Comfort Food Healthy Hack: Cauliflower

Comfort food is defined as: “Food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any food with a high sugar or (high) carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.” When we are stressed, tired, lonely and/or bored, comfort foods seem to signal us with their beacon of consolation. Pizza, mashed potatoes, bread, rice, ice cream, candy. “Cauliflower” definitely doesn’t come to mind. We seek them out to soothe ourselves emotionally; looking for a fast fix to calm ourselves down. But so-called comfort foods that are high in sugar and high in simple carbs create the perfect storm for unhealthy eating that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  

What if you could take a super healthy vegetable and recreate a few comfort foods? You might muse “Apple Pie”? Sorry, with its high sugar content and a crust made from trans and saturated fats and white flour that’s not exactly a “healthy” comfort food. This comfort food re-creation needs to provide the health benefits of vegetables and the satisfaction of a comfort food. Dilemma? Maybe not. 

What vegetable could possibly do all this? Cauliflower. Cauliflower is listed as number 24 on the CDC’s list of powerhouse vegetables and is one of the most versatile vegetables when it comes to re-inventing your favorite comfort foods like pizza, mashed potatoes, rice and even some delicious savory sauces. Its health benefits are extensive and it’s super easy to prepare in a variety of ways that ‘hack’ many of your favorite typically carbohydrate heavy foods.

To reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and lower your risk of early death, you need to eat more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables EVERY day. The greatest health benefits roll in when you eat 10 servings EVERY day. Researchers found that if every one of us ate 10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables (or about 28 ounces) 7.8 million deaths could be prevented worldwide. Take a minute now and do a ’24-hour recall” test- have you eaten this many servings in the last day? How many did you get? Does your fruit and vegetable intake need to improve?

Discovering cauliflower’s versatility means you can easily add a few servings of this vegetable each week AND feel as if you are indulging in your favorite comfort foods. Cauliflower gives you a win/win when it comes to health benefits, flavor, satiety and comfort.  

Cauliflower Nutrition

Cauliflower is low in calories and packed with nutrients. 

One cup of raw cauliflower provides: 

  • Just 25 calories
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • Loaded with Vitamin C (77% of RDA)
  • A good source of Vitamin K (20% RDA) 
  • Provides more than 10 % of The RDA for important B vitamins like Vitamin B 6 (11 % RDA) pantothenic acid (7% RDA) and folate ( 14 % RDA). 
  • It’s also provides potassium (9 % RDA) and other important minerals like manganese (8% RDA), magnesium (4% RDA) and phosphorus (4% RDA)

Most of us recognize the white version of cauliflower, but if you take a trip to a farmers market you may be surprised to find cauliflower in a few of its more spectacular colors; you can find it in beautiful shades of purple, green and orange.

Cauliflower belongs to a group of vegetables known as “Cruciferous Vegetables”. There is no set dietary standard for how many servings you need to have every week, but studies seem to indicate that getting about 5 servings per week is a good goal to aim for to reap the specific health benefits. The name ‘cruciferous’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘crucifix’ because the blossoms on cruciferous plants resemble a cross. Other cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, kale, arugula, cabbage, turnips, radishes, bok choy and Brussel sprouts.  

Health Benefits of Cauliflower

  • High in Fiber: Cauliflower is high in fiber which helps with weight loss and overall health. There are 3 grams of fiber in one cup of raw cauliflower. The American Heart Association says our daily goal for fiber is between 25 -30 grams but most of us only get about half that much. A high fiber intake reduces our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and intestinal conditions such as constipation, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer. A high fiber intake also helps with weight loss and prevents obesity. Fiber fills you up and keeps you feeling full for long periods of time which means you eat fewer calories.  
  • Antioxidant Rich: Cauliflower is plentiful in antioxidants which lower oxidative stress and reduce cellular damage.  
    • Sulforaphane: This powerful antioxidant is linked to stopping cancer growth. Studies indicate it’s benefits include being protective against colon and prostate cancers, as well as pancreatic, leukemia, breast and melanoma cancers. Because of its ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, Sulforaphane also has heart healthy effects, reducing blood pressure and keeping arteries healthy. It also helps in diabetes prevention and reduces the risks of diabetes complications like heart and kidney disease.
    • Glucosinolates: Cauliflower is high in the antioxidant known as glucosinolate which is protective against certain cancers like lung, colon, breast and prostate. Glucosinolates have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties 
    • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Most of us think that we can get most of our Vitamin C from citrus, but one cup of raw cauliflower provides 77% of our daily requirement for Vitamin C. By boosting our immune system and lowering inflammation, Vitamin C helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers.  
  • Brain Health: Cauliflower is rich in Choline, providing about 11 % of the RDA. Choline is a difficult nutrient to get enough of in our diet but is essential to neurological health and brain health, maintaining cell membrane health and metabolism. It helps prevent cholesterol from building up in the liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and can help prevent degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.  

Cauliflower Comfort Food Hacks:

Cauliflower is the number one vegetable to help you reduce your simple carbohydrate intake and feel the sumptuous comfort that you crave. With its mild nutty taste and fibrous consistency, it can be transformed into your favorite comfort foods in a pinch of time and without busting your budget. 

  • Cauliflower Rice: Regular white rice is a favorite comfort food and cheap meal expander to fill your up and raise your comfort feelings. But regular white rice offers almost zero nutritional value and packs a whopping 45 grams of simple carbohydrates that skyrocket your blood sugar quickly. Too many simple carbs lead to weight gain, are inflammatory and contribute to diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Here is your rice hack: Take raw cauliflower and either grate it or pulse it quickly in a food processor. Press between paper towels to reduce the moisture content. This ‘rice’ has only 5 carbs and all the great nutrition and health benefits that cauliflower provides. You can quickly cook and prepare it as you would your favorite rice recipes; heating it gently and quickly to preserve nutrients. With a tablespoon of heart healthy olive oil, you can make a quick ‘fried rice’ version of your favorite recipes and enjoy. Many groceries now offer grated and ‘riced’ cauliflower for convenience.  
  • Cauliflower Pizza: Nothing says ‘comfort’ like pizza. But pizza is typically a carbohydrate landmine disaster area with its white flour crust; and seriously, who can stop at just one slice? Frozen pizzas are worse with their extremely high sodium levels and nefarious processed food additives and chemicals. A quick google search will reveal a myriad of ways to prepare a fresh low carb pizza crust made with cauliflower. Here is an excellent and easy to follow recipe for Cauliflower Pizza crust. You can look for frozen ‘riced’ cauliflower to save prep time. Top with extra veggies like peppers, mushrooms, onions and you could possibly get 3-4 servings of vegetables in one meal!  All the comfort and taste and none of the detrimental health effects of regular pizza. 
    • Note: You may come across many varieties of frozen cauliflower pizza when shopping the frozen food sections in your grocery. READ the ingredients and look for words you can pronounce and are familiar with (aka- ‘real’ food ingredients) and watch the sneaky sodium contents. More often than not, the processed versions of this Healthy Hack contain many additives and are high in sodium so you are better off with a few ingredients in your own kitchen. 
  • Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes: Who can resist the savory comfort that a side of mashed potatoes can bring to your dinner plate? Add the butter and cream and you can quickly demolish your weight loss goals. White potatoes are a vegetable, yet they are very high in carbohydrates and will alter blood sugar levels which is why they contribute to weight gain. Cauliflower to the rescue! Steam cauliflower for about 10 minutes (no more or you start to lose the nutrient values). You can create a mock version of your favorite mashed potato recipe by just substituting the cooked cauliflower for cooked potatoes. There are a variety of ways to reduce the saturated fats that would come with using heavy cream; try reduced fat milk and use olive oil in place of butter or try half olive oil and half of the usual butter you typically use.
  • Cauliflower Potato Salad: Again, here is a great way to increase your vegetable intake, reduce the carbs and get some jam-packed nutrition of a traditional comfort food like potato salad. Here is an excellent recipe (Cauliflower Potato Salad); just make sure you use a heart healthy avocado mayo when you make it.  

Comfort foods that boost your vegetable intake and nutrients in lieu of the high carb traditional favorites can help you lose weight and prevent disease. With a few of these “hacks” you can enjoy and not feel deprived of the taste, comfort and variety of your favorites.   

By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach