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Pizza – Now With Less Guilt?

BREAKING: Italian researchers have published a series of findings that eating pizza is good for you!  Or perhaps, that it isn’t so bad for you.  But wait – before you call up Pizza Hut and order that large Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust Pizza (plus add a second pizza for only $1.99!), there are a few things to be considered:

There have been in fact a series of Italian publications over the past decade or so that have all supported the general proposition that eating pizza may convey certain health benefits to the consumer.  The Guardian has helpfully traced this timeline for us:

  •  First, in 2001, researchers at Second University Naples published results of a study in the journal Circulation titled “Pizza and Vegetables Don’t Stick To The Endothelium” – finding that, unlike other typical Italian meals, pizza does not necessarily cause clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis) (Here, subjects were fed a high-fat meal consisting of 2 sausages, 6 bread slices, 1 egg , butter and olive oil, versus a pizza meal consisting of “pizza with tomatoes.”)
  • In 2003, researchers published a report titled “Does Pizza Protect Against Cancer?”  Using data gathered from treatement of thousands of Italian cancer patients, they found “an apparently favorable effect of pizza on cancer risk in Italy.”
  • In 2004, some of these same researchers wrote in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention that “regular consumption of pizza . . . showed a reduced risk of digestive tract cancers.”
  • Likewise, in 2004, another team of researchers published a monograph in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition entitled “Pizza and Risk of Actute Myocardial Infarction,” arriving at findings that suggesting that “pizza is a favorable indicator” for preventing, or at least not causing, heart attacks.
  • However, in 2006, a study entitled “Pizza Consumption and the Risk Of Breast, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer” found that pizza” did not show a relevant role . . . on the risk of sex hormone-related cancers.”  So it seems that pizza does not cure all ills, at least not those related to sex hormones.

One large question raised by this whether it is actually the pizza itself that is conveying these benefits. As the 2003 study acknowledged,

Even if the association is real, drawing inferences about specific components of pizza, nutrients or micronutrients remains difficult, because pizza may simply represent an aspecific indicator of Italian diet. Some (olive oil, fish, vegetables and fruit), though not all, aspects of Mediterranean diet have shown a favorable effect on the risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer.

Fair enough.  And in fact, just about all these studies contain some variation of that statement. So while it is nice to think that pizza specifically is providing these benefits (particularly as you reach for your third slice), it may instead be a function of the individual ingredients (oil, tomatoes, cheese, etc.) and relatively lower fat content in pizza that makes the difference.

That is all fine and good for Italians, but what about us pizza eaters here in the U.S. of A?  Well, here are some facts to consider: (1) Italian pizza is much thinner than the typical American pizza; (2) Italian pizza has much less cheese than the typical American pizza; (3) with less cheese and toppings, Italian pizza presumably has a lower fat content than the typical American pizza, (4) Italians almost certainly are eating less pizza at one sitting than the typical American is.  And importantly (5) Italian pizza is not served with any of the following:

  • garlic knots,
  • “crazy bread,”
  • cinnamon twists,
  • ranch dipping sauce,
  • extra cheese,
  • the crust stuffed full of processed cheese
  • buried in a pile of pepperoni/sausage/bacon/shaved steak,
  • accompanied by a 32 oz. bucket of Coke.

So how do these findings translate to us Americans?  The answer is: probably not well at all.  So why bring this up at all?  Because there is an alternative.  We are not all slaves to our local Pizza Hut, Dominos, or generic greasy NYC pizza places – in fact, as previously posted, making pizza at home is a straight-forward and enjoyable task, with just a little required preparation.  And on top of that, it may – according to a decade of Italian research – provide added health benefits.

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