There is perhaps no one on Earth who has enjoyed more of a makeover than the cauliflower. Once a sad side dish, the humble cruciferous vegetable started from the bottom to become one of the defining foods of the past decade. Through the magic of cooking and food processing, it can be transformed into nearly any kind of food your heart desires, from pizza crust, gnocchi, parmesan bites, grilled cheese, gluten-free enchiladas, and tater tots. In short, it seems to be the blank slate of our collective food dreams.
But unlike some buzzy “healthy” foods (cough coconut oil), cauliflower is not all hype and no payoff. It packs a punch when it comes to its nutritional benefits, which only further solidifies its reputation as one of the best healthy foods you can eat. Keep reading to learn about cauliflower benefits, plus tips on how to incorporate it into your diet.
Ever enjoyed a healthy meal only to feel hungry again a couple of hours later? Well, despite not being calorically dense, cauli won’t do you like that. “Cauliflower is high in fiber,” says Paulette Lambert, RD, lead dietitian at the California Health & Longevity Institute, located at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village. Just one cup of chopped, raw cauliflower offers up two grams of fiber. So there’s no need to scramble for a midday snack to hold you over. Cauliflower will keep you nice and full until your next meal.
Another one of the many cauliflower benefits you can enjoy: better digestive health. “The high fiber content of cauliflower makes it a superstar for digestive health as well,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition. “Dietary fiber is great for digestion as it helps to prevent constipation and reduce the risk of bowel disorders. Cauliflower also has a high water content that is also helpful for GI health.”
If you struggle with inflammatory issues, cauliflower might be your new BFF. “Systemic inflammation is at the root of many metabolic disturbances such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” Feller says. Like other fruits and vegetables, “cauliflower contains phytonutrients and antioxidants that counteract the free radicals that can damage cells in the body and cause inflammation.” So eat up.
Cauliflower’s high fiber content makes it great for heart health, too. “High-fiber diets have been associated with improved cardiovascular health—specifically, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” says Feller. How, exactly? Dietary fiber binds to cholesterol and can lower the levels of LDL cholesterol, resulting in improved cardiovascular health.
“Cauliflower is rich in sulfurous compounds called glucosinolates that are associated with anti-cancer as well as anti-inflammatory activities,” Feller says.
Kate Denniston, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor and the founder of Los Angeles Integrative Health, says that specific kinds of glucosinolates in cauliflower called isothiocynates are particularly beneficial because they can deactivate potential cancer-causing substances before they cause damage. “Isothiocyanates also supports detoxification of toxic compounds, so they are safely excreted out of the body, minimizing the risk of cancer from toxic compounds,” she adds.
Furthermore, Lambert says cauliflower is also high in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which reduce free radical damage and protect against cancer, too. Talk about a superfood.
Beyond fiber and antioxidants, cauliflower has a lot of other nutrients to offer. “Vitamins, minerals, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids are all part of the cauliflower makeup,” says Dr. Dennison. Chief among these vitamins and minerals are folate, vitamin B6, and choline—three nutrients that support healthy tissue formation (folate), healthy metabolism (B6), and nervous system health (choline), among many other benefits.
Speaking of trendy foods, here’s the low-down on all the different alt-milks out there:
Great, so cauliflower has a lot of things going for it. But how to eat it that doesn’t involve making a crumbly pizza crust or just straight up boiling it? Here are some cooking tips to help you get the most out of those sweet cauliflower benefits, straight from the experts.
Roasting your cauliflower is one straightforward way to seriously up its flavor. Lambert suggests adding a bit of olive oil, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper before popping it in the oven. (P.S. Here’s a genius way to cut your cauliflower into florets without making a huge mess.) Then roast it until it’s nice and golden. Optional: top it with parmesan cheese if you’re feeling fancy.
Cauliflower rice is popular for a reason—it’s an easy, neutral sub for rice that’s low in carbs and given that it’s made with cauliflower, pretty nutrient-dense, too. It’s generally pretty simple to make, too. Just chop up your cauliflower into easy-to-handle pieces, then pulse in a food processor until you get the desired rice-like consistency.
Feller’s go-to way to enjoy cauliflower rice is in a vegetable stir fry with carrots and broccoli. You can also swap it for regular rice in homemade sushi or Mexican-style burrito bowls. Or, better yet, dip your florets in buffalo sauce for a plant-based version of buffalo wings.
Try it: Cauliflower fried rice
Tired of using quinoa or brown rice as a hearty salad base? Give cauliflower a go. Lambert suggests finely slicing it up (or ricing it) before tossing it in. Then you can add whatever other ingredients you’d like, which is easy to do given that the veggie is a blank slate and pairs well with a variety of flavors.
Try it: Grain-free cauliflower tabbouleh
Ditch the mashed potatoes and opt for some mashed cauliflower instead. Lambert recommends steaming the cauliflower in chicken broth with garlic for some added flavor until super soft, then mashing it up like you would potatoes. Voilà! You’ve got a creamy, low-carb side dish.
Try it: Cauliflower mashed potatoes
Craving something warm and soothing? Cauliflower has your back. Lambert recommends sautéing your cauliflower first with onions, garlic, and fennel. Then, add broth and cook until it’s tender. Next, puree it until it’s smooth. And lastly, top it with a drop of truffle oil for good measure.
Try it: Sweet potato cauliflower soup
Surprise: cauliflower can make many milkshakes and smoothies convincingly creamy. There’s a reason why so many health pros love to include it in their a.m. drinks.
Sometimes you just don’t have time to roast or rice your own cauliflower. So, the next best thing is to purchase your cauliflower pre-made from the grocery store. Trader Joe’s, for example, has cauliflower in rice form, gnocchi, and pizza crust. You can’t go wrong with any of those options. Take the blank slate that is your cauliflower product and jazz it up with sauces, spices, and any other ingredients you fancy.
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