Scottish researchers go back to pizza’s roots to find a healthy recipe
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — It turns out the secret to a better pizza might not be a double-stuffed cheese crust — all it takes is a little bit of seaweed and some whole grain flour, according to nutritionists with the School of Medicine at the University of Glasgow.
“Traditional pizza should be a low-fat meal containing at least one portion of vegetables, so mainly made from ingredients associated with better cardiovascular health,” said Professor Mike Lean.
“However, to enhance shelf-life, commercial pizza recipes today include much more fat and salt than desirable. Until now, nobody has stopped to notice that many essential vitamins and minerals are very low or even completely absent. From a nutrition and health perspective, they are hazardous junk,” Lean said. “Pizzas are widely consumed and regarded as meals in themselves, and yet their impact on human nutrition does not seem to have been studied,” he added.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Historically, pizzas were made from a few humble ingredients: Bread, tomatoes and a little cheese, combined to form a traditional, healthy meal.
So Lean and his colleagues, together with food industry experts, set about to find out what, exactly, it would take to build a better pizza. A range of new pizza recipes was then developed, each containing 30 percent of all the nutrients required in a day: in other words, an ideal meal.
A total of 25 Margarita pizzas were analyzed for calories, fat and salt — as well as for healthful ingredients. Several pizzas had sodium levels well within the recommended limit but were not advertised as low-salt or low-sodium, indicating that recipes can be modified and remain commercially successful.
Vitamin and mineral content information was mostly absent from the packaging, with only five providing this information in detail, and three having basic information. None met the recommended value for iron, vitamin C and vitamin A. One met just the iron requirement and two the vitamin C requirement. Vitamin A requirement was met in four pizzas, and only one met calcium requirements.
“Some were really bad. While none of the pizzas tested satisfied all the nutritional requirements, many of the requirements were met in some pizzas, which told us it should be possible to modify the recipes to make them more nutritionally-balanced without impacting on flavor … health by stealth, if you like,” Lean said.
To demonstrate how to do it, the researchers joined forces with an industrial food producer to modify a modern pizza recipe: reducing salt, adding whole-wheat flour, adding a small amount of Scottish seaweed to provide flavour, vitamin B12 and fibre, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iodine, adding red peppers provided extra vitamin C.
The proportions of bread base to Mozzarella cheese was adjusted to correct the carbohydrate/fat/protein ratios and minimize saturated fat content. After cooking, it was finally analysed in the laboratory.
The team put the end result to a taste test with members of the public and both children and adults gave it the thumbs-up for taste and attractiveness.
The world’s first nutritionally-balanced pizzas were subsequently marketed by food company Eat Balanced.com, and three flavours are available from various UK supermarkets.
“There really is no reason why pizzas and other ready meals should not be nutritionally-balanced. We have shown it can be done with no detriment for taste,” Lean said. “We can’t all make entirely home-made meals, so it’s about time that manufacturers took steps to make their products better suited to human biology, and we have shown then how to do it. Rather than sneaking in additives like salt, they could be boasting about healthier ingredients that will benefit consumers.”
The study ‘Development of a nutritionally-balanced pizza, as a functional meal designed to meet published dietary guidelines’, is published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.