Broccoli vs Cauliflower - In-Depth Nutrition and Health Comparison
Broccoli and cauliflower are often used in the kitchen together, as they complement each other. Both of these vegetables are cruciferous and have a lot more in common. In this article, we will talk about those similarities, as well as their differences, especially focusing on health and nutrition.
Cauliflower and broccoli share the same species, family and genus. These vegetables belong to the Brassica oleracea species, in the Brassica genus and the Brassicaceae family. What differentiates broccoli and cauliflower is their cultivar. Broccoli belongs to the Italica cultivar, whereas cauliflower is a part of the Botrytis variety.
Broccoli and cauliflower are closely related to cabbage, kale and Brussel sprouts.
The obvious difference between broccoli and cauliflower lies in their colour, broccoli being associated with green and cauliflower with white. Another difference is the edible part of the vegetables: in cauliflower it is only the head, whereas the edible part of broccoli is the flower bud.
Taste and Use
Both broccoli and cauliflower are often used in the same way in the kitchen. They are usually steamed, boiled, roasted or used raw.
The taste of these vegetables is quite distinctly different, with cauliflower having a sweeter taste, while broccoli is usually mildly bitter. However, research has shown that the perception of the bitter taste of broccoli varies from person to person, depending on genetic makeup and other factors (1).
Broccoli is a biennial plant and is considered to be a cool-season crop, meaning it prefers temperatures between 18 to 24°C (64 to 75°F).
Cauliflower, on the other hand, is an annual plant which grows best in temperatures between 21 and 29°C (70 to 84°F).
Both broccoli and cauliflower have dozens of varieties and can appear in many colours, including white, green, purple, orange and yellow.
The four main groups of cauliflower varieties are Italian, Northern European annual, Northern European biennial and Asian. The most commonly used cauliflower is the white cultivar of the Italian variety (2).
Broccoli has three commonly grown types: Calabrese broccoli, sprouting broccoli and purple or violet cauliflower. The purple cauliflower exhibits properties of both broccoli and cauliflower, and it is unclear whether it is a hybrid variety (3). The most commonly used broccoli is the Calabrese broccoli.
Cauliflower and broccoli, as all other cruciferous vegetables, are filled with essential nutrients. Here, we will see which vegetable is richer in these nutrients.
Depending on growing conditions and varieties of the vegetable, the nutrition may differ. In this article we are using nutritional facts about the most common types of broccoli and cauliflower: Calabrese broccoli and white cauliflower.
Macronutrients and Calories
Cauliflower consists of 92% water. Broccoli is a little more dense, with a water percentage of 89.
One average serving of broccoli is larger than that of cauliflower. A serving of broccoli weighs 148g, whereas a serving of cauliflower is 107g or equal to one cup of chopped one half of a cauliflower.
As broccoli is more dense and richer in most nutrients, it has a higher caloric value. A 100g of broccoli contains 34 calories with the same amount of cauliflower containing 25 calories.
Both vegetables are low calorie foods.
Protein and Fats
Broccoli is higher in both protein and fats.
Both vegetables contain some amounts of all essential amino acids. The predominant essential amino acid found in broccoli is tryptophan, while in cauliflower it is lysine. Lysine is the only essential amino acid that cauliflower is richer in, compared to broccoli.
The main fat type in broccoli is the recommended polyunsaturated fatty acid, whereas in cauliflower the saturated fatty acids dominate.
Broccoli is higher in carbohydrates as well, due to a larger amount of dietary fiber.
Cauliflower contains more sugars. The sugars found in cauliflower are glucose and fructose, while broccoli also contains maltose, lactose and sucrose.
Both vegetables are great sources of many vitamins, particularly vitamin C and the folate form of vitamin B9. However, broccoli wins in this category, being richer in almost all vitamins. Broccoli is especially higher in vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2 and vitamin C. Broccoli also contains vitamin A, which is absent in cauliflower.
Cauliflower is slightly higher in vitamin B5 and vitamin B6.
Broccoli and cauliflower both do not contain vitamin D, vitamin B12 and the folic form of vitamin B9.
Broccoli is also the clear winner in the mineral category. It is richer in calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and potassium.
Cauliflower is lower in sodium and richer in choline.
Broccoli and cauliflower, like most vegetables, have low glycemic indices. The glycemic index of both vegetables is estimated to be around 32.
Cooking at high temperatures changes the acidity of vegetables to be more acidic. Overall, broccoli and cauliflower have similar acidities.
The pH of raw cauliflower is 5.6, whereas cooked cauliflower has a pH of around 6.45 to 6.8.
Canned broccoli has a pH ranging from 5.2 to 6. For cooked broccoli the pH becomes equal to 6.3-6.52 (4).
Another way to look at the acidity of foods is the potential renal acid load (PRAL). PRAL shows the capacity of a certain food to produce acid or base compounds inside the body. Based on the PRAL, the acidity of broccoli has been calculated to be -4, making it alkaline. Cauliflower also has an alkaline PRAL, equal to -4.4.
Broccoli and cauliflower, like all cruciferous vegetables, are great choices to incorporate into weight loss diets. Both are low in calories, high in fiber and a great source of nutrients. Cauliflower is lower in calories, but is also slightly higher in sugars.
Cauliflower fits better in low calorie, low fat, low carb diets, however, broccoli is richer in many essential vitamins and minerals. Both fit the low glycemic index diet.
Studies have confirmed that increased vegetable consumption has benefits for preventing long-term weight gain and providing further food-specific guidance for the prevention of obesity, a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and many other health conditions (5).
As cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli have been proven to possess many benefits for human health.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, have been studied to promote cardiovascular health and overall longevity (6).
Overall diabetic patients benefit from diets high in vegetables, however, consumption of cruciferous vegetables has not been substantially associated with risk of type 2 diabetes (7).
Moreover, one study has found an association between cruciferous vegetable intake and a moderately higher risk of type 2 diabetes in US adults, due to a compound called glucosinolate (8).
In contrast, another research has concluded that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables or their fiber is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (9).
All in all, studies on this subject are inconclusive.
Many different studies have found inverse associations between cruciferous vegetable intake and risk of bladder, breast, colorectal, endometrial, gastric, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and renal cancers (10).
Downsides and Risks
Cruciferous vegetables are completely safe for human consumption, as long as they are consumed in moderate amounts and grown in the correct conditions (11). The exception to this are allergies.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation for adults is consuming one and a half to two and a half cup-equivalents of dark-green vegetables per week as part of healthy meals (10).
Broccoli and cauliflower are closely related to each other, being different cultivars of the same species. Broccoli is higher in calories, protein, fats and carbohydrates. However, cauliflower contains more sugars, whereas broccoli is richer in dietary fiber. Broccoli also wins in both, the vitamin and mineral categories, being richer in vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc and phosphorus. Cauliflower, on the other hand, is lower in sodium and contains higher amounts of choline.
Even though broccoli is overall richer in nutrients, both cauliflower and broccoli are full of essential nutrients and have many health benefits. The final choice depends on personal preferences and needs.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Rich in minerals|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in price||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values