While cauliflower is not a well-studied cruciferous vegetable from a health standpoint, you will find several dozen studies linking cauliflower-containing diets to cancer prevention, particularly with respect to the following types of cancer: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. This connection between cauliflower and cancer prevention should not be surprising, since cauliflower provides special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body’s detox system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly.
Detox Support Provided by Cauliflower
The detox support provided by cauliflower includes antioxidant nutrients to boost Phase 1 detoxification activities and sulfur-containing nutrients to boost Phase 2 activities. Cauliflower also contains phytonutrients called glucosinolates that can help activate detoxification enzymes and regulate their activity. Three glucosinolates that have been clearly identified in cauliflower are glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin, and gluconasturtiian. While the glucosinolate content of cauliflower is definitely significant from a health standpoint, cauliflower contains about one-fourth as much total glucosinolates as Brussels sprouts, about one-half as much as Savoy cabbage, about 60% as much as broccoli, and about 70% as much as kale.
If we fail to give our body’s detox system adequate nutritional support, yet continue to expose ourselves to unwanted toxins through our lifestyle and our dietary choices, we can place our bodies at increased risk of toxin-related damage that can eventually increase our cells’ risk of becoming cancerous. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to bring cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables into our diet on a regular basis.
Cauliflower’s Antioxidant Benefits
As an excellent source of vitamin C, and a very good source of manganese, cauliflower provides us with two core conventional antioxidants. But its antioxidant support extends far beyond the conventional nutrients into the realm of phytonutrients. Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower’s key antioxidant phytonutrients. This broad spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells. Chronic oxidative stress—meaning chronic presence over overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and cumulative damage to our cells by these molecules—is a risk factor for development of most cancer types. By providing us with such a great array of antioxidant nutrients, cauliflower helps lower our cancer risk by helping us avoid chronic and unwanted oxidative stress.
Cauliflower’s Anti-inflammatory Benefits
As an excellent source of vitamin K, cauliflower provides us with one of the hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrients. Vitamin K acts as a direct regulator of our inflammatory response. In addition, one of the glucosinolates found in cauliflower—glucobrassicin—can be readily converted into an isothiocyanate molecule called ITC, or indole-3-carbinol. I3C is an anti-inflammatory compound that can actually operate at the genetic level, and by doing so, prevent the initiation of inflammatory responses at a very early stage.
Like chronic oxidative stress and chronic weakened detox ability, chronic unwanted inflammation can significantly increase our risk of cancers and other chronic diseases (especially cardiovascular diseases).
Cauliflower and Cardiovascular Support
Scientists have not always viewed cardiovascular problems as having a central inflammatory component, but the role of unwanted inflammation in creating problems for our blood vessels and circulation has become increasingly fundamental to an understanding of cardiovascular diseases. The anti-inflammatory support provided by cauliflower (including its vitamin K and omega-3 content) makes it a food also capable of providing cardiovascular benefits. Of particular interest is its glucoraphanin content. Glucoraphanin is a glucosinolate that can be converted into the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane. Not only does sulforaphane trigger anti-inflammatory activity in our cardiovascular system—it may also be able to help prevent and even possibly help reverse blood vessel damage.
Cauliflower and Digestive Support
The fiber content of cauliflower—over 9 grams in every 100 calories—makes this cruciferous vegetable a great choice for digestive system support. Yet the fiber content of cauliflower is only one of its digestive support mechanisms. Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from a glucosinolate in cauliflower (glucoraphanin) can help protect the lining of your stomach. Sulforaphane provides you with this health benefit by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to your stomach wall.
Other Health Benefits from Cauliflower
The anti-inflammatory nature of glucosinolates/isothiocyanates and other nutrients found in cauliflower has been the basis for new research on inflammation-related health problems and the potential role of cauliflower in their prevention. While current studies are examining the benefits of cruciferous vegetables as a group rather than cauliflower in particular, promising research is underway that should shed light on the potential benefits of cauliflower in relationship to our risk of the following inflammation-related health problems: Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.
Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Topping
Author: Oven Love
Recipe type: Main Dish
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 tablespoons fat (lard, tallow, ghee, coconut oil, etc)
1 small onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef or lamb
¼-1/2 cup homemade beef broth
1 tablespoon homemade ketchup or tomato paste (omit if you don’t have a GAPS-legal or Paleo option)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fat (lard, tallow, ghee, etc)
½ cup shredded GAPS-legal cheese (omit for Paleo)
1 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 2-3 quart casserole dish and set aside.
2 In a large pot, steam or boil cauliflower until tender.
3 Heat 2 tablespoons of fat in a large skillet or saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic and cook until beginning to soften, around 5 minutes.
4 Add the ground meat to the pan and cook until browned. Add beef broth as necessary to keep the mixture wet. Add the ketchup or tomato paste (if using), parsley and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer while you prepare the cauliflower topping.
5 To make the topping, drain the cooked cauliflower. Mash or puree with a stick blender until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of fat and season with salt and pepper.
6 To assemble, spread the meat mixture on the bottom of the dish. Top with the cauliflower mixture and smooth with a spoon. Cover with shredded cheese, if using.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbly. Serve warm.