Thursday, February 23, 2012

Potatoes vs. Cauliflower

Something I learned rather quickly when I began "low carbing" is that white potatoes are to be avoided because they're starchy and high in carbs. Thankfully, I also learned that I didn't have to go without "mashed potatoes": a lot of low-carbers make something very similar by steaming and mashing cauliflower instead. This has become a staple of my diet over the past two low carb years. I started subbing cauliflower for potatoes, rice, pasta, and white flour in many of my usual recipes with great results! But my kids never became fans of the steaming white mounds of creamy mashed cauliflower. They always kept their preference for mashed potatoes, and that's okay. I made potatoes for them and cauliflower for myself.

But now that I am in week 1 of Transition, the guidelines state that I can have an additional cup per day of ANY vegetables I want! No more limiting things that are higher in carbs like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, yams, and corn. And potatoes. Yes, even white potatoes are now officially "allowed" on my Transition plan! So, what do you think? Is it the end of my love affair with cauliflower? After all, it is much easier to just make a pot of low fat mashed taters and not bother with the mashed cauliflower anymore...

So I decided to do a comparison. What exactly is the difference between a half cup of plain, boiled white potatoes and a half cup of plain, boiled cauliflower? Let's see.

White potatoes, boiled without skin, flesh only, 1/2 cup (nutrition data source)
67.1 calories
1.3 g protein
15.6 g carbs
0.1 g fat

Cauliflower, boiled, 1/2 cup (nutrition data source)
14.3 calories
1.1 g protein
2.5 g carbs
0.3 g fat

Wow. So by eating cauliflower instead of potatoes you save about 53 calories and 13 g carbs. That's significant, especially if you're doubling that and eating a whole cup, which I often do. The potatoes and cauliflower are nearly equal in fat and protein, so that's not significant. They are also exactly equal in fiber content (1.4 g). What about nutrients?

Well, they are about equal in iron content (1.3% vs. 1.1%).
Potatoes contain more B1, B3, B5 and B6 than cauliflower:
B1  5.1% vs. 1.7%
B3  5.1% vs. 1.3%
B5  4.0% vs. 3.1%
B6 10.5% vs. 5.4%

Cauliflower contains folate, more B2, and calcium than potatoes, and the most significant edge they have is in vitamins K and C:
folate  1.8%  vs. 6.8%

B2  0.9% vs. 1.9%
calcium  0.6% vs. 1.0%
Vitamin K  2% vs. 10.7%
Vitamin C  9.6% vs. 45.8%

Another factor to consider is Glycemic Index. Potatoes can raise your blood sugar really fast; they have a higher glycemic index than refined white sugar because of the way they are processed by our bodies. Baked white potato (no skin) has a GI of 98, while white sugar has a GI of about 60. Cauliflower, by comparison, has a very low GI of 15. This means it will have little to no effect on your blood sugar levels.

So, for those reasons, I am going to keep choosing cauliflower over potatoes. And when I eat cauliflower I actually feel better... not as stuffed, tired, and heavy as when I eat potatoes. They seem to energize and nourish me. I will still occasionally have a potato here and there, especially when the baby new red potatoes are ready at the local Farmer's Market, but for a "mashed potato" side dish with steak or in a creamy "potato" soup, I am sticking with cauliflower.


Mina said...

Never had mashed cauliflower, maybe I should give it a shot based on the stats you posted!

Lori said...

I like the cauliflower pizza crust, I learned about from you.

Bunpoh said...

You're the one who turned me on to the whole "faux-mashed-potatoes" cauliflower thing. :)

Thanks for this comparison, just steeling my resolve. For those of us with built-in blood sugar regulation issues, this is a godsend.

Leslie said...

I think that's a wise decision, Lyn. I'm with you. Besides all the things you wrote - that glycemic index thing is very REAL - and without meaning to we could set up the biochemistry in our bodies that yields craving more carbs. Why risk it?

One thing I discovered is that it's yummy to steam carrots along with cauliflower and mash it all together with a bit of butter and S&P. The carrots sort of deepen the texture and depth of the taste and make the mash as satisfying as any old white potato could ever be!

Hey - word verification is almost impossible to read. Any chance you'd turn it off?

Lynne said...

I want so bad to *like* cauliflower as a sub for potatoes, but it just doesn't work for me. Roast um with curry and YUM ... Mash them up and .....

I even tried the recipe for Mac and Cheese style cauliflower on the Dec cover of Vegetarian Times and while my hubby enjoyed - my kids and I gave it a big thumbs down... Oh well... I tried..

Lyn said...


I should have posted a 'recipe' but basically, steam or microwave cauliflower until very soft, then pat it dry and mash with a potato masher or a stick blender or a food processor. I like to add a wedge or two of Laughing Cow Light cheese (garlic/herb is good) or some light cream cheese to add creaminess. Also salt and pepper. So good!


I turned it off. If I get a gazillion spam comments I will have to turn it back on, but we can give it a try! I have heard of other bloggers getting thousands of spams a day, yikes.


If you decide to give it another try, here are some tips to reduce the 'cauliflower' flavor: use fresh cauliflower (not frozen) and use only the florets, not any of the stems. That seems to make it mroe potato-like for many; I use the stems, myself, because I like the cauliflower taste :)

Dinahsoar said...

You might want to compare the glycemic load of a white potato. It is not the villain we've been led to believe. Glycemin index can be misleading, glycemic load is a better measure.

I love cauliflower and I love potatoes. If I'm hungry for potatoes cauliflower won't satisfy, and vice versa. There is room in any eating plan for a half cup of mashed potatoes...or even a cup once in awhile. Portion control is critical to prevent regain. It will always be critical..if one is not vigilant in that regard one will regain the lost weight.

The key to eating starchy foods is to balance them with non-starchy foods and eat them with some protein and fat to slow down digestion and prevent blood sugar spiking.

Lyn said...


Thanks for the tip, very interesting. I found on wikipedia: "The glycemic load assesses the impact of carbohydrate consumption using the glycemic index but takes into account the amount of carbohydrate that is consumed." So I see why this is a better measure to use.

Glycemic Load
sugar - 10
white potato, baked - 26
white potato, boiled - 24
cauliflower, boiled - 1

I agree each person has to decide what they want to include and how it affects them :)

girlsmama said...

I "lessen" the impact of mashed potatoes for my family by using half cauliflower half potatoes. They love it! In fact I made "regular" mashed potatoes at Christmas and they wanted to know why they tasted to bland. I boil the potatoes and cauliflower together and mash as usual. Yum.

Lyn said...


what a great idea! I will have to try that.

violinista said...

I've never tried mashed cauliflower, but have made pureed cauliflower soup seasoned with garam masala, which is a treat during the cold winter months (which we haven't really experienced too much of in the Midwest). I'll have to try this someday!
I'm really loving your Super Foods posts!

Anonymous said...

I also like cauliflower with Indian spices - far prefer a curry made with cauliflower to one made with potatoes. Lidia Bastianich is always singing the praises of cauliflower and she prompted me to give the green and the purple varieties a try.

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to remember that the glycemic load or index of the whole meal is what counts, not any individual food. If you're eating a baked potato by itself, it will raise your blood sugar a little bit faster than a head of cauliflower, but if eaten with a little butter, a salad, and some roasted chicken, the potato will not cause a "spike" of any kind (the term "spike" is a misleading exaggeration, even for the potato itself).

[A general statement here, not directed to any one person] If you want to avoid potatoes to save calories, fine, but please don't vilify them. The potato didn't make us fat; overeating did. Now I realize that some of us have learned to overeat the potato, but that's not the potato's fault. It's a habit we created over time.

I love this article! On Growing (and Eating) Potatoes

N.R.E. said...

I think you've made a good decision. I test my blood sugar several times daily and I can tell you that white potatoes will make your bs spike like crazy.

Vickie said...

I am going to put a link up to this (if that is okay) as you did such a good job collecting all your numbers.

Your list of higher carb foods was interesting to me as they were sort of an odd list (numbers wise).

I guess because the potato (and corn) numbers have so many more carbs than some of the other things listed.

1/2 cup of (boiled, no salt added) brussel sprouts for example:
Calories 28
Total Fat 0.4g
Sat. Fat < 0.1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 16mg < 1%
Total Carbs. 5.5g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 1.4g
Protein 2g
Calcium 28.1mg
Potassium 247.3mg

Lyn said...


the list of veggies that were "too high carb" for my prior plan was given to me by Medifast. Their guidelines are that veggies should have less than 5 grams of carbs per half cup serving, so Brussels sprouts barely edged over that. I am very glad to be eating them again! And sure, feel free to share :)

Dinahsoar said...

The chart I viewed shows a boiled potato has a GL of 14, a baked white potato has 18 while a baked russet has 26. Granted those numbers are much higher than cauliflower. But then cauliflower is not a starchy food so it is to be expected. Also, many eat yams and oatmeal and avoid white potatoes but oatmeal has a GL of 13 and yams are 14.

And one other tidbit of info is the serving size...a 30 gram serving of bread--which is 2 slices-- has a GL of 3. Compared to a boiled white potato it seems like a better deal... but note the serving size for the potato is 150 grams....5 times the bread.

If you eat the same amount of bread in weight the GL load is about the same.

And it gets even more interesting if you compare calories based on weight versus 'normal' serving size.

One slice of bread on average is 15 grams in weight and around 70 calories. 150 grams of bread would be 700 calories while 150 grams of white potato--which is a medium size potatoe-- is only 150 calories.

It's almost too much info isn't it. Best to eat foods we really enjoy in portions that help us achieve our goals. And avoid or limit the problem foods that cause us problems. That is a strategy that is simple and can work for life.

Dinahsoar said...

Correction: One slice of white bread weighs 23.5 grams, not the 15 grams that I stated, hence the calories in 150 grams is only 446 calories, not the 700 I stated...still significantly more calories than 150 grams of white potato.

MargieK said...

The GI of potatoes (or any food for that matter) can vary, depending on how it's prepared (I see now, that others have already addressed this in the comments)

Given that carbs "HAVE" calories, it seems redundant to say potatoes have X calories AND Y carbs. But it's the glycemic load -- which accounts for both the GI and the amount of food consumed -- that ultimately matters.

When possible, I try to have sweet potatoes rather than potatoes. But I'm able to practise moderation most of the time. If my husband has made some homemade fries, I'll have a few -- but only as a side with a healthy serving of protein and veggies.

Doug Marshall said...

And if you spend just a few bucks- you can get a microwave steamer box, and it takes even less time. About 8 mins to steam, hit it with a stick (emulsion blender) and add the milk, butter spray (I can't believe it's not butter- olive oil) and minced garlice, s & p.

It's so easy, no excuse not to make this instead. Goes so great with some lean 4oz boneless pork chops.

Anonymous said...

I made this, but completely dismembered the low carb aspect. I used 2 heads of fresh cauliflower, 1 qt of chicken stock, 2 cups of shredded mozzarella, a block of cream cheese, & a Morton's seasoned salt blend. After cooling I blended it in my Ninja, & my 2-year old LOVES it!! My 6-year old & fiance ate it up, too. Winner! :)

Anonymous said...

My husband and I eat it about twice a week. It is good I put doll up of sour cream and skip milk. Also a half teaspoon of garlic powder. And it is better than mashed potatoes.
I also feel lighter and less sluggish after cauliflower