Cauliflower: cruciferous crusader of healthy eating

Thursday, May 11, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz


Cauliflower is an interesting food for a few reasons.  Firstly, most white foods (from white flour, white rice, etc) aren’t particularly nutritious, but cauliflower is.  Secondly, cauliflower is extremely versatile and can be used raw or cooked in a range of sizes from full white trees to rice-sized grains. Due to its flexibility in size and cooking methods, and the fact that it IS white means it can easily be disguised so that even people who say “they don’t like cauliflower” can unknowingly and happily eat it and enjoy all of the health benefits.  We’ll give you a couple of great “hidden” cauliflower ideas to try out.

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Despite its pale color, it has very high nutrient density, similar to its more brightly colored cousins.  Loaded with important phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, cauliflower is a nutritional force to be reckoned with.

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in the phytonutrient group of glucosinolates, which are high in sulfur (hence their unique smell when these vegetables are cooked, and uh….may make a sneaky reappearance after eating).  According to numerous studies, these glucosinolates can help prevent cancer cells from growing because of their role in DNA repair and slowing the growth of mutated cancer cells. Cauliflower is second only to broccoli in glucosinolate content.

Cauliflower’s rich mix of nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds helps lower oxidative stress and combat DNA damaging free-radicals. It is widely accepted that high levels of inflammation in the body leads to increased risks of numerous modern (and often preventable) chronic lifestyle diseases affecting the body’s cardiovascular, metabolic, and even neurological systems. Nutrients like choline, minerals such as potassium and Vitamins C (by weight, cauliflower contains almost as much C as an orange!), Vitamin K, and B6 are the champions here, helping to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.  We devoted a generous amount space to the important benefits of Vitamin B6 in last week’s article on potatoes, so we’ll focus on Vitamin K in this article.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and helps maintain calcium levels and bone mineral density, helping you to avoid deeply unpleasant conditions like osteoporosis, stress fractures, and even tooth problems. Equally importantly, Vitamin K is critical for proper blood clotting and has been directly linked with reducing inflammation in the body.  While calcium is very helpful in your bones and teeth, it is not good in your arteries (eg calcification of your arteries can cause plaque build-ups that lead to heart attacks).  Vitamin K transports calcium out of your arteries, further enhancing its heart-healthy status.  Vitamin K has also been effective in preventing and stabilizing several types of cancers.

Many poor dietary norms (high calorie, highly processed foods with low nutrient density) as well as numerous cholesterol-lowering drugs, prolonged use of antibiotics, and IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) can lead to a Vitamin K deficiency and a rise of further inflammatory issues throughout the body.  Eating cauliflower and other Vitamin K rich foods (kale, broccoli, cucumbers) can help combat this inflammation.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs a source of fat to be absorbed in the intestines and utilized in your body.  Therefore, eating cauliflower in combination with a healthy fat like olive or coconut oil or paired with a fatty fish like salmon is important for maximum nutrient uptake and nutritional benefit.  Here’s my first cauliflower disguise (for people who don’t like cauliflower):

Cauliflower can be easily “riced”...i.e. You can take the florets and either manually grate them (watch the fingertips) or grate or pulse them in a food processor or blender until they are the size of grains of rice.  Now, they are easy to hide, easier to digest, and you only need to cook them for a minute, so you preserve all of the nutrients.  Take your cauliflower “rice” and mix that in during the last minute of cooking when you’re next preparing black quinoa.  Serve that black and white, gluten-free, grain-free, richly textured, and nutrient dense mixture with a side of wilted spinach and a piece of steamed, grilled, or sauteed salmon; drizzle some nice peppery extra virgin olive oil over the top, a squeeze of lemon and you’ll have an amazingly easy, delicious, incredibly nutritious, and visually appealing dinner on the table in 15 minutes.  If you need further preparation instructions, please contact me via email or tweet me at

Nutritional profile- for one cup (approx 125 g) raw cauliflower

Nutritionally, cauliflower is extremely low in calories (29 kcal), has virtually zero grams of fat, very low levels of carbs (5 g) and sugar, while being high in overall volume due to its high water and fiber (3 g) content. Cauliflower contains 77% of the DV for Vitamin C, 20% of the DV for Vitamin K, 14% of the DV for folate, 11% of the DV for Vit B6 and choline, and smaller amounts of many other nutrients.For those people looking to control calories and lose weight, cauliflower should be high on your list of foods to eat often.  

My colleague Leilah has served up another beauty this week, with her Cauliflower and Wild Mushroom Pancakes recipe. These are fabulous, either on their own as a delicious vegetarian main course, or paired with a strong and succulent meat like a grilled rack of lamb or venison loin.  Alternatively, try them with a firm and flavorsome fish like a seared tuna steak or grilled monkfish.  Hungry yet?

Cauliflower and genetics

Genes that are impacted by cauliflower consumption

If you enjoyed this article, please check out my other FitnessGenes food blogs:

How do you choose your foods?

Avoid dietary failures with technology and personalization

Potatoes,  Cashews,  Tomatoes, Blueberries,  Eggs, Quinoa, Borlotti Beans, Almonds, Teff, Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas

Out of the kitchen, I also cover the following topics for FitnessGenes:

Savings, Longevity, and the Year in Fitness

3 Pro-basketball players in the same family?

Jamaican sprinting/African distance running dominance

A genetic overview of an Olympic rower

5 things I learned from my DNA test


References and for further reading:

3 Easy Ways You Can Get Started

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