Raise the hand who didn't feel at least a little relieved, after a hard day's work, when he or she was in front of a fragrant and steaming pizza? Yes, because pizza has always been synonymous with taste, joy and lightheartedness. And then the pizza is exquisite and absolutely customizable. However, pizza is often considered an unhealthy meal, too high in calories, sodium and carbohydrates. But is this really the case or is it enough to follow a few small tips to make pizza a pleasant moment for the palate and beneficial for health? Let's see what the numerous scientific studies dedicated to the topic say.
Only extra virgin olive oil
Often, instead of extra virgin olive oil, other oils are used for the preparation of pizza and its topping, such as olive oil or other vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil. The problem is that, during cooking, the fatty acids present in the oil undergo oxidation, altering the product and increasing, once ingested, the release of free radicals and, in the long term, the risk of cardiovascular disease and cellular degeneration. Extra virgin olive oil, on the other hand, has the highest degree of resistance to heat, thanks to its high content in polyphenols, and therefore remains practically unchanged (Dini et al, Antioxidants, 2021).
Long life to the tomato
On a healthy pizza you cannot miss the tomato. Then to complete, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is enough and cooking in the oven will do the rest, making lycopene, a precious antioxidant in tomatoes, more accessible. Lycopene shows anti-aging properties and is capable of reducing the risk of cellular degeneration, osteoporosis, metabolic diseases and liver damage (Dini et al, Antioxidants, 2021). For an optimal result, the advice is to use tomato pulp as in this way, compared to whole tomatoes, the heat destroys cell membranes more easily, favoring the release of lycopene (Dini et al, Antioxidants, 2021 - Gallus et al, IJC, 2003).
The pizza Margherita with its melted mozzarella is delicious but not everyone can like it or can eat it, just think of people with a lactose intolerance. Mozzarella, then, while providing calcium is also a source of sodium and this can cause problems in people who follow a diet that keeps salt intake under control (Combet et al, PHN, 2013). An excellent alternative is the marinara pizza, made almost a hundred years before the more famous margherita pizza, and prepared with very few ingredients, only tomato, extra virgin olive oil, oregano and garlic. Pizza marinara has been shown to have a much higher antioxidant content than pizza margherita (Dini et al, Antioxidants, 2021). Not only that, even if cooked in the oven, garlic preserves its antithrombotic capacity, helping to thin the blood and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke (Cavagnaro et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2007). Instead, if you wish to benefit from the anticancer action of garlic, then it is better to keep some aside and add it raw at the end of cooking because the heat of the oven would risk destroying the active ingredient of the garlic that counteracts degeneration, the allyl sulfide (Song et al, J Nutr, 2001). Oregano, on the other hand, is a source of calcium and potassium and is characterized by antimicrobial and antiviral properties (USDA Database - Leyva Lopez et al, Molecules, 2017).
To make the pizza healthier, it is also possible to work on the dough, whether the pizza is ordered or made at home (Combet et al, PHN, 2013). In fact, nowadays it is possible to opt for pizza dough made with wholegrain flours, even in restaurants. Wholegrain flour increases the intake of fiber, protein and helps keep blood sugars under control (Olagunju et al, Prev Nutr Food Sci., 2019). Avoid ready-made and frozen pizzas as food dyes, sugars, corn syrup and preservatives are often added to make the product more palatable.
Vegetables, what a passion
Finally, to make pizza a moment not only of taste but also beneficial for health, we can act on the ingredients that season it, to increase the intake of fiber, mineral salts and vitamins, thus making the pizza a balanced and complete meal. For example, you can add peppers cut into strips. Cooking in the oven preserves much of their vitamin C content and does not affect the antioxidant action of this vegetable (Hwang et al, Prev Nutr Food Sci., 2012).