Fighting Cancer With Cauliflower

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea Botrytis) takes its name from the Latin caulis (cabbage) and flower. It’s actually a variety (breed or race) of the species Brassica oleracea, to which cabbagekalecollardskholrabiBrussels sprouts, broccoli, and broccolini also belong. It belongs to the Brassicaceae family, along with along with bok choyrapininapa cabbage, turnipsmustardwatercressarugularadishes, and horseradish. Cauliflower has a compact head (called a “curd”), with an average size of six inches in diameter, composed of undeveloped flower buds attached to a central stalk. 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, orange, and purple colors. Between the large, protective leaves and the florets are smaller, tender leaves that are edible.

Cauliflower originated sometime after the turn of the first century AD, most likely in Cyprus. The first reliable reference to cauliflower is found in the writings of the Arab Muslim scientists Ibn al-‘Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Cauliflower was introduced to France from Italy in the middle of the 16th century. It was popular at the court of Louis XIV, where it was served in rich, elegant dishes. Cauliflower was introduced in England in the early 17th century. Thomas Jefferson, an avid gardener, recorded his planting of cauliflower, along with broccoliradishes, and lettuce on May 27, 1767; however, cauliflower did not become popular in America until the 1920s. As with broccoli, cauliflower was much more popular in ethnic communities, especially with Italians, and was not developed commercially until the 1920s.

Cauliflower is very low in calories: one cup of raw cauliflower provides only 26 calories. However, it provides several health-benefiting nutrients in addition to being very low in fat and containing no cholesterol.

Dozens of studies have linked cauliflower to cancer prevention, particularly with respect to bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. Cauliflower helps fight three cancer-promoters: toxins, free radicals, and chronic inflammation. Cauliflower can:

  1. Eliminate toxins: Exposure to toxins can damage your cells and eventually increase their risk of becoming cancerous. Cauliflower contains antioxidants that boost Phase 1 detoxification, and sulfur-containing nutrients to boost Phase 2 detoxification. Cauliflower also contains phytochemicals called glucosinolates that can help activate detoxification enzymes and regulate their activity. Three glucosinolates in cauliflower are glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin, and gluconasturtiian. While the glucosinolate content of cauliflower is significant, cauliflower contains about 25% the total glucosinolates of Brussels sprouts, about 50% as much as Savoy cabbage, about 60% as much as broccoli, and about 70% as much as kale.
  2. Fight free radicals: The chronic presence over overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and the cumulative damage to our cells by these molecules, known as oxidative stress, is a risk factor for the development of most cancer types. Cauliflower is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C (one cup of raw cauliflower provides about 51.56 milligrams of vitamin C, or 86% of the Daily Value), and a very good source of the antioxidant mineral manganese. It also contains several antioxidant phytochemicals that help lower the risk of oxidative stress in your cells, and therefore help lower your cancer risk. 
    • Carotenoids, in addition to protecting your cells from the damaging effects of free radicalsalso provide a source of vitamin A
      • Beta carotene also enhances the functioning of your immune system, and helps your reproductive system function properly. Beta-carotene is a more powerful antioxidant than retinoid vitamin A and not only protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including your blood vessels) from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in your blood stream. Only after it has been oxidized does cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls, initiating the development of atherosclerosis, whose end result can be a heart attack or stroke. Free radical damage is a contributing factor in many other conditions as well, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Beta-carotene also helps to internally protect your skin from sun damage by both deflecting and repairing cell damage caused by excessive ultraviolet exposure, and helps prevent premature wrinkling, acne, dry skin, pigmentation, blemishes, and uneven skin tone.
      • Beta-crpytoxanthin also reduces your risk of lung cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory polyarthritis.
    • Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that fight aging and prevent disease. They include:
      • Quercetin, which may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, allergies, and other conditions.
      • Kaempferol, which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities. It seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
      • Rutin, can be helpful in maintaining rigid blood vessels, minimizes bleeding or bruising from injury, improves circulatory problems, including varicose veins and poor circulation, helps your body use vitamin C and maintain collagen, treats glaucoma, hay fever, hemorrhoids, oral herpes, cirrhosis, cataracts and glaucoma, reduces weakness in the blood vessels and the resultant hemorrhages, relieves pain from bumps and bruises, reduces serum cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol, lowers the risk of heart disease, and can be useful in treating rheumatic diseases such as gout, arthritis, edema, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease.
    • Hydroxycinnamic acids, which are potent antioxidants that keep your body’s cells safe from harmful free radicals, act as anti-inflammatories, keep your blood healthy, prevent cancer and much more. They include:
      • Caffeic acid, which is highly protective in your body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes.
      • Ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant that may also prevent bone degeneration and cancer, protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, reduce hot flashes associated with menopause, and treat diabetes.
  3. Fight chronic inflammation: Chronic inflammation can significantly increase your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K, which regulates your inflammatory response. It also contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation. In addition, your body can convert one of the glucosinolates in cauliflower, glucobrassicin, into an isothiocyanate (ITC) molecule called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C is a plant sterol that enhances DNA repair, and acts as an estrogen antagonist, slowing the growth of cancer cells. Because I3C works at the genetic level, it can prevent chronic inflammation at a very early stage.
    • Support your cardiovascular health: Chronic inflammation creates problems for your blood vessels and circulation. The anti-inflammatory nutrients in cauliflower, including vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids, also support your cardiovascular health. Glucoraphanin is another glucosinolate in cauliflower that is converted into the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane whenever cauliflower is chopped or chewed. Sulforaphane not only fights chronic inflammation in your cardiovascular system, it may even help prevent and reverse damage to your blood vessels.
    • Reduce your risk for other inflammation-related health problems: The anti-inflammatory nature of glucosinolates and other nutrients in cauliflower can help reduce your risk for Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.
  4. Support your digestive health: Cauliflower contains nearly 24 grams of fiber (nearly half the Daily Value) in a 200-calorie servings. In addition, the sulforaphane made from the glucosinolate called glucoraphanin in cauliflower can help protect the lining of your stomach from cancer and ulcers by preventing the overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacteria to your stomach wall.
  5. Prevent infections: Di-indolyl-methane (DIM), a fat-soluble compound in cauliflower, is an immune modulator, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral compound. DIM has been used to treat recurring respiratory papillomatosis caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and may treat cervical dysplasia.
  6. Boost your metabolismCauliflower contains good amounts of many vital B-complex vitamins such as folatevitamin B6pantothenic acidriboflavinthiamine, and niacin, which are essential for fatprotein, and carbohydrate metabolism.  

Nutrients in 1 Cup Raw Cauliflower (107 grams)



Daily Value

vitamin C

51.57 mg


vitamin K

16.59 mcg



60.99 mcg



47.40 mg


vitamin B6

0.20 mg



319.93 mg



2.14 g



0.17 mg



5.35 mcg


pantothenic acid

0.71 mg



0.02 g



47.08 mg



0.039 mg



2.05 g



4.97 g



16.05 mg



0.06 mg



0.05 mg



0.54 mg



0.45 mg



0.27 mg


vitamin A

13 IU



30 mg



22 mg






0.6 mcg



0.28 g


vitamin E

0.08 mg



0 mg


The flavor of cauliflower is at its best from December through March when it is in season and most plentiful in your local markets.

When purchasing cauliflower, look for fresh heads featuring clean, creamy white, compact, even heads that feel heavy in hand.  Heads that are surrounded by many thick green leaves are better protected and will be fresher. Size is not related to quality, so choose one that best suits your needs. Spotted or dull-colored cauliflower should be avoided, as well as those in which small flowers appear. A grainy surface and separated bud clusters indicate over-maturity, while green coloration may be due to over-exposure to sunlight. Avoid heads with bruised surfaces, as they indicate poor handling of the flower, and those with dark color patches, as they indicate a mold disease known as downy mildew.

Store fresh cauliflower in a paper bag in the refrigerator set on higher relative humidity, 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, eat them within one or two days, as they will lose their freshness after that. Because cooking causes cauliflower to spoil quicker, eat it within two to three days of placing in the refrigerator after cooking.

To wash, place the rinsed head upside down in a large bowl of cold water or salt water brine for about 15-20 minutes to ensure removal of any insects, soil, or pesticide sprays. Gently pat dry using a soft cloth. Remove tough stem and leaves. 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.

Cut cauliflower florets into quarters and let sit for at least 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting benefits. Raw cauliflower is firm yet a bit spongy in texture. It has a slightly sulfurous and faintly bitter flavor. Because of its shape and taste, raw cauliflower florets make wonderful crudite for dipping in sauces.

Cauliflower contains phytochemicals that release sulfur compounds when heated. The odors from these compounds 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 blanch the cauliflower.

Microwaving cauliflower is easy and preserves the most nutrients. Put cauliflower in a microwave-safe dish. Cover tightly and microwave 5 to 7 minutes. Steaming preserves flavor, texture, and nutrition. Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to a boil in a pot. Arrange florets evenly in a steamer basket, making sure the water does not seep into the bottom of the basket. Cover and steam for about 5 minutes. You can also stir-fry cauliflower by cutting the head into bite-sized florets. Heat a small amount of oil or broth in a large skillet or wok, add florets and stir-fry over medium-high heat until just crisp-tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

To sauté cauliflower, heat 5 tablespoons of vegetable broth in a stainless steel skillet. When bubbles begin to form, add cauliflower florets (cut into quarters) and turmeric, cover, and sauté for 5 minutes. Toss with your favorite seasonings or dressing.

The creamy-white flower heads of cauliflower are favored in variety of delicacies world-wide. Cauliflower mixes well with vegetables, lentils, and chickpeas. It is also widely used in pickling.

Cauliflower florets can be added to a pasta bake, to casseroles and to make curry or soup. Puree cooked cauliflower, add fennel seeds and your other favorite herbs and spices and serve as soup. Aloo-gobi (potato-cauliflower) is a very popular dish in south Asian countries, especially in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Gobi-Manchurian is another popular snack in India and China in which fried cauliflower florets are mixed with Chinese-style sauces.

If you’re watching calories or carbohydrates, try making cauliflower rice to replace regular rice. To make rice from cauliflower, first wash it and trim the leaves and stems. Chop into small pieces and then run those pieces through a food processor with the grating attachment. This will result in a rice-like consistency. Place the cauliflower rice in a large skillet with a spritz of olive oil or a little broth and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and you are good to go. Serve your normal vegetable and bean dishes over a bed of cauliflower rice just as you would traditional rice.

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