CAN PIZZA BE A HEALTH FOOD?

CAN PIZZA BE A HEALTH FOOD?

When you think of American food, you may think of a burger and fries, but statistics show we’re crowding in on the Italians’ favorite: pizza!

Every second of the day, 350 slices of pizza are consumed. That means 1 in 8 Americans chow down on a slice of ‘za every day, regardless of race and gender.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, you may be surprised to learn that I most definitely contribute to these statistics too. In fact, I recently made the mornings of many college students when I told The Daily Meal that in my professional opinion, a slice of pizza can be a better breakfast option than a bowl of sugary flakes.

Coming from a nutritionist, this may shock you, but pizza doesn’t deserve to be demonized as junk food, the way it’s often portrayed. Sure, a greasy slice with extra pepperoni or a deep-dish meat lovers pie may not be your best bets, but pizza can actually be a nutritionally-balanced meal.

Pizza, the way it was originally designed, is pretty straightforward. It should have a simple crust, plenty of tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of cheese. As explained, pizza contains a balance of the same 3 major nutrients we need to build a well-balanced and satisfying meal: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The crust is your carbohydrate, cheese contains protein and fat.

Then, don’t forget about the tomato sauce on top! Lycopene, potent in cooked tomatoes, like pizza sauce, gives each slice a boost of antioxidants. Antioxidants are small compounds that help negate oxidative stress, a common cause of inflammation in the body. Diets rich in lycopene have been linked to reduced risk of infertility and chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, plus a lower incidence of prostate cancer.

One tablespoon of pizza sauce, the approximate amount in one average slice, contains almost 2,000 mcg of lycopene. According to the USDA, that’s the equivalent of eating one-half cup cherry tomatoes!

Of course, some versions of pizza can be more nutritious than others, so here are 5 steps to build a healthier pizza pie:

  1. Choose a Whole Wheat Thin Crust, If You Can

Whole grains contain more fiber than refined white flour, which is better for your health. Choosing a thin crust also helps manage your portion size.

  1. Lather on Tomato Sauce

Skip the white pie, and opt for extra tomato sauce. This will help keep your overall calories in check, but as previously mentioned, this antioxidant boost will promote good health too.

  1. Ask For “Light” Cheese

Do as the Italians do, and go light on the cheese. Cheese is a good source of protein, which promotes satiety and fullness, but does contain a decent amount of saturated fat, which is not as beneficial for your heart health.

  1. Add Extra Veggies for Good Measure

Skip the meat toppings and load up your pie with veggies instead. Vegetables will add even more flavor, vitamins and minerals, and fiber to keep you full for a longer period of time.

  1. Enjoy Every Bite!

Eliminate distractions while eating and savor every bite of your slice for an overall healthier dining experience.

 

Chelsey Amer Head Shot

Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN is a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindful weight management and disease prevention, helping individuals break up with dieting and find their food freedom. When Chelsey is not helping clients, she is developing deliciously nutritious, food-allergy friendly recipes, and photographing every bite for her healthy food blog, CitNutritionally.com!

TOP 11 REASONS TO GO RED WITH TOMATO PRODUCTS

TOP 11 REASONS TO GO RED WITH TOMATO PRODUCTS

For January 2021, the “Tomato Wellness Dietitian of the Month” is none other than our RD advisor for the last decade, Sharon Palmer! Known as The PlantPowered Dietitian, Sharon has established an awardwinning career in the field of nutrition and sustainability. One of the most widely recognized registered dietitians in the world, Sharon is an accomplished writer, editor, blogger, author, speaker, and media expert. In particular, she has gained recognition for her expertise in plantbased nutrition and sustainability. Sharon has authored over 1000 articles in a variety of publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Oprah Magazine, and LA Times. Sharon recently completed her Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. Living in the sustainability mecca of Ojai, California with her husband and two dogs, Sharon enjoys tending to her own organic garden, visiting the local farmers market, volunteering in local environmental organizations, and cooking for friends and family. Visit her at www.SharonPalmer.com for more tips and recipes. 

During the winter, with snow piled up in many cities across the country, it’s hard not to daydream about summer. And there certainly is a lot to love about summertime: hot days, warm nights, the easy-breezy lifestyle, and, of course, the in-season produce. Perfectly ripe tomatoes personify the sweetness of summertime. But, thankfully, there is a way to get the taste of summertime year-round, even when temperatures are sub-zero. All you have to do is simply open a can of tomatoes from your pantry.

Preserving the flavor and nutrition of tomatoes through canning makes this red vegetable an economical way to enjoy them all year long. Tomatoes that are harvested and used for tomato products (which makes up 75% of the entire tomato crop!) such as salsa, ketchup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce, are grown to their full nutrient and flavor potential. They’re picked at the peak of ripeness to ensure that all those good-for-you antioxidants make their way into your recipes, even in the midst of winter.

Enjoying the tomato farm tour, summer 2016

But, there’s an added bonus by opting for the canned varieties of tomatoes. When tomatoes are heated during processing or canning, the antioxidant, lycopene becomes more bioavailable to our bodies, offering potentially more cancer protection and anti-inflammatory benefits. That’s why you could be doing your body so much good by opting for canned varieties even during the hot days of summer, or tomato season. On top of lycopene, tomatoes contain a variety of other beneficial nutrients that may be responsible for tomatoes’ health-preserving properties, including vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium, as well as a variety of carotenoids, antioxidant compounds which give tomatoes their red, yellow, and orange colors.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes and Tomatoes
 

2. Dig into a Lycopene Mother Lode. Tomato products are rich in the powerful antioxidant group, carotenoids, which have been shown to inactivate free radicals, protect against cancer, and slow development of atherosclerosis. The most plentiful carotenoid is lycopene, followed by phytoene, phytofluene, zeta-carotene, gamma-carotene, beta-carotene, eurosporene, and lutein. Tomato products are responsible for more than 80% of the lycopene in the U.S. diet, and research suggests that lycopene may be a big factor behind the health-protective effects of tomato products. Lycopene in processed tomatoes is much better absorbed than that of fresh tomatoes. In addition, the lycopene in tomatoes appears to have synergistic effects with other nutrients in foods.

Instant Pot Chickpea Curry

3. Fight Inflammation. Tomato products may help cool down inflammation, which is becoming more widely understood as a root in many chronic diseases. Scientists discovered that in a group of 30 healthy adult women (ages 20-30), those that drank 280 milliliters of tomato juice for two months reduced waist circumference, serum cholesterol, and inflammatory adipokine levels, effects unrelated to body fat changes (Nutrition, 2015).

4. Protect Against Oxidative Stress. Eating foods rich in antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids, such as tomato products, is linked with reducing oxidative stress markers. In a randomized controlled clinical https://www.fertileheart.com/clomid-clomiphene-infertility-treatment/ trial of 64 overweight/obese women, those who drank 330 ml of tomato juice daily for 20 days reduced their oxidative stress, which may prevent obesity-related diseases and promote health (Clinical Nutrition, 2015).

Chipotle Tomato Rice Power Bowl
 
 

5. Score Powerful Heart-health Benefits. Regular intake of tomato products has been consistently associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. So, it may not be surprising to hear that a recent study performed by Tufts researchers found individuals with the highest intakes of lycopene over an 11-year period had a 17% and 26% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, respectively (British Journal of Medicine, 2012).

6. Improve Cholesterol Levels. One of tomato products’ heart health benefits is improved lipid profiles, according to some studies. In a study including 35 female participants, those who consumed a raw, ripe tomato before lunch for four weeks experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as body weight and fat percentage (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2014).

 
 
Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes

7. Capitalize on Anti-Platelet Activity. Tomato products appear to have anti-platelet compounds that are concentrated in the yellow fluid around the seeds. These compounds inhibit platelet aggregation, further protecting against cardiovascular disease. Tomato extract significantly reduced platelet aggregation three hours after consumption in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover trial with 90 healthy subjects (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006).

8. Control Blood Pressure. Low-sodium tomato products, which are becoming more widely available in supermarkets, have the perfect nutritional profile to fit into the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet. Research is confirming that tomato products may aid in treating hypertension. Consuming gazpacho, a cold soup made of mostly tomatoes, was inversely associated with both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and the prevalence of hypertension among nearly 4,000 individuals (selected from the PREDIMED study) at high cardiovascular risk (Nutrition, Metabolism, Cardiovascular Diseases, 2013).

Zesty Tomato Smoothie

9. Take on Prostate Cancer. Research supports that eating lycopene-rich food sources like tomato products may help reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, such as digestive tract and pancreatic cancers, but the bulk of the cancer-protective evidence is linked with prostate cancer. Ten or more servings of tomatoes per week cut prostate cancer risk by 18%, according to one study (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Prevention, 2014). A new review further supports tomato products and lycopene in reducing the risk of prostate cancer progression and death (World Journal of Urology, 2016).

10. Defend Against Sun Damage. Tomato products may offer natural protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays. In a randomized controlled study, 20 healthy women consumed 55 g of tomato paste (16 mg lycopene) in olive oil or olive oil alone for 12 weeks. After various degrees of sun exposure, UV radiation was significantly reduced in the tomato paste group, supporting lycopene’s protective role against acute and potentially longer-term effects of sun damage (British Journal of Dermatology, 2011).

11. Maximize Bone Health. Laboratory research has shown that lycopene intake from tomatoes may protect bone health by increasing the antioxidant capacity of bones and decreasing oxidative stress, which may reduce risk of osteoporosis. In a study of 60 postmenopausal women who hadn’t ingested lycopene for one month, they consumed either 30, 70, or 0 mg of lycopene twice a day for four months in either regular tomato juice, lycopene-rich tomato juice, tomato lycopene capsules, or placebo capsules. Those who had juice or lycopene capsules had significantly higher serum lycopene levels and significantly decreased oxidative stress markers compared with placebo (Osteoporosis International, 2011).

For more plant-based tomato recipes, check out:

Chipotle Tomato Rice
Classic Tomato Soup
Tomato Pesto Hummus