Cauliflower Versus Broccoli

| Post published on May 5, 2022
minute reading time

They belong in the same family and so have much in common, yet each has its own distinctive qualities


Powerful family

Broccoli and cauliflower are from the cruciferous vegetable family, also called brassicas. This large family includes Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard/spring greens, horseradish, kale, bok choy, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rocket, watercress and wasabi.

All cruciferous vegetables contain very powerful natural compounds called glucosinolates that have strong cancer-fighting effects. They break down into other compounds, such as isothiocyanates, in your body and these are believed to be responsible for the main health benefits. Research suggests that eating cruciferous veggies regularly may help to protect us against many types of cancer, particularly digestive tract cancers, breast, lung, prostate and kidney.

To make the most of glucosinolates, you need an enzyme that’s already in the veggies and helps them break down and do their magic but it can get destroyed by heat. Hence it’s best to eat cruciferous vegetables raw or lightly steamed. When you do cook them, you can get around this problem by adding a pinch of mustard powder after cooking – it contains the necessary enzyme and so gives you the full health benefits.


Main differences

Broccoli has slightly more glucosinolates than cauliflower but both are excellent sources. Purple sprouting broccoli contains even more than regular broccoli as well as extra antioxidants. Coloured varieties of cauliflower tend to have more antioxidants than white cauliflower – essentially, the darker the colour, the more health-protecting compounds the vegetable has.

Another advantage that broccoli offers is beta-carotene – your body uses it to make vitamin A and it is also an antioxidant important for healthy skin and lung function. Beta carotene is a rare exception in that cooking makes it more bioavailable – cooked broccoli contains more than raw!

Broccoli is also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. They accumulate in the retina of the eye and protect it from blue light. All the carotenoids together – beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin – help to prevent age-related macular degeneration, a disease that causes vision loss. As carotenoids are only found in yellow, orange, red and dark green veggies, white cauliflower doesn’t contain any.

Broccoli also wins big when it comes to vitamin K – just one serving covers your daily needs. Cauliflower is a good source but doesn’t come close to broccoli. Vitamin K plays an important role in healthy blood clotting, calcium metabolism and regulates the inflammatory response of the body.

And broccoli also offers more vitamin E – crucial for healthy skin and cells, calcium for healthy bones and muscle function and iron, vital for oxygen transport by blood. It has a little more protein and fibre too but that’s mainly because cauliflower has a higher water content – more of its weight is taken up by water.


What they have in common

Both vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C – broccoli has more but roughly one serving of either will cover your daily needs. Bear in mind that the values are for raw and lightly cooked veggies – if you boil them till they’re mushy or put them in a soup and cook it for more than five minutes, vitamin C levels considerably reduce. The longer the food is cooked, the more vitamin C is destroyed.

Broccoli and cauliflower – raw or cooked – are good sources of B vitamins, with the exception of vitamin B12 (there’s none). B vitamins are needed for energy metabolism, healthy cell and brain function, the immune system and red blood cell formation. Both vegetables contain similar amounts and cooking doesn’t affect them much.

Another similarity between the two is their magnesium and potassium content – these minerals help to maintain healthy muscle and nerve function, fluid balance, energy metabolism and support a steady heartbeat.

Nutrients in 100 gBroccoli - rawBroccoli - boiledCauliflower - rawCauliflower - boiledRecommended daily intake (RDI)
Energy34 kcal35 kcal25 kcal23 kcal2,000-2,500 kcal
Protein2.8 g2.4 g1.9 g1.8 g55-70 g
Fibre2.6 g3.3 g2 g2.3 g30 g
Folate63 µg108 µg57 µg44 µg200 µg
Beta-carotene0.36 mg = 0.03 mg vitamin A0.93 mg = 0.08 mg vitaminA00RDI for vitamin A is 0.6-0.7 mg
Vitamin C89 mg65 mg48 mg44 mg40 mg
Vitamin E1.44 mg2 mg0.08 mg0.07 mg3-13 mg
Vitamin K102 µg141 µg15.5 µg13.8 µg70 µg
Calcium47 mg40 mg22 mg16 mg700 mg
Magnesium21 mg21 mg15 mg9 mg300 mg
Potassium316 mg293 mg299 mg142 mg3,500 mg
Iron0.73 mg0.67 mg0.42 mg0.32 mg8.7-14.8 mg


Making the most of them

Numerous studies showed that how you prepare a meal greatly affects its nutritional content. Both broccoli and cauliflower have the highest amounts of antioxidants and other health-boosting compounds when they’re raw. The next best thing is steaming, until the veggies are just a little soft but not mushy – a few minutes at most. On the other hand, the method that costs you most nutrients is boiling in water because many simply leach into the water and disappear down the drain.


And the winner is!

It probably comes as no surprise that broccoli is the winner here. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid cauliflower because both are great, nutritious foods worthy of a regular spot on your menu. In fact, eating one portion of either daily can help prevent many diseases such as cancer and heart disease.


About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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