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Cauliflower

The milk, sweet, almost nutty flavor of cauliflower is at its best from December through March when they are in season and most plentiful in your local markets.

Cauliflower lacks the green chlorophyll found in other members of the cruciferous family of vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and kale, because the leaves of the plant shield the florets from the sun as they grow. It has a compact head (called a "curd"), usually about six inches in diameter that is composed of undeveloped flower buds. The flowers are attached to a central stalk.

 


Health Benefits

Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale, have compounds which may help prevent cancer. These compounds appear to stop enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body, and they increase the activity of enzymes that disable and eliminate carcinogens.

Epidemiological studies have long suggested a connection between these vegetables and resistance to cancer. However, only in the past decade have we begun to understand how these compounds work.

Glucosinolates

We now know that cruciferous vegetables contain both glucosinolates and thiocyanates (including sulforaphane and isothiocyanate). These compounds increase the liver's ability to neutralize potentially toxic substances.

If potentially toxic molecules are not properly and rapidly detoxified in the liver, they can damage cell membranes and molecules such as DNA within the cell nucleus. Such damage can start a chain reaction that may eventually lead to carcinogenesis--cell deregulation and uncontrolled growth.

Many enzymes found in cauliflower also help with the detoxifying process. These enzymes include glutathione transferase, glucuronosyl transferase, and quinone reductase.

Both animal and human studies show increased detoxification enzyme levels from high-glucosinolate diets. Researchers suggest that this helps explain the epidemiological association between a high intake of cruciferous vegetables and a decreased risk of certain cancers.

New Research Explains How Brassica Vegetables Prevent Cancer

New research has greatly advanced scientists’ understanding of just how Brassica family vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts help prevent cancer. When these vegetables are cut, chewed or digested, a sulfur-containing compound called sinigrin is brought into contact with the enzyme myrosinase, resulting in the release of glucose and breakdown products, including highly reactive compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are not only potent inducers of the liver’s Phase II enzymes, which detoxify carcinogens, but research recently conducted at the Institute for Food Research in the U.K. shows one of these compounds, allyl isothicyanate, also inhibits mitosis (cell division) and stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human tumor cells.

Cell replication (when the parent cell divides to form two daughter cells) occurs in a four-stage process. After the cell divides (the first stage), pole structures are created called spindles (the second or metaphase). If anything interferes with the construction and deconstruction of these spindles, the cell division process stops, and the damaged cells commit suicide. The IFR team, led by Ian Johnson, has shown that isothiocyanate disrupts the metaphase, thus preventing the cell division of the colon cancer cells. Their research will be published in the July 2004 issue of Carcinogenesis. (June 3, 2004)

Sulforaphane, a compound formed when cruciferous vegetables are chopped or chewed, is already known to trigger the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, inhibit chemically-induced breast cancers in animal studies, and induce colon cancer cells to commit suicide. Now, a study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows sulforaphane also helps stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth. (October 19, 2004)

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one July 2004 study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in guinea pigs, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as cauliflower, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on 73 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and 146 similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during follow-up between 1993 and 2001. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.

Description

Cauliflower, a cruciferous vegetable, is in the same plant family as broccoli, kale, cabbage and collards. It has a compact head (called a “curd”), with an average size of six inches in diameter, composed of undeveloped flower buds. The flowers are attached to a central stalk. When broken apart into separate buds, cauliflower looks like a little tree, something that many kids are fascinated by.

Surrounding the curd are ribbed, coarse green leaves that protect it from sunlight, impeding the development of chlorophyll. While this process contributes to the white coloring of most of the varieties, cauliflower can also be found in light green and purple colors. Between these leaves and the florets are smaller, tender leaves which are edible.

Raw cauliflower is firm yet a bit spongy in texture. It has a slightly sulfurous and faintly bitter flavor.

History

Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have originated in ancient Asia Minor, which resembled kale or collards more than the vegetable that we now know it to be.

The cauliflower went through many transformations and reappeared in the Mediterranean region, where it has been an important vegetable in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C.

It gained popularity in France in the mid 16th century and was subsequently cultivated in Northern Europe and the British Isles. The United States, France, Italy, India and China are countries that produce significant amounts of cauliflower.

How to Select and Store

When purchasing cauliflower, look for a clean, creamy white, compact curd in which the bud clusters are not separated. Spotted or dull-colored cauliflower should be avoided, as well as those in which small flowers appear.

Heads that are surrounded by many thick green leaves are better protected and will be fresher. As its size is not related to its quality, choose one that best suits your needs.

Store uncooked cauliflower in a perforated paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to a week. To prevent moisture from developing in the floret clusters, store it with the stem side down.

If you purchase pre-cut cauliflower florets, consume them within one or two days as they will lose their freshness after that. Since cooking causes cauliflower to spoil quicker, consume it within two to three days of placing in the refrigerator after cooking.

How to Enjoy

Tips for preparing cauliflower

Cauliflower florets are the part of the plant that most people eat. However, the stem and leaves are edible too and are especially good for adding to soup stocks.

To cut cauliflower, first remove the outer leaves and then slice the florets at the base where they meet the stalks. You can further cut them, if you desire pieces that are smaller or of uniform size. Trim any brown coloration that may exist on the edges.

Cauliflower contains phytochemicals that release odorous sulfur compounds when heated. These odors become stronger with increased cooking time. If you want to minimize odor, retain the vegetable's crisp texture, and reduce nutrient loss, cook the cauliflower for only a short time.

Some phytochemicals may react with iron in cookware and cause the cauliflower to take on a brownish hue. To prevent this, add a bit of lemon juice to the water in which you blanche the cauliflower.

A few quick serving ideas:

Healthy Sauté cauliflower with garlic, minced ginger and tamari.

For cauliflower with a vivid yellow color, boil it briefly with a spoonful of turmeric or generous pinch of saffron.

Puree cooked cauliflower, add fennel seeds and your other favorite herbs and spices and serve as soup.

Because of its shape and taste, cauliflower florets make wonderful crudite for dipping in sauces.

Safety

Cauliflower contains goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid cauliflower for this reason. Cooking may help inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in cauliflower.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.

 

Cauliflower (boiled, drained)
1.00 cup
28.52 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 54.93 mg 91.5 57.8 excellent
folate 54.56 mcg 13.6 8.6 excellent
dietary fiber 3.35 g 13.4 8.5 excellent
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.21 mg 10.5 6.6 very good
tryptophan 0.03 g 9.4 5.9 very good
manganese 0.17 mg 8.5 5.4 very good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.21 g 8.4 5.3 very good
vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.63 mg 6.3 4.0 very good
potassium 176.08 mg 5.0 3.2 good
protein 2.28 g 4.6 2.9 good
phosphorus 39.68 mg 4.0 2.5 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.06 mg 3.5 2.2 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.05 mg 3.3 2.1 good
magnesium 11.16 mg 2.8 1.8 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.51 mg 2.5 1.6 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Cauliflower

References

  • Beecher C. Cancer preventive properties of varieties of Brassica oleracea: a review. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(Suppl):1166S-70S.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Faulkner K, et al. Selective increase of the potential anticarcinogen methylsulphonylbutyl glucosinolate in broccoli. Carcinogenesis 1998;19(4):605-9.
  • Jackson SJ, Singletary KW. Sulforaphane inhibits human mcf-7 mammary cancer cell mitotic progression and tubulin polymerization. J Nutr. 2004 Sep;134(9):2229-36.
  • Johnson IT. Glucosinolates: bioavailability and importance to health. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2002 Jan;72(1):26-31.
  • Johnson IT. Vegetables yield anticancer chemical. Institute of Food Research, News Release, May 10, 2004. http://www.ifr.ac.uk .
  • Lampe JW, King IB, Li S, et al. Brassica vegetables increase and apiaceous vegetables decrease cytochrome P450 1A2 activity in humans: changes in caffeine metabolite ratios in response to controlled vegetable diets. Carcinogenesis. 2000 Jun;21(6):1157-62.
  • Pattison DJ, Silman AJ, Goodson NJ, Lunt M, Bunn D, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Day N, Symmons DP. Vitamin C and the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis: prospective nested case-control study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Jul;63(7):843-7.
  • Thimmulappa RK, Mai KH, Srisuma S et al. Identification of Nrf2-regulated genes induced by the chemopreventive agent sulforaphane by oligonucleotide microarray. Cancer Res 2002 Sep 15;62(18):5196-5203.
  • Verhoeven D, et al. A review of mechanisms underlying anticarcinogenicity by brassica vegetables. Chemico-Biological Interactions 1997;103(2):79-129.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

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This page was updated on: 2004-11-19 13:51:51

 

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