant consume at least 400 micrograms of folate every day. This supports healthy development and can help prevent birth defects.

Of the 100 grams of cauliflower in one serving, 92 grams are water. That means this veggie can help keep you hydrated. Cauliflower can also help with a number of health-related issues, including:

Good digestion

As a cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is an excellent source of fiber. Most Americans consume less than half the recommended daily amount of fiber. Fiber helps maintain healthy digestion, reducing your risk of digestive disorders. It also promotes the growth of good bacteria in your gut. A healthy bacterial balance helps lower inflammation in your body and reduces your risk of heart disease, cognitive decline, respiratory illnesses, and obesity.

Anti-cancer properties

Many of cauliflower’s nutrients act as antioxidants, which are the substances that help protect our bodies from cell damage linked to diseases such as cancer. In particular, cauliflower contains a compound called iodine-3-carbinol (I3C). Researchers believe I3C blocks cancer cell growth and can help prevent tumors from forming. There’s also sulforaphane, which studies show can kill cancer cells.

Cauliflower has a group of substances known as glucosinolates. As you chew and digest it, these substances are broken down into compounds that may help prevent cancer. They help protect cells from damage and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.

Heart health

Research shows sulforaphane helps lower cholesterol levels, which can keep your arteries clear from fatty build-up. This promotes healthy blood pressure and lowers your risk of heart disease. Cauliflower’s dietary fiber has similar cholesterol-lowering abilities. 

Nervous system support

Cauliflower is one of the best sources of choline, a nutrient that most people don’t get enough of. Choline is essential for many healthy nervous system functions, including mood regulation, memory, and muscle control. Getting too little of this nutrient may raise your risk of age-related cognitive disease, liver problems, and heart conditions.

People with certain conditions may want to talk to their doctor before eating cauliflower.

Thyroid issues. The thyroid is a small gland in your neck that makes important hormones. To do its job, it needs iodine. Eating a lot of cauliflower may keep your thyroid from absorbing iodine and making hormones. But for this to happen, you’d need to eat much more cauliflower than most people would ever eat in one sitting.

Digestion or GI (gastrointestinal) issues. High-fiber foods such as cauliflower may cause bloating and gas, especially for people with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

You can eat it raw, tossed in a salad, or as a snack with a dip like hummus. It’s easy to cook, which gives it a creamier, nuttier taste that takes on the flavor of whatever you use as seasoning.

How you cook cauliflower matters. You can keep more of its nutrients if you steam, roast, or stir-fry it. But boiling it can lower the levels of its B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants.

Cauliflower is also a healthy low-carb, gluten-free alternative to legumes and grains. Moreover, its meaty texture makes it a great plant-based swap for chicken and beef in some recipes.

You can prepare cauliflower in a number of ways:

Steamed cauliflower. This is one of the simplest cooking methods. You can steam the whole head or cut it into florets (small tree-shaped sections).

Roasted cauliflower. Cut the head of cauliflower into steaks or florets, spread them on a cooking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until it’s golden.

Pureed cauliflower. Puree cooked cauliflower in a blender until it's smooth. Some people use this as a substitute for cream sauces or add it to smoothies.

Mashed cauliflower. Boost the nutrition value of mashed potatoes by steaming some cauliflower and mashing it into the potatoes. Or skip the potatoes and go for low-carb mashed cauliflower instead. You can also mash cauliflower into pizza dough for a lighter crust.

Grated cauliflower. Steam cauliflower, then grate it into a rice-like texture.

For more ways to cook cauliflower, check out:

Cauliflower rice is a food trend with some surprising benefits. Instead of using traditional rice, some people use shredded or grated cooked cauliflower as a low-carb, low-calorie alternative.

Cauliflower works as a rice substitute because it has a mild taste and you can cook it in a variety of ways. On top of that, cauliflower rice has some impressive health benefits.

Riced cauliflower has all the nutritional benefits of cauliflower cooked in other ways. And it can be a healthy, low-carb swap for real rice. White rice can be high in calories and carbs but adds few other nutrients.

One cup of cauliflower rice has:

  • 28 calories
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fat

One cup of white rice has:

  • 242 calories
  • 4.4 grams of protein
  • 53.4 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.4 grams of fat

 

To make cauliflower rice, all you need to do is wash a raw cauliflower head and break it into smaller florets. You then put these florets into your food processor and pulse until the cauliflower pieces are the size of rice grains.

Cauliflower rice keeps fresh for about 2 days. Cauliflower can start to develop a sulfur smell if left to sit for too long. If you’re making a large batch, you should freeze any that you don’t eat that day.