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Vegetable of the Week #13: Cauliflower

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

There are reasons why cauliflower is so popular! It is a delicious way to replace grains and carbohydrates of many kinds. Cauliflower is also a significant source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and folate. It contains choline, an essential nutrient that is involved in brain development.  It is a wonderful source of antioxidants like sulforaphane and isothiocyanates, protecting against cancer and reducing inflammation.

Let’s talk about folate, one of those nutrients in cauliflower, for a minute.  Our bodies need the natural form of B9, folate, not the synthetic form, folic acid. Folate is often focused on during pregnancy for its importance to the developing fetus. However, it is essential throughout our lives. Some of folate's many functions include its involvement in cell division, crucial for growing children. It also helps red blood cells transport oxygen to our bodies throughout our lives. Furthermore, it supports the functioning of the neurologic system. Folic acid, which is added to fortified foods and in many multivitamins, is chemically different from folate and may be harmful in excess. How? It competes with folate when binding to receptors and will win due to greater affinity for the receptors. The result? Our cells cannot use the natural folate. Thankfully, it is impossible to get excess folate from natural foods. Folate is protective against cancer; conversely, there have been studies that suggest that excess folic acid from vitamins is cancer promoting. Suggested upper limits of folic acid daily intake from fortified foods (think: cereals) or supplements are around 300 mcg (ages 1-3), 400 mcg (ages 4-8), 600 mcg (ages 9-13), 800 mcg (ages 14-18, and 1000 mcg for adults. For example, a bowl of cereal may contain up to 400 mcg of folate.

Many websites are very confusing in that they still use folate and folic acid interchangeably. Just remember, if a site is referring to a natural food source, it is talking about folate. Spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, avocado, broccoli, and green peas are some other foods with significant amounts of folate.

Back to cauliflower: if you are, like me, not a big fan of plain cauliflower, cauliflower rice may be a good substitute. It is widely available in fresh and frozen form, or you can chop up your own.

Here are two tips to make the perfect cauliflower rice:

1) Remember that cauliflower rice will absorb flavors very well, even better than rice grains. For example, be careful with the amount of soy sauce you add if making cauliflower rice for stir fry or you will end up with very salty rice!

2) Leave the top off of your pan if you want a more firm texture, closer to that of rice grains. If you cover the cauliflower rice it will of course steam and reach a nice tender texture but is definitely different from that of rice grains.

If your kids can see through your attempts to replace favorite dishes with cauliflower, ie the noodles in macaroni and cheese, try only replacing a portion of the noodles to start. And don’t forget, it can take at least ten tries of a food for kids to decide it is palatable. Consistency is key!  

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