Cauliflower is a nutritional powerhouse — providing antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber and other important nutrients. Although cauliflower benefits and side effects vary from person to person, for most people, eating this cruciferous vegetable is a positive step toward good health.
With many people choosing to eat a low-carb or gluten-free diet, you'll find cauliflower in a variety of products — from cauliflower "rice" to cauliflower crust pizza. However, you'll get the greatest benefits from cauliflower when it's closest to its natural form.
For some people, there may be adverse effects of eating cauliflower. Gas is one possible outcome, or others may find they have a cauliflower allergy. Work with your doctor if you suspect cauliflower gas or allergies are causing digestive distress or other symptoms.
Cauliflower Packs a Nutritional Punch
Cauliflower was included on a list of so-called "powerhouse fruits and vegetables" (PFV) in a June 2014 study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a peer-reviewed public health journal sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study defined PFV foods as those providing at least 10 percent of the daily value per 100 calories of 17 qualifying nutrients.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of chopped raw cauliflower weighing around 107 grams contains about 27 calories, 2 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs and 0.3 grams of fat. It contains several important vitamins and minerals as well, including vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, potassium, choline and folate.
Cauliflower also contains fiber — about 2 grams in the same serving above, says the USDA — which contributes to satiety and may assist with weight loss and digestion. Eating dietary fiber from all kinds of fruits and vegetables can help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, normalize bowel movements, and decrease the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and all cancers, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Cauliflower Benefits and Side Effects
As far as cauliflower benefits and side effects go, most people stand to gain from adding this vegetable to their diet. Cauliflower, along with other cruciferous vegetables, is a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates.
When consumed, these glucosinolates form various compounds — one of which is an antioxidant known as indole-3-carbinol, or I3C, explains the American Institute for Cancer Research. I3C suppresses the proliferation of certain cancer cells, including breast, colon, prostate and endometrial, according to June 2018 research published in F1000Research.).
Other benefits of cauliflower include its ability to contribute to memory, mood, muscle control and proper nervous system functioning, due to the choline content, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Vitamin K in cauliflower may aid bone health when consumed in tandem with calcium, according to a February 2015 study published in Integrative Medicine.
Note that vitamin K can adversely react with blood-thinning drugs, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you use a blood thinner, check with your doctor before eating high amounts of cauliflower.
Other possible cauliflower side effects include a cauliflower allergy. Although rare, cauliflower allergy can cause an allergic reaction in the mouth. Proteins in cauliflower and other types of vegetables or fruits can cause this reaction because they mimic certain allergy-causing proteins in pollen, explains the Mayo Clinic.
In addition, some people may experience cauliflower gas as a result of the sugar known as raffinose in cauliflower. Raffinose gas can result from eating not only cauliflower, but also beans, whole grains, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus and many other vegetables, says the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
Cauliflower and Iodine
There's some evidence that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables may be associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer, but only in iodine-deficient areas, according to a meta-analysis published in Nutrition and Cancer in May 2015. The research implies that the link between thyroid cancer and dietary factors, such as cruciferous vegetables, can vary based on iodine availability.
Iodine is a mineral found naturally in certain foods, including fish, seaweed, dairy products, grain-based products like cereal and bread, iodized salt and fruits and vegetables. Amounts in fruits and vegetables differ based on the iodine content of the soil and any fertilizer used to grow them.
The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones, which control the body's metabolism and other important bodily functions, says the NIH. It's also needed for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
Certain groups are more prone to becoming iodine-deficient, such as those who don't use iodized salt or pregnant women, according to the NIH. Among those prone to deficiency are people who lack iodine in their diet and who also eat foods containing goitrogens. Goitrogens, which are present in cauliflower and certain other foods, are a type of substance that interferes with the way the body uses iodine.
However, the NIH notes that most people in the United States get enough iodine from foods and beverages. As such, eating cauliflower and other foods containing goitrogens isn't concerning for most people.
When consumed as part of a regular diet, cauliflower typically offers more advantages than drawbacks. Versatile, tasty and nutrient-rich, it can be a beneficial addition to your weekly grocery list.
- Mayo Clinic: "Food Allergy"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cauliflower, Raw"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: AICR's Foods That Fight Cancer™: "Broccoli & Cruciferous Vegetables"
- Nutrition and Cancer: "Dietary Factors Affecting Thyroid Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iodine"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Preventing Chronic Disease: "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach"
- F1000Research: "Indole-3-Carbinol: A Plant Hormone Combatting Cancer"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Foods That May Cause Gas"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why Vitamin K Can Be Dangerous If You Take Warfarin"
- National Institutes of Health: "Choline"
- Integrative Medicine: "Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health"