What pizza really delivers
More cheese on your pizza means more crust in your arteries: make you pizza better more veggies, less cheese, and no "stuffed crusts" or multi-meat combos
Plain, unadorned cheese pizza packs about a half a day's worth of saturated fat in a typical quarter-pie serving. Move beyond plain old cheese and the news just gets worse, says the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Consider that:
- Just one slice of Domino's Hand Tossed Pepperoni is the equivalent of a McDonald's Egg McMuffin.
- Just one slice of Pizza Hut's Stuffed Crust Meat Lover's pizza packs the wallop of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
- Just one slice of Pizza Hut's Big New Yorker Sausage pizza does more damage than a McDonald's Big Mac.
But while most people wouldn't unwrap and eat a second Quarter Pounder or Big Mac, many people reach for a second, third, or even a fourth slice of their favorite pizza. One thing is clear from CSPI's pizza study, published in the June issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter and in a new book, Restaurant Confidential (Workman, 2002): The fistfuls of cheese and meat on pizzas deserve some blame for America's clogged arteries and bulging waistlines.
For instance, just two greasy slices of Pizza Hut's Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Lover's pizza deliver more than 800 calories and about a day's worth of saturated fat and sodium. Four slices of that pizza provide almost two days' worth of saturated fat.
Pizza is a $30 billion-a-year industry in the United States. The seemingly infinite variety of crusts, sizes, and toppings means dramatic differences in the calorie, fat, and sodium stats for a given slice. But in a survey of the major pizza chains, only three pizzas qualified for CSPI's "Best Bite" ratings: Pizza Hut's Hand Tossed Veggie Lover's, Papa John's Original Crust Garden Special, and Domino's Hand Tossed Cheese ordered with half the cheese—a pizza which isn't even on Domino's menu. Modest servings (about a quarter of a large pie) of those three pizzas contain only about a quarter of a day's worth of saturated fat and about 500 calories.
The single best thing you can do to improve your pizza is to get it with less cheese.
"More cheese on your pizza means more crust in your arteries," says CSPI nutritionist and study director Jayne G. Hurley. "The saturated fat in the carpet of cheese is one of pizza's biggest problems—adding fatty meats just makes matters worse. But any pizzeria worth its sauce should happily accommodate a request for half the cheese."
Among CSPI's findings and recommendations:
- Order a half-the-cheese pizza. Vegetable toppings are lowest in calories and richest in nutrients (but be careful at Domino's, where a Vegi pizza may have 'extra cheese.') Chicken and ham are a second best. Pepperoni is usually better than sausage, pork, and beef.
- Avoid "Stuffed Crust," the innovation that injects cheese into the pizza's crust. "You need cheese stuffed into a pizza crust like you need reverse liposuction to force more fat under your skin," says Hurley.
- Steer clear of multi-meat combos with names like Meatsa (Little Caesars), All the Meats (Papa John's), and Meatzza (Domino's). "Combine a multi-meat with a stuffed crust, and the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Meat Lover's is born," says Hurley. "It's the worst of both worlds, with about a day's worth of sodium and saturated fat in just two slices."
- Apart from salads, steer clear of pizza chains' typical side orders, like bread sticks, Buffalo wings, and cheesy bread. "Cheesy bread? To go alongside an entree that's mostly bread and cheese? Please!" Hurley said.
CSPI analyzed 15 kinds of pizza from 36 pizzerias in Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles and used company information from four chains, Pizza Hut, Domino's Little Caesars, and Papa John's for dozens of other pizzas. California Pizza Kitchen and Pizzeria Uno do not provide nutrition information for their pizzas. (After the June Nutrition Action Healthletter went to press, Pizza Hut posted different numbers on its web site for its Stuffed Crust line.)
The pizza study is the latest in a series of CSPI studies that have examined the nutritional content of movie theater popcorn, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian restaurants, as well as steakhouses, sandwich shops, and the fare at food courts in shopping malls.
For the full pizza study, or to interview CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne G. Hurley or executive director Michael F. Jacobson, contact 202/332-9110