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It's fast. It's tasty. You can eat it out or have it delivered right to your door. It's pizza, and we are eating more and more each day. 10 percent of us eat it on any given day, and among elementary school-aged boys, one in five is having pizza for lunch or dinner.
With a history some trace back over three thousand years, pizza has arguably never been more popular throughout the world than it is today. From a health perspective, however, is pizza a boon or bust?
Some nutritionists, such as Katherine S. Tippett and Linda E. Cleveland, coauthors of a USDA publication on dietary trends, wag an accusing finger. In How Current Diets Stack Up, they note a shift in our diet "toward eating more mixtures like pizza, which can be high in fat." The fact that many of us wash those pizza slices down with soft drinks (consumption of which is also on the rise, says the USDA), doesn't help matters.
Others, though, take a different view. Not surprisingly, many pizza vendors actually vaunt the health benefits of their product. What may startle more than a few, however, is just how convincing their arguments can be.
Olive oil, of course, is prized by nutritionists for its "good" monounsaturated fat, a well documented LDL-cholesterol fighter.
Tomatoes and the lycopene they contain have been shown in several recent studies to provide numerous health benefits, be it in fighting oxidative damage to our DNA or in contributing to what Edward Giovannucci of Harvard Medical school describes as, "The consistently lower risk of cancer for a variety of anatomic sites that is associated with higher consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products."
Although one serving (1 oz.) of mozzarella cheese contains over 4 grams of saturated fat, it also contains protein, vitamin A and phosphorus. It is also, in the words of the USDA, "an excellent source of calcium" and an alternative to meat.
HOLD THE PEPPERONI
For maximum nutrition, however, you would probably be better off without the sausage, pepperoni, hamburger or other fat-intensive toppings many American pizzerias propose. Instead, try adding fruits such as pineapple or olives, or mushrooms, or vegetables such as broccoli or spinach. Then, too, why not think of toasting your meal with a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine, instead of cola? For the kids, purple grape juice is a great alternative, as is sparkling mineral water.
With more and more research pointing to the value of consuming fruits and vegetables, in whatever form, the case for including the versatile pizza in our menu planning is ever more convincing. With a little ingenuity, a careful preference for quality ingredients and a good sense of moderation, pizza lovers can feel good about their "passion for the pie," both before and after the feast.