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Broccoli vs Cauliflower - In-Depth Nutrition and Health Comparison

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Broccoli
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Cauliflower

Introduction

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.

Classification

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.

Appearance

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).

Growing Conditions

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).

Varieties

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. 

Nutrition

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.

Calories

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.

Carbohydrates

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.

Vitamins

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.

Minerals

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.

Glycemic Index

Broccoli and cauliflower, like most vegetables, have low glycemic indices. The glycemic index of both vegetables is estimated to be around 32.

Acidity

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.

Weight Loss

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).

Health Impact

Health Benefits

As cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli have been proven to possess many benefits for human health.

Cardiovascular Health

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, have been studied to promote cardiovascular health and overall longevity (6).

Diabetes

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.

Cancer

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).

Summary

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.

Sources.

  1. https://www.livescience.com/39578-why-some-hate-broccoli.html
  2. https://leafyplace.com/types-of-cauliflower/
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41438-020-00375-0
  4. http://www.arrowscientific.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61:ph-values-of-foods-and-food-products&catid=17&Itemid=31
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578962/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21593509/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29457582/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6669329/
  9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jdi.12376
  10. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/cruciferous-vegetables
  11. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2012/503241/
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Profession: Yerevan State Medical University
Last updated: November 30, 2020

Infographic

Broccoli vs Cauliflower infographic
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Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Contains more Iron +73.8%
Contains more Calcium +113.6%
Contains more Magnesium +40%
Contains more Copper +25.6%
Contains more Zinc +51.9%
Contains more Phosphorus +50%
Equal in Potassium - 299
Equal in Sodium - 30
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 28% 15% 28% 15% 17% 12% 29% 5%
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 16% 7% 27% 11% 14% 8% 19% 4%
Contains more Iron +73.8%
Contains more Calcium +113.6%
Contains more Magnesium +40%
Contains more Copper +25.6%
Contains more Zinc +51.9%
Contains more Phosphorus +50%
Equal in Potassium - 299
Equal in Sodium - 30

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
Contains more Vitamin C +85.1%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +875%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +42%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +95%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +26%
Contains more Vitamin K +555.5%
Contains more Folate +10.5%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +16.4%
Equal in Vitamin B6 - 0.184
Equal in Folate - 57
Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 298% 38% 16% 0% 18% 27% 12% 35% 41% 0% 254% 48%
Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 161% 0% 2% 0% 13% 14% 10% 41% 43% 0% 39% 43%
Contains more Vitamin C +85.1%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +875%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +42%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +95%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +26%
Contains more Vitamin K +555.5%
Contains more Folate +10.5%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +16.4%
Equal in Vitamin B6 - 0.184
Equal in Folate - 57

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
65
Broccoli
30
Cauliflower
Mineral Summary Score
18
Broccoli
13
Cauliflower

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
17%
Broccoli
12%
Cauliflower
Carbohydrates
7%
Broccoli
5%
Cauliflower
Fats
2%
Broccoli
1%
Cauliflower

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Broccoli Cauliflower
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Rich in minerals ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in price Equal

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Broccoli Cauliflower
Low Calories diet ok
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

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Comparison summary

Which food contains less Sodium?
Cauliflower
Cauliflower contains less Sodium (difference - 3mg)
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Broccoli
Broccoli is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.21g)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Broccoli
Broccoli is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.091g)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Broccoli
Broccoli is lower in glycemic index (difference - 32)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Broccoli
Broccoli is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Broccoli
Broccoli is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is cheaper?
?
The foods are relatively equal in price ($0.4)

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Broccoli Cauliflower Opinion
Calories 34 25 Broccoli
Protein 2.82 1.92 Broccoli
Fats 0.37 0.28 Broccoli
Vitamin C 89.2 48.2 Broccoli
Carbs 6.64 4.97 Broccoli
Cholesterol 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Iron 0.73 0.42 Broccoli
Calcium 47 22 Broccoli
Potassium 316 299 Broccoli
Magnesium 21 15 Broccoli
Sugar 1.7 1.91 Broccoli
Fiber 2.6 2 Broccoli
Copper 0.049 0.039 Broccoli
Zinc 0.41 0.27 Broccoli
Starch 0 Broccoli
Phosphorus 66 44 Broccoli
Sodium 33 30 Cauliflower
Vitamin A 623 0 Broccoli
Vitamin E 0.78 0.08 Broccoli
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin B1 0.071 0.05 Broccoli
Vitamin B2 0.117 0.06 Broccoli
Vitamin B3 0.639 0.507 Broccoli
Vitamin B5 0.573 0.667 Cauliflower
Vitamin B6 0.175 0.184 Cauliflower
Vitamin B12 0 0
Vitamin K 101.6 15.5 Broccoli
Folate 63 57 Broccoli
Trans Fat 0 0
Saturated Fat 0.039 0.13 Broccoli
Monounsaturated Fat 0.011 0.034 Cauliflower
Polyunsaturated fat 0.038 0.031 Broccoli
Tryptophan 0.033 0.02 Broccoli
Threonine 0.088 0.076 Broccoli
Isoleucine 0.079 0.071 Broccoli
Leucine 0.129 0.106 Broccoli
Lysine 0.135 0.217 Cauliflower
Methionine 0.038 0.02 Broccoli
Phenylalanine 0.117 0.065 Broccoli
Valine 0.125 0.125
Histidine 0.059 0.056 Broccoli
Fructose 0.68 0.97 Cauliflower

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Broccoli - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170379/nutrients
  2. Cauliflower - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169986/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.