Nutrients in Cauliflower
Perhaps because the most commonly consumed varieties of cauliflower are white, many people may not associate cauliflower with the same nutrient richness as its fellow green cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale. This perspective on cauliflower does not match up with the research findings on this amazing food. White varieties of cauliflower are just as rich in phytonutrients as green cruciferous vegetables, and this nutrient richness is exemplified by its glucosinolates, described below.
The phytonutrients provided by cauliflower are headed off by its glucosinolates. These sulfur-containing compounds are well studied and known to provide a variety of health benefits. The glucosinolates best studied in cauliflower include:
Glucosinolates are the subject of increasing health research, and the more that is learned about glucosinolates, the broader scientists see their role in supporting our body systems. The list of body systems supported by intake of glucosinolates from cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables has now come to include our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, inflammatory, and detoxification systems.
Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower’s key antioxidant phytonutrients. An emphatic addition to this list would be vitamin C since cauliflower is our 10th best source of vitamin C among all 100 WHFoods. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is also a very good source of manganese—a mineral antioxidant that is especially important in oxygen-related metabolism.
Recent research has begun to investigate the relationship between cauliflower’s overall anti-oxidant capacity and its sulfur-containing glucosinolates. The glucosinolates in cauliflower appear to have an important relationship with its antioxidant capacity, although scientists are not yet sure about the exact role that glucosinolates play in this regard.
A final note about cauliflower antioxidants: the Graffiti variety of purple cauliflower has been the subject of several recent research studies and has been shown to have especially strong antioxidant capacity due to its rich concentration of anthocyanins. If you decide to incorporate purple cauliflower into your meal plan, we recommend that you be extra careful to avoid overcooking it.
Research studies on anthocyanins in cauliflower have shown that the greatest proportion of these antioxidant pigments is found in the outermost layers of the cauliflower head and this location makes them especially susceptible to loss from overcooking.
Intake of cauliflower has been analyzed in relationship to a variety of different disease risks. When consumed at least once per week, cauliflower has been associated with decreased risk of colorectal cancer and has been shown to be associated with a greater decrease of risk than broccoli (when consumed in a comparable amount). In terms of prostate cancer risk, cauliflower and broccoli have shown a similar ability to decrease risk. While we have not seen individual studies focused exclusively on the relationship between cauliflower and cardiovascular diseases, cauliflower has been included along with other cruciferous vegetables (most commonly broccoli and cabbage) in studies on cardiovascular diseases and has been repeatedly associated with decreased risk. Because of its ability to bind bile acids, intake of cooked cauliflower has also been linked to better regulation of blood cholesterol. In one study focusing on intake of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts in middle-aged women, incidence of obesity was reduced when women in the study increased their servings over time by about 3 servings per day.