“If cauliflower can somehow become pizza, you can do anything” goes the popular quote on social media. It’s funny because it’s a bit absurd--that a vegetable which, not long ago, could’ve been voted “most likely to be left behind on a veggie tray” has suddenly rocketed to foodie fame, being transformed into everything from pizza crust to Buffalo “wings”. This trend is a good thing, right?
First, a misunderstanding to correct: White veggies have a reputation for being nutritionally wimpy, but that’s actually not the case--especially with cauliflower. It’s a cruciferous veggie related to broccoli, and the compounds that produce a strong odor when cooking it are the same ones that give is potential cancer-fighting properties. The veggie is also a surprisingly good source of vitamin C and contains a couple grams of fiber per cup, plus potassium and folate.
The surge in popularity is likely driven by low-carb and vegan diets, with people seeking out either grain-free or meat- and animal-product-free versions of their favorites. Cauliflower is a relatively bland veggie, and it’s also versatile--you can chop it into “rice”, grill thick slices as “steaks”, bread and bake it into “nuggets”, pulverize and form it into “breadsticks”, or even whirl frozen florets into a smoothie to add volume (seriously--it’s good!).
As a dietitian, I love trends that mean eating more vegetables, since most people are falling short of the daily recommendations. And if cauliflower can help people manage a special diet, I’m all for it.
But there are a few things to keep in mind. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable and contains a carbohydrate called raffinose that the body can’t entirely digest. For some people, that can cause gas. Plus, the fiber in cauliflower, while good for the body, can also trigger gas and bloating. That’s especially true if you weren’t eating a high-fiber diet and suddenly add in loads of cauliflower. Give your body time to adjust by gradually increasing how much fiber you eat (and drinking plenty of water).
Cauliflower is also a source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. Some people who take blood-thinning medications (like warfarin) are advised to eat a diet low in vitamin K, and the National Institutes of Health cautions that a sudden change in vitamin K intake can lead to bleeding. Cauliflower doesn’t have nearly as much K as veggies like spinach and Brussels sprouts do, so standard servings of cauliflower aren’t likely to pose a problem. But if you start eating lots of it daily and take blood thinners, it’s smart to check in with your doctor just to be safe.
Lastly, a word of caution that just because something is gluten-free or vegan doesn’t automatically make it wholesome, nutritious, or low in calories. There’s no doubt that a bowl of cauliflower “rice” is much lower in calories than the real deal, but that’s not the same for everything. I recently tried a cauliflower crust pizza at a restaurant that was tasty, noticing later that it actually had the same calories and even a bit more fat than the regular crust. And a cauliflower crust feels a little beside the point if it’s loaded down with, say, bacon, sausage, and extra cheese. Oh, and brownies made with cauliflower are, well, still brownies. So go ahead and use cauliflower in all kinds of ways--but use common sense too!