Is a healthy pizza possible? Not a fruit pizza, or a pizza for dieters, but an actual, real pizza. Researchers at Cambridge think so. Their quest began by evaluating the state of twenty-five Margherita pizzas, available in the UK and internationally. Each pizza was standardized to a 600 calorie serving, and then assessed for nutritional content. Very few met dietary guideline standards for iron, vitamin C, or vitamin A. Most contained too many grams of saturated fat, high sodium levels, and fiber fluctuated wildly depending on the amount of flour or tomato present.
None of this is probably too shocking. Pizza, the researchers point out, is thought of as a “junk food.” The ultimate grab-and-go convenience item. But, they say, pizza has been around for a while, and its ingredients have potential. “Historically, pizza was made from bread with tomatoes and a little cheese. It should thus be a low-fat meal containing at least one portion of fruit or vegetable.” So, they tried to engineer an optimal pizza, one that falls within the dietary guidelines for a meal but is still pizza. Their efforts passed tests involving kids and adults. For the children, 81 percent rated it “as good as”, or “better than” their usual pizza; 71 percent of adults gave it the same mark.
The formula followed by the researchers is adaptable. It was “quite difficult,” to get all guidelines in one serving of pizza, and scaling back on size to add a side option such as a salad might be an easier way to ensure a balanced meal. That being said, they have hope for future projects like theirs. “The process we have demonstrated is versatile and lends itself to a range of nutritionally balanced pizza meals beyond the simple Margherita.” Ultimately, they prescribe “health by stealth” and modified the recipe to add “small amounts of functional ingredients.” Find out the 5 ways the Cambridge team enhanced their pizza.
1. Slice Off Some of That Cheese
The mozzarella on the evaluated Margherita pizzas was a big component of its high saturated fat and salt levels. At the same time, the cheese is important for calcium, vitamin A, and protein. By taking some cheese off, the pizza retained its main composition, but also decreased the unhealthy factors and maintained the positives. Other vitamins and nutrients that mozzarella supplies include: niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, biotin, potassium chloride, and vitamins A, B6, D, and E. Eating mozzarella can assist red blood cell formation and contributes to healthy skin.
2. Be Less Salty
Salt can easily be lowered thanks to modern technology. In the past, salt was used to preserve foods and aid in the dough mixing process. Some of its functions as preservative and additive are still important, but modern-temperature controlled ovens makes it less critical. Reducing the amount of salt in both the dough and the sauce, as well as the reduction from less cheese, brought the pizza easily within guidelines.
Less salt means less sodium. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 90 percent of Americans consume more sodium than necessary. Sodium can increase a person’s blood pressure, a risk factor of heart disease, and stroke.
3. Embrace Whole-Wheat Flour
Adding whole-wheat flour to the dough boosted the levels of fiber for the pizza. The study basically left it at that, but whole-wheat, as whole-grain, has more benefits than just adding a bit of fiber. A 2004 study published in Nutrition Research Reviews says that whole grains are a source of antioxidants, potentially tied to weight loss, and can protect against diseases. In 2010, more research on whole grains was called for at a symposium sponsored by the American Society for Nutrition. It asked for further research to better understand the consistent evidence linking whole grains to lowering the risk of chronic diseases including diabetes and cancer.
4. See Red With Red Peppers
Red pepper was chosen by the scientists because, by mixing into the sauce, they were able to incorporate vitamin C. Prior to the addition of the flakes, the main source was tomato, which the scientist said “is in fact a relatively poor source of vitamin C.” However, red pepper is a cheap, readily available way to bring in vitamin C, and was not shown to affect taste. According to registered dietitian, Sandra Harrison, peppers can assist with weight loss and are nutrient-dense beyond just vitamin C.
5. Sprinkle in Seaweed
Traditional ingredients for the Margherita pizza do not, on their own, add iron. Iron deficiency can be a serious health concern, so the researchers were keen to find a way to bring it into the pizza without raising fat levels or changing the traditional composition, something meat would have done. The answer was to add seaweed to the dough. The seaweed “does not corrupt the other nutrient balances, looks, taste, or practical issues around baking,” and can provide vitamin A, calcium, and iodine.
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