Pizza has a poor nutritional image – but it could be reformulated to meet dietary guidelines without losing its taste appeal, according to a team of Scottish researchers.
Writing in Public Health Nutrition, the researchers claim that theoretically, pizza could be a reasonably healthy choice.
“Historically, pizza was made from bread, with tomatoes and a little cheese,” they wrote. “It should thus be a low-fat meal containing at least one portion of fruit or vegetable. Moreover, key pizza ingredients have been associated with improved cardiovascular health and cancer.
“However, to enhance flavour, palatability and ultimately consumer acceptance, pizza recipes include higher proportions of cheese and salt than desirable.”
To counter the perception that pizza must be unhealthy in order to be tasty, the researchers developed a nutritionally balanced pizza, providing the required energy for a single-item meal (600 kcal), with all nutrients within recommended limits. Sodium was 473 mg, 45% below the recommended maximum level; saturated fat provided less than 11% of energy; and it contained 13.7 g of dietary fibre.
They then asked 49 untrained adults and 63 untrained children to taste the pizza. Seventy-seven per cent of adults and 81% of children rated it ‘as good as’ or ‘better than’ their usual choice.
Assessing existing pizzas
The researchers also assessed the nutritional composition of 25 commercially available pizzas. While they found wide variation, some were close to recommendations in several respects.
“Our overview of these twenty-ﬁve Margherita pizzas indicates that, while none of them matches all the nutritional recommendations for a healthy meal, many already meet several of the criteria, with several more being close to all criteria,” they wrote.
The ‘nutritionally balanced’ pizza recipe was a Margherita pizza, with a focus on energy, total carbohydrate, non-milk extrinsic sugars, total protein, total fat and saturated fat as a percentage of energy, fibre content and salt, as well as micronutrients iron, folate, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
The recipe only used natural ingredients, with a mix of white and whole wheat flour fermented with baker’s yeast, rapeseed oil, salt, seaweed, red pepper, canned and cherry tomatoes, garlic powder, oregano and mozzarella cheese.
The researchers also asked adults how much more they would be willing to pay for a nutritionally balanced pizza, and most said they would be willing to pay 50 pence more.
Source: Public Health Nutrition
“Development of a nutritionally balanced pizza as a functional meal designed to meet published dietary guidelines”
Authors: Emilie Combet, Amandine Jarlot, Koﬁ E Aidoo and Michael EJ Lean