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10 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Cauliflower to Your Diet

author image Kristen Mancinelli MS, RD
Kristen Mancinelli, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian specializing in the science of popular diets. She is author of "The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss". Mancinelli holds a master's degree in nutrition and public health from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from NYU.

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10 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Cauliflower to Your Diet
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Cauliflower is a member of the brassica, or cabbage, family, which also includes broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts. Also known as cruciferous vegetables, they have potent anticancer properties thanks to certain sulfur-containing compounds unique to this genus. In addition, cauliflower boasts high amounts of vitamins C, K and folate (a B vitamin) as well as potassium. One medium-size head of cauliflower has only 150 calories and provides 12 grams of fiber. Cauliflower comes in white, orange, green and purple varieties, and it’s best to cook it briefly to avoid losing essential nutrients. When buying, choose cauliflower heads that are uniform in color, feel very solid and have no loose sections or brown spots. You can store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Cauliflower is an autumn vegetable, but it’s available year-round in the grocery store. If you’re looking for something more interesting than bland boiled cauliflower, read on for 10 new ways to prepare this versatile vegetable.

1. Cauliflower “Buffalo Wings”
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1 Cauliflower “Buffalo Wings”

Cauliflower can get a bad rap for being the boring white addition to the “healthy” fresh-vegetable platter listed on appetizer menus nationwide -- often alongside more exciting and less healthful items like nachos and chicken wings. To have a little more fun with a healthy ingredient, Gabrielle Ettlinger, vegan chef and graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, recommends a twist. “One unorthodox way to eat cauliflower is as a vegan replacement for buffalo wings,” Ettlinger recommends. Most recipes call for a breading made of soymilk and some type of flour, which is used to coat the cauliflower before baking to create the “skin.” “You can make a gluten-free version using garbanzo flour or experiment with colored varieties of cauliflower for a visual flair. “I recently made the dish with broccoflower. It’s a cross between broccoli and cauliflower,” so it has the same nutritional benefits, including good amounts of vitamins C and folate.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

2. Cauliflower “Rice”
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2 Cauliflower “Rice”

Many health-conscious eaters looking for lower-carb alternatives to starchy grain dishes will be delighted to learn that “ground” cauliflower is a fantastic substitute in dishes that call for rice or even couscous. And it’s simple to make: Just chop a head of cauliflower into pieces small enough to fit in a food processor and pulse until you have what looks like couscous or very small grains of rice. The mix cooks more quickly than rice -- simmer for three to five minutes in water or vegetable broth, then strain. One cup of boiled cauliflower has only 30 calories and 2 grams of net carbs (5 grams total carbs minus 3 grams of fiber) as compared to one cup of brown rice (220 calories and 40 grams of net carbs) or couscous (176 calories and 34 grams of net carbs).

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

3. Roasted Spiced Cauliflower
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3 Roasted Spiced Cauliflower

Cauliflower is prized by cooks for its versatility as a meal ingredient. The neutral taste of this cruciferous vegetable makes it a veritable spice canvas, able to take on any flavor combination you want to create. Simply roasting it brings out a natural sweetness: Toss the cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake until the florets turn brown and develop a surprising caramel-like flavor. If you’re in the mood for something more exotic, try a cumin, paprika and cayenne spice combination. Another option is to try a mix of cauliflower with broccoli, another highly nutritious cruciferous vegetable. Certain sulfur-containing compounds that are released when you chop or chew cruciferous vegetables support detoxification pathways that help the body eliminate carcinogens.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

4. Cauliflower Chips
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4 Cauliflower Chips

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a chip as “a small, thin slice of food.” But who says chips have to be made from potatoes and fried in loads of oil and salted? Cauliflower chips are so easy to make and much more nutritious than potato chips. Baking your own at home allows you to control the amount of oil, sodium and seasonings. There are hundreds of ways to flavor your chips, but the simplest preparation calls for salt, pepper and olive oil. Simply slice cauliflower florets very thin (a quarter-inch to a half-inch thick), toss them with olive oil and bake in one layer on a baking sheet. You can add lemon juice for a tart flavor, garlic salt or smoked paprika for some spice, or even cayenne for a hot version.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

5. Cauliflower Pizza Crust
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5 Cauliflower Pizza Crust

“I love cauliflower for its versatility in the kitchen,” says Beth Konopka Bergmann, certified personal trainer and co-owner of Bergmann Fitness in New York City. “Cauliflower is very low in calories and packs a powerful nutrient punch. It’s the vegetable I recommend most to clients on lower-carb diets who want to avoid bread and doughy foods. Believe it or not, cauliflower can even stand in for pizza crust!” Bergmann’s favorite cauliflower-pizza-crust recipe calls for pulsing roasted cauliflower in a food processor and mixing with cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. You then lay the mixture on a pizza stone or baking sheet lined with parchment paper and shape into a pizza crust. Once baked, you can top with roasted vegetables, cheese and sauce to make a healthy, crunchy pizza.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

6. Pickled Cauliflower
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6 Pickled Cauliflower

Isothiocyanates, like the widely studied sulforaphane, also have antitumor properties. They work by turning on genes that activate cell-death pathways in cancer cells. In other words, they actually tell cancer cells to kill themselves off! To keep this important cancer-fighting vegetable within easy reach, try making pickled cauliflower. Just steep thinly sliced cauliflower in a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sugar and spices. The pickled-cauliflower slices are ready after being refrigerated for one week and can be stored up to three weeks. Add them as a tart and tasty side to sandwiches, salads or dinner plates. Another tip? You can pickle the cauliflower with other veggies of your choice -- carrots, beans, cucumbers, etc.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

7. Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”
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7 Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”

If you want to get more nutrition and fewer calories out of your side dishes, try swapping nutritious cauliflower for typical recipes that call for starchy white potatoes. “One of my favorite side dishes is cauliflower puree,” says Devon Dionne, certified holistic health coach and GYROTONIC® instructor at Open Sky Fitness in Los Angeles. A cup of boiled potatoes has 135 calories compared to just 30 calories in a cup of boiled cauliflower. “I bring the puree to all holiday events and place it next to the mashed potatoes,” Dionne says. Her favorite recipe couldn’t be simpler: It calls for one head of cauliflower pureed with a small amount of butter, kosher salt and pepper to taste. “Many guests don’t even notice the difference; they only compliment on how light, fluffy, and delicious the “potatoes” taste!”

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

8. Sweet Caramelized Cauliflower
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8 Sweet Caramelized Cauliflower

“Cauliflower can be overlooked because it is not as flashy as kale or broccoli,” says Christy Meyers, holistic health counselor and co-owner of How to Chow in Los Angeles. Studies show that vitamin K, which is five times as plentiful in cauliflower as it is in potatoes, increases bone mineral density and reduces fractures. And the white florets contain more than two times as much vitamin C -- essential for immune-system function and skin health -- as a spud. For a sweeter taste, caramelize the cauliflower (roast on high until the edges are brown and crispy, about 45 minutes) and pair with caramelized onions if you’d like. “This is a great side dish for dinner parties because even those watching their waistline can indulge,” says Meyers.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

9. Simple Sautéed Cauliflower
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9 Simple Sautéed Cauliflower

Cauliflower is the chicken of the vegetable kingdom: It takes on any wonderful flavor you wish,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, author of “The Elimination Diet Workbook.” People who remember the off-putting taste of boiled cauliflower from childhood may never have learned to like the vegetable as adults. Actually, raw or lightly cooked cauliflower has a very mild flavor. It’s the prolonged cooking that produces the compound hydrogen sulfide, which creates this strong, unappealing flavor. For a better approach, Moon recommends skipping the boiling process. “It’s easy to kill off the nutrients that way,” Moon says. “Personally, I like cauliflower braised or lightly sautéed with a simple soy vinaigrette (olive oil, soy sauce, apple-cider vinegar and crushed garlic). Cauliflower is a surprisingly excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

10. Cauliflower Soup
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10 Cauliflower Soup

A common way to prepare cauliflower is as a puree in soups, either on its own with seasonings or mixed with other vegetables commonly used in pureed soups, such as carrot or leeks. Creamy versions will use milk or heavy cream as a base, while lighter recipes call for chicken or vegetable stock or just plain water. Studies show that eating cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower reduces the risk of cancer. This protection is attributed to glucosinolates, compounds found in high amounts in cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage, which stimulate detoxification of carcinogens and prevent mutations in DNA. Cutting or chopping cruciferous vegetables enhances the activity of these cancer-fighting nutrients, while extended boiling at high temperatures reduces their effect. It’s best to steam or blanche cauliflower briefly in hot water to reduce the loss of these important cancer-fighting nutrients. Cook cauliflower uncovered to start to allow volatile acids, which give an unpleasant flavor, to escape, then cover to finish. Once steamed, cauliflower can be easily pureed in a blender with liquid to a creamy consistency.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

Cauliflower: The New “It” Veggie
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Cauliflower: The New “It” Veggie

Think of cauliflower as a nutrient-dense, calorie-light canvas for cooking. It can stand in for potatoes and other calorie-dense starches like rice, polenta or even pizza crust for a lower-calorie meal. Add spices to simple roasted cauliflower, or use the vegetable to add lightness to heavier dishes like creamed soups.

Related: 5 Tricky Vegetables and How to Eat Them

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Do you cook with cauliflower? What are some of your favorite recipes? Have you tried any of those listed above? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: 14 Foods to Help Keep You Lean

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