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Health: Game for a cauliflower diet?

Relax. This isn't the latest fad diet doing the rounds but how the Armenians refer to the cauliflower. Love it or loathe it, here’s the good, the bad and the flowery about this veggie

Five years ago, fed up of the Atkins diet that she'd opted for, Bengaluru-based writer and Jazz vocalist, Radha Thomas, tried a culinary experiment in the kitchen. Along with her help, Bagya, the 50-year-old whipped up Cauliflower Rice Pilaf.

Phool Gobhi Mussallam featured a whole, baked cauliflower, a take off on a specialty that involves chicken, was on The Bombay Canteen's anniversary menu
Phool Gobhi Mussallam featured a whole, baked cauliflower, a take off on a specialty that involves chicken, was on The Bombay Canteen's anniversary menu

The lone difference: here the rice was also made using the cruciferous veggie — by steaming the florets till they were al dente and later, whirling them into a food processor, so that they resembled grains of cooked rice.

"After the Pilaf, we tried Thaiyir Saadam (curd rice) and by the time we got to Cauliflower Sushi (and about 42 other recipes in between), we knew we were onto something good," shares Thomas, who substituted the vegetable for different types of starch including flour, pasta, cereal and even potato, and compiled her creations — everything from upma and steak to paella, cookies, payasam and even pizza — in a new book titled, The Cauliflower Diet.

Radha Thomas
Radha Thomas

"The simple premise is that since the cauliflower is so low in carbohydrates, it is perfect for anyone on a diet who is cutting back on either carbs or calories. It doesn't matter if you're a vegetarian, a vegan or a meat eater. The diet will work for everyone. We did a lot of trials but not too much error because the cauliflower has no starch or gluten, so it doesn't 'cake' or solidify like rice or flour.

A recipe of Shrimp Fried Rice features in the book too
A recipe of Shrimp Fried Rice features in the book too

If you've tried something and it doesn't taste too terrific, you can always turn it into a pattie, adding some leftover chicken, for example," she shares. The book also packs in nutritional benefits about the veggie. "It contains in-depth research and irrefutable evidence on the health benefits of using the cauliflower in your quest to both, lose weight and be healthy, in addition to having delicious meals," she adds.

The Cauliflower Diet, Radha Thomas, Random House India, Rs 299. At bookstores and e-stores
The Cauliflower Diet, Radha Thomas, Random House India, Rs 299. At bookstores and e-stores

What's cool
> Cauliflower is high in fibre, contains lots of water, no gluten, no cholesterol, no starch or sugar, it's low in fat and rich in several nutrients such as calcium, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K. Since it's gluten and starch free, the rice is works for those with diabetes or heart disease.
> Since half the carb content of a cauliflower is fibre, it works for a low-carb diet. Fibre is key to 'regularity' and metabolism and that's important not only for weight-loss, but for general well-being too.
> By using it as a substitute for rice, wheat, potatoes and flour, the dieter doesn't have to change his/her food habits. For instance, if you eat dal and rice, you can have dal and Cauliflower Rice instead.
> A combination of cauliflower and turmeric has been shown to prevent prostate cancer in men.
> According to the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information, cruciferous vegetables have been associated with a lower risk of cancer.

What's uncool
As with any sort of diet, people should be sensible about making drastic lifestyle changes. Too much of anything is bad, even sunlight. By and large, the cauliflower can be eaten by just about anyone because it's only a vegetable, and not a sinister, genetically modified, malicious assassin. You should avoid in case you have an extreme and rare condition:
> Cut back on the veggie if you've been diagnosed with hypothyroid.
> The fibre content can cause gas (pretty much the same effect if you ate too much rajma).
> You may want to consult your doctor about going on a 'cauliflower only' diet if you're on blood thinners, since cauliflower is high in Vitamin K.

— Information courtesy: Radha Thomas

What experts say

Pros
> The concept encourages one to be creative with food, especially those who love rice and are keen to keep their waistline in check.
> Since the cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous group of vegetables, it’s good for fighting breast cancer.
> The veggie contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby slowing tumour growth.
> It is a powerhouse of anti-oxidants that helps to scavenge free radicals, fighting off pollutants, oxidative stress and ageing.
> A cup of cauliflower has about 27 calories, making it a low-calorie food.

Cons
> Excessive intake of cauliflower can lead to bloating, abdominal discomfort and flatulence. The latter can travel to the back, chest and shoulders, causing pain and indigestion. Often, flatulence is mistaken as a cardiac arrest, causing panic.
> It’s a winter vegetable, so it’s not easy to get the year around. During summer, one might find tiny worms in the vegetable, which may not be visible to the eye and if consumed, hazardous to health.
> Like cabbage and broccoli, the vegetable can interfere with iodine absorption. In large amounts, cauliflower can cause the thyroid gland to malfunction.
> Substituting all carbohydrate foods with cauliflower can help with overall calorie restriction, but it never is a good idea to completely cut out food groups. You could also substitute rice, wheat, pasta and potato with amaranth, ragi, quinoa and barley. Sweet potato has higher fibre content and a lower glycemic index than regular potato.

— Information courtesy: Naini Setalvad (obesity and lifestyle disease consultant) and Dr Muffazal Lakdawala (obesity surgeon)

How a chef does it
Last month, The Bombay Canteen celebrated the veggie in Phool Gobhi Mussallam. Marinated and baked whole, it was served with a cashew and yogurt sauce. "In the Vegetable Ishtew Pattice, it is cooked in coconut milk with carrots and green beans. We had substituted lotus root with it in the Kashmiri Pandit-style Rogan Josh because it gives a contrasting flavour to a dish compared to more subtle vegetables," shares executive chef Thomas Zacharias.

Chef Thomas Zacharias
Chef Thomas Zacharias

> Roasting cauliflower gives it a meaty flavour while grating it and blanching it, gives it a texture similar to couscous.
> Clean the vegetable properly since there are a lot of crevices.
> Cauliflower is best cooked by steaming but it can be boiled as well. Once cooked, immerse it in ice water immediately to stop the cooking process.
> Check florets constantly with the tip of a knife, so they're not overcooked. Overcooking cauliflower gives it an unpleasant aroma and a mushy texture.

Talk cauliflower at a cocktail party
> The cauliflower is called a cruciferous veggie (from the crucifix), because the leaves close over the flower in the form of a cross.



> It's actually a flower that hasn't developed yet.
> The head is called 'curd' or 'heart'.
> According to a UK-daily, a Peter Glazenbrook grew a
60 lb, 6ft wide, enormous cauliflower, breaking the world record in 2014.
> In Latin, the cauliflower is called Brassica oleracea and in Armenian, it's tsaghkakaghamb.
> Cauliflowers are often used in movie sound effects. For instance, cracking the cauliflower at the stem replicates the sound of human bone breaking.
> You get cauliflower in white, purple and green varieties.

— Information courtesy: Radha Thomas and Dr Muffazal Lakdawala

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