In recent years, an increasing number of studies have emerged offering evidence that some pizza may actually provide a number of health benefits. Between the cheese, crust, toppings, and oils, pizza fulfills servings in each of the recommended six categories that make up the food pyramid, created by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. These studies may come as a pleasant surprise for many, as pizza is not only an economical food, but the American Dairy Association also reports that the pies are America’s fourth most craved food behind cheese, chocolate and ice cream.
Pizza and Health
According to a Men’s Health article in 2005, scientists contributing to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating pizza can reduce your risk of a heart attack. In a four-year study of nearly 1,000 Italians, those who ate pizza at least once a week were 30% less likely to experience a heart attack than those who did not consume pizza. This is contributed, in part, to pizza’s cardio protective ingredients, including natural olive oil and tomato sauce.
Further elaborating on the health benefits of tomato sauce, Lisa Mozing, MS, RD, FADA reported in a 2005 article in LifeScript, that lycopene, a natural antioxidant chemical found in tomatoes and tomato sauce, is thought to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Dr. Mozing reports that Italian scientists also discovered that in a study of 8,000 people, those who ate pizza as a healthy snack one or more times per week were several times less likely to get mouth and colon cancer. The tomato, she reported, is suspected to be behind the results that pizza lowered esophageal cancer by 59%, colon cancer by 26% and mouth cancer by 34%.
With more than 69,000 pizza restaurants in the United States as of July 2006, as reported by Pizza Marketing Quarterly, Americans have a variety of options when it comes to choosing pizza. But most experts agree that healthier pizza options are not found in the frozen food section or at major fast food chains. Patrick Farley, owner of Knockout Pizzeria of Carlsbad and Oceanside and FLIPPIN’ PIZZA, New York Style, of La Costa, Vista and Encinitas notes, “While these studies offer an interesting perspective on pizza, it’s important to be selective about what kinds of pizza you choose and where you purchase pizza from. If you choose to eat out, look for pizzerias that use all fresh, whole food ingredients and don’t add extra sugars and oils to the dough or sauce. These additives may taste good, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits. Also, consider adding fruit, vegetable or meat toppings to ensure you’re touching upon each of the recommended food groups.”
Jessica Janc, owner of Body & Soul Nutrition, agrees. “A lot of my clients don’t want to give up pizza because it’s a Friday night family tradition, and they don’t need to. If you’re going to eat pizza, make it healthier by ordering it in a certain fashion. Choose thin crust pizzas that are lighter on the cheese and heavier on the vegetables. And always have a salad on the side for extra vegetables and fiber to avoid overeating on the pizza. It wouldn’t hurt to add some lean protein to the salad or pizza to help you feel more satisfied at your meal while eating less. As a general rule of thumb, stick to two slices with a nice salad on the side.”
Janc also recommends that you compare nutritional information of different pizzerias and pizza types before ordering. “The top three areas to pay attention to when considering nutritional information are serving size in relation to calories, fat grams and sugar count.” For pizzerias like FLIPPIN’ PIZZA, New York Style, that don’t add extra sugar and oil to the dough or sauce, Janc notes, “For sugars, you want to consume right around 1-2 teaspoons per serving, which is the equivalent of 4-8 grams. The sugar count in an average slice of FLIPPIN’ PIZZA falls well within this range.”
Pizza and the Economy
The media have said it, “SD Economic Forecast Looks Pretty Bad” (San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept. 2007), “San Diego Economic Prosperity Falls Behind Rest of Nation” (KPBS, Mar. 2008), but what does it mean for the food and beverage industry? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food costs have increased over 4.5 percent, partly due to higher fuel costs.
“The increase in food costs for providers typically translates to increased food prices for consumers,” says Farley. “In the food service industry, rising food costs also affects labor and utilities costs. To stay in business, full-service restaurants have no choice but to raise their prices and fast food establishments have no choice but to cut corners on quality ingredients or lose their budget-conscious customers.”
To feed a family of four a nutritious, plentiful meal, prices typically start in the low twenty-dollar range. To feed a family of four with pizza, salad and beverages at FLIPPIN’ PIZZA, New York Style, Farley notes the price is right around $25.
“Pizzeria establishments should feel secure, despite the slowing market,” notes Farley. “We offer a food with a lot of health benefits for an extremely reasonable price. Fast food restaurants can’t compete with the nutritional benefits and full-service restaurants can’t compete with the prices.”
Janc adds, “Some people have the misconception that improving eating habits means doubling the expense. Families that don’t want to spend as much on food typically go to fast food restaurants, but if you shop around, look for specials and make better, more healthy choices in general, you’re already making steps in the right direction without spending more. Plus, what you’ll save on doctors’ bills will make it worth the effort.”
With approximately three billion pizzas sold every year in the U.S., according to the National Association of Pizza Operators, and evidence continuing to emerge about the health benefits of certain types of pizza, consumers can feel financially and economically sound enjoying their Friday night pizza traditions for a long time to come.