Success is a state of mind.
There’s no denying that cauliflower has overtaken broccoli as the poster child for healthy veggies in recent years. And while it may often be disguised as a chip, pizza crust, or tater tot, grocery shoppers can find cauliflower near the top of the ingredient list of many plant-based foods as a result.
But what does adding the bushy, cream-colored veggie to these products really do from a health standpoint… if anything at all? We spoke with two registered dietitians that looked into the health benefits of foods made with cooked cauliflower as a base. And spoiler: Although they both are strong advocates for eating more veggies whenever possible, how they’re being consumed (or prepared) can play a significant role in their nutritional value. Ahead, a closer look at how cauliflower’s nutritional value can be impacted by cooking and processing—and how to keep all of its health-promoting nutrients intact.
What’s the best way to consume cauliflower to get the most benefits?
According to Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and board-certified sports dietitian based in Miami, there’s no denying that cauliflower is packed with health perks. “Cauliflower contains about two grams of fiber and two of protein, and it’s high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties,” Ehsani says. What’s more, the registered dietitian notes that while you may tend to associate vitamin C with foods like lemons and oranges, cauliflower is also a great source of this immune-boosting vitamin, with about 52 milligrams per cup.
That said, cooked cauliflower is a whole other story. Let’s preface: Although you’ll still get cauliflower benefits no matter how you eat it, the way it’s prepared can drastically alter its nutrient profile. “You absolutely do get health benefits when eating cauliflower in different forms, whether eating it in rice, pizza, chip, or tater tot form,” Ehsani says. However, cooking the veggie at higher temperatures can take a toll on some of its nutrients. “When you cook cauliflower, such as baking cauliflower pizza crust, sauteing cauliflower rice, or air-frying cauliflower tots, heat will diminish some—but not all—of the heat-sensitive vitamins, including vitamin C.”
“When you cook cauliflower, such as baking cauliflower pizza crust, sauteing cauliflower rice, or air-frying cauliflower tots, heat will diminish some—but not all—of the heat-sensitive vitamins, including vitamin C.”
But the impact heat can have on the nutritional value of cauliflower can vary depending on two main factors: How hot and for how long you cook it. “If it’s at very high heat for a long time, more of the vitamin-soluble nutrients will be lost,” Ehsani says.
Meanwhile, Christina Manian, RDN, a Boulder-based registered dietitian and sustainable food systems professional, notes that a few specific cooking methods tend to have the most effect. “Cooking cauliflower will alter its nutrition when compared to raw, as you might imagine. One study found that steaming and boiling cauliflower resulted in a loss of antioxidant activity due to the reduction in active plant compound content, with boiling having the most severe impact,” Manian says.
How different cooking methods can affect the nutritional value of cauliflower
In short: Raw cauliflower = no alteration in nutritional value. That said, not all cooking methods will have the same impact on cauliflower’s nutrient levels. To that end, Manian shares some general guidelines on how this may be the case. “Microwaving usually results in the lowest amount of nutrient losses, steaming is middle of the road, and boiling tends to be the highest,” she says. And even then, not every nutrient will be affected in the same way. “Some foods or nutrients are more stable than others,” Manian adds.
Let’s hone in on two prime examples: water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. “Water-soluble vitamins are, of course, water-soluble; when foods high in these micronutrients are cooked in water, some of those vitamins will leach into the water,” which Manian says isn’t too much of a concern if you intend on consuming the cooking water. (Like in a soup or using it to make a broth.) “But when you’re boiling and draining cauliflower to shred into cauliflower rice or making a cauliflower crust and then discarding that cooking liquid, you’re sending some nutrients down the drain, literally,” she says. Manian explains that the same applies to fat-soluble vitamins when cooked in fat.
On the bright side, Ehsani points out that vitamin K, a carotenoid found in cauliflower, will typically remain largely unaffected by exposure to heat. “The one nutrient we don’t have to worry about being damaged by heat is vitamin K, which is important for bone and blood health. Although Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, it won’t get destroyed by cooking or heat,” Ehsani says.
So, is consuming cauliflower products worthwhile, according to RDs?
“Ultimately, this boils down to—no pun intended—how the cauliflower product was created,” Manian says. She encourages folks to ask questions like: Was the cauliflower cooked beforehand? If so, did it likely entail a cooking method that may have resulted in nutrient loss? And, most importantly, what else was used to make the product? “Are there any mystery additives or excessive amounts of added sugar or sodium on the label?”
Rather than dissecting the “cauliflower” of it all, it’s more about the bigger picture. Nutrition-wise, eating cauliflower is any form is fab—what’s more impactful in terms of your health is whatever you’re eating along with it.
TL;DR? Rather than dissecting the “cauliflower” of it all, it’s more about the bigger picture. Nutrition-wise, eating cauliflower is any form is fab—what’s more impactful in terms of your health is whatever you’re eating along with it. When in doubt, opt for cauliflower that’s as minimally processed as possible, whenever possible.
Get the cauliflower ready. We’re making fried rice tonight: