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Food Of The Week : Cauliflower

The milk, sweet, almost nutty flavor of cauliflower is at its best from December through March when it is 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

·       Description

·       History

·       How to Select and Store

·       How to Enjoy

·       Safety

·       Nutritional Profile

·       References

Health Benefits

Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale, contain compounds that 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.

Sulfur-Containing Phytonutrients Promote Liver Detoxification

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 Expands our Understanding of How Cruciferous Vegetables Help Prevent Cancer

New research has greatly advanced scientists' understanding of just how cruciferous 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.

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.

An in vitro study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that sulforaphane can also help stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth.

Sulforaphane may also offer special protection to those with colon cancer-susceptible genes, suggests a study conducted at Rutgers University and published online on May 4, 2006, in the journal Carcinogenesis.

In this study, researchers sought to learn whether sulforaphane could inhibit cancers arising from one's genetic makeup. Rutgers researchers Ernest Mario, Ah-Ng Tony Kong and colleagues used mice bred with a genetic mutation that switches off the tumor suppressor gene known as APC, the same gene that is inactivated in the majority of human colon cancers. Animals with this mutation spontaneously develop intestinal polyps, the precursors to colon cancer. The study found that animals who were fed sulforaphane had tumors that were smaller, grew more slowly and had higher apoptotic (cell suicide) indices. Additionally, those fed a higher dose of sulforaphane had less risk of developing polyps than those fed a lower dose.

The researchers found that sulforaphane suppressed certain kinase enzymes. These cell signaling enzymes are expressed not only in laboratory animals, but also in humans, and the ones supppressed by sulforaphane are involved in activities that promote colon cancer.

According to lead researcher, Dr. Kong, "Our study corroborates the notion that sulforaphane has chemopreventive activity! Our research has substantiated the connection between diet and cancer prevention, and it is now clear that the expression of cancer-related genes can be influenced by chemopreventive compounds in the things we eat."

Human population as well as animal studies consistently show that diets high in cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, are associated with lower incidence of certain cancers, including lung, colon, breast and ovarian cancer. Now, research published in the International Journal of Cancer (Zhao H, Lin J) suggests that bladder cancer can join the list.

University of Texas researchers analyzed the diets of 697 newly diagnosed bladder cancer cases and 708 healthy controls matched by age, gender and ethnicity. Average daily intake of cruciferous vegetables was significantly lower in those with bladder cancer than in healthy controls.

Those eating the most cruciferous vegetables were found to have a 29% lower risk of bladder cancer compared to participants eating the least of this family of vegetables.

Crucifers' protective benefits were even more pronounced in three groups typically at higher risk for bladder cancer: men, smokers, and older individuals (aged at least 64).

Diagnosed in about 336,000 people every year worldwide, bladder cancer is three times more likely to affect men than women, according to the European School of Oncology.

Crucifers' well known cancer-fighting properties are thought to result from their high levels of active phytochemicals called glucosinolates, which our bodies metabolize into powerful anti-carcinogens called isothiocyanates.

Isothiocyanates offer the bladder, in particular, significant protection, most likely because the majority of compounds produced by isothiocyanate metabolism travel through the bladder en route to excretion in the urine, suggested the researchers.

Optimize Your Cells' Detoxification / Cleansing Ability

For about 20 years, we've known that many phytonutrients work as antioxidants to disarm free radicals before they can damage DNA, cell membranes and fat-containing molecules such as cholesterol. Now, new research is revealing that phytonutrients in crucifers, such as cauliflower, work at a much deeper level. These compounds actually signal our genes to increase production of enzymes involved in detoxification, the cleansing process through which our bodies eliminate harmful compounds.

The phytonutrients in cruciferous vegetables initiate an intricate dance inside our cells in which gene response elements direct and balance the steps among dozens of detoxification enzyme partners, each performing its own protective role in perfect balance with the other dancers. The natural synergy that results optimizes our cells' ability to disarm and clear free radicals and toxins, including potential carcinogens, which may be why crucifers appear to lower our risk of cancer more effectively than any other vegetables or fruits.

Recent studies show that those eating the most cruciferous vegetables have a much lower risk of prostate, colorectal and lung cancer-even whencompared to those who regularly eat other vegetables:

In a study of over 1,200 men, conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, those eating 28 servings of vegetables a week had a 35% lower risk of prostate cancer, but those consuming just 3 or more servings of cruciferous vegetables each week had a 44% lower prostate cancer risk.

In the Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer, in which data was collected on over 100,000 people for more than 6 years, those eating the most vegetables benefited with a 25% lower risk of colorectal cancers, but those eating the most cruciferous vegetables did almost twice as well with a 49% drop in their colorectal cancer risk.

A study of Chinese women in Singapore, a city in which air pollution levels are often high putting stress on the detoxification capacity of residents' lungs, found that in non-smokers, eating cruciferous vegetables lowered risk of lung cancer by 30%. In smokers, regular cruciferous vegetable consumption reduced lung cancer risk an amazing 69%!

How many weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables do you need to lower your risk of cancer? Just 3 to 5 servings-less than one serving a day! (1 serving = 1 cup)

To get the most benefit from your cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, be sure to choose organically grown varieties (their phytonutrient levels are higher than conventionally grown), and steam lightly (this method of cooking has been shown to not only retain the most phytonutrients but to maximize their availability).

For a brief overview of the process through which cruciferous vegetables boost our ability to detoxify or cleanse harmful compounds and examples of how specific phytonutrients in crucifers work together to protect us against cancer, see our FAQ: Optimizing Your Cells' Detoxification/Cleansing Ability by Eating Cruciferous Vegetables.

A Weekly Serving of Cruciferous Vegetables Halves Advanced Prostate Cancer Risk

A study of 29,361 men, enrolled on the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial found that men who ate more than a serving of either broccoli or cauliflower each week almost halved their risk of developing advanced-stage prostate cancer (cancer that had spread beyond the prostate gland), compared with their peers who ate these vegetables less than once a month.

Specifically, compared to men eating broccoli just once a month, those eating a weekly serving lowered their risk of advanced prostate cancer by 45%. Cauliflower was even a bit more protective. Compared to men eating one serving of cauliflower per month, those enjoying a weekly serving lowered their risk of advanced prostate cancer by 52%. (Kirsch VA, Peters U. et al., J Natl Cancer Inst.)

Spicing Your Cauliflower with Turmeric Could Help Promote Men's Health

Prostate cancer-the second leading cause of cancer death in American men with 500,000 new cases appearing each year-is a rare occurrence among men in India, whose low risk is attributed to a diet rich in Brassica family vegetables and the curry spice, turmeric.

Scientists tested turmeric, a concentrated source of the phytonutrient curcumin, along with phenethyl isothiocyanates, a phytonutrient abundant in cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and turnips.

When tested singly, both phenethyl isothiocyanate and curcumin greatly retarded the growth of human prostate cancer cells implanted in immune-deficient laboratory animals. In animals with well-established prostate cancer tumors, neither phenethyl isothiocyanate nor curcumin by itself had a protective effect, but when combined, they significantly reduced both tumor growth and the ability of the prostate cancer cells to spread (metastasize) in the test animals.

The researchers believe the combination of cruciferous vegetables and curcumin could be an effective therapy not only to prevent prostate cancer, but to inhibit the spread of established prostate cancers.

Best of all, this combination-cauliflower spiced with turmeric-is absolutely delicious! The best way to prepare it is to cut cauliflower florets in quarters and let them sit for 5-10 minutes; this allows time for the production of phenethyl isothiocyanates, which form when cruciferous vegetables are cut, but stops when they are heated. Then sprinkle with turmeric, and healthy saute on medium heat in a few tablespoons of vegetable or chicken broth for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and top with olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste.

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in laboratory animals, 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 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during the follow-up period.

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.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Consumption of cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, is known to reduce the risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, colon, breast, ovarian and bladder cancer. Now, research reveals that crucifers provide significant cardiovascular benefits as well.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii have shown that, at the tiny concentration of just 100 micromoles per liter, a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables, indole-3-carbinol, lowers liver cells' secretion of the cholesterol transporter, apolipoproteinB-100 by 56%! Apolipoprotein B-100 (apoB) is the main carrier of LDL cholesterol to tissues, and high levels have been linked to plaque formation in the blood vessels.

When liver cells were treated with I-3-C, not only was apoB-100 secretion cut by more than half, but significant decreases also occurred in the synthesis of lipids (fats), including triglycerides and cholesterol esters. (Maiyoh GK, Kuh JE, et al., J Nutr.)

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 that 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 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 phytonutrients 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 phytonutrients 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 saute cauliflower with garlic, minced ginger and tamari.

For cauliflower with a vivid yellow color, "healthy saute" 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 and Goitrogens

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. For more on this subject, please see "What are goitrogens and in which foods are they found?"

Cauliflower and Purines

Cauliflower contains naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called "gout" and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as cauliflower. For more on this subject, please see "What are purines and in which foods are they found?"

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 that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System.

Cauliflower, boiled
1.00 cup
124.00 grams
28.52 calories

Nutrient

Amount

DV
(%)

Nutrient
Density

World's Healthiest
Foods Rating

vitamin C

54.93 mg

91.5

57.8

excellent

vitamin K

11.17 mcg

14.0

8.8

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

omega 3 fatty acids

0.21 g

8.8

5.5

very good

manganese

0.17 mg

8.5

5.4

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%


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