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Pizza as Health Food?

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

This column originally ran Jan. 28, 1998.

The health news was good, in health-conscious circles, in the last few months of 1998, at least. Hardly an evening went by but that Peter(Jennings, new deceased) or Tom (Brokaw, now retired) brought glad tidings from medical researchers.

If I’ve kept track correctly, we’ve seen the risk of premature death cut in half so often that most of us should live forever.
Within a week, you’ll recall, came announcements that walking two miles or so each day reduces the risk of heart attack by half, and that eating fish once a week does the same for men’s chances of contracting prostate cancer.

Comes word that those who drink one alcoholic beverage a day live longer than those who drink none or more than one. And now a carotenoid called lycopene -- found abundantly in red ripe tomatoes -- is being credited with reducing prostate and several other cancers.
(Maybe I’m in denial, but I refuse to believe I’ll ever get prostate cancer.)

Before that, it was garlic and onions: they protect against colds and viruses -- maybe because sick people won’t get near enough to us to pass on their germs. Whatever it takes. But they also lower cholesterol and thin the blood.
Soybean products may protect against heart disease and cancer, and women who keep their fat intake really low reduce their odds for breast cancer.
Carrots, too, are now credited with reducing cholesterol, and, of course, we know how good broccoli and the dark green leafy veggies are for us.

Every way I’ve tried figuring out this cutting-the-odds-in-half formula, I can’t quite make it so we’ll live forever.
It’s like the half-life of radiation: the two-mile daily walk cuts the odds in half, then the fish on Friday cuts them in half again (did Catholics know something the rest of us didn’t, back in ancient times?)
Then the garlic theory, and whack! there goes another half, and the oat and grapefruit fiber, the grain-based diet, the lycopene found in tomatoes, olive oil -- even if each cuts your chances of dying in half again, you still can’t quite get them down to zero.

But I did work it out that by eating pizza, I’ll live to about 120.

Picture it: a huge pizza, its crisp crust flooded with a rich tomato sauce, slivers of garlic studding molten cheese, the whole thing piled deep with bell pepper slices, purple onion rings, creamy mushrooms, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, anchovies, fresh basil leaves, maybe even broccoli florets -- !
Aren’t you just crazed with the thought of lifting a wedge to your lips and -- mind the steam, now -- taking a big bite, crushing through those tender vegetables, and sensing their succulence in every part of your mouth?

Health food for the new millennium. Pizza?
Yes. Especially if you make it yourself -- and if you have a bread-machine, pizza is a piece of cake.
Actually, much better for you than cake. Except for the cheese -- and you can cut its fat by buying low—or no-fat – cheese -- that pizza contains all the good stuff you need to live to 120 along with me.
Use whole wheat flour for at least 25 percent of the flour called for in the crust.

Olive oil, of course, for the crust and to drizzle on the veggies. Also use bell peppers, one veggie that does not lose nutrients when cooked tender.
Forget the pepperoni and sausage -- who needs them when you’ve got anchovies or maybe lox?
And who needs their fat and sodium?

The best part, of course, is the remarkable fact that the tomatoes release their lycopene best in the presence of olive oil, and nutritionists say at least 10 servings a week of tomatoes does the most good, especially combined with whole grains.
That’s a lot of pizza opportunities.

The pizza I described works out to about 220 calories per slice, deriving only about 25 percent of its calories from fat.
(The American Heart Association says we should aim for a diet with 30 percent or less of calories derived from fat.)
To be realistic, you probably should expect to eat two or more slices, if this is dinner.

Pizza is absolutely one food you can make better at home, in terms of having on it just what you like, as well as just what is good for you.
Skim milk mozzarella cheese is a good choice, and adds calcium without adding too much fat.
Experiment. Try feta cheese for a change, in moderation, and sometime tear up fresh spinach leaves.

The best pizza I ever ate, oddly enough, was in the Netherlands, and was topped with gorgonzola and spinach. But I’ve never duplicated it at home.
(Since I’ve ventured abroad here, consider a pizza Dave ordered in Innsbruck, Austria.
Although the menu showed pictures of pizza as we know it, he inadvertently ordered a Pizza mit Spiegelei -- and got a folded-over crust, what we’d call calzone, with a fried egg on top.)
Oh, did I mention that mental health experts say married people live longer than single? Or does it only seem that way?

That does it. We’re having pizza tonight.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is]

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