Healthy pizza part 1: health-building pizza

Business leaders tell us, "Be proactive rather than reactive. Make your plans before rather than after the $#!t hits the fan. That's how to beat your competition and win the game of business." A more straight-forward way of putting it is: "Read the writing on the wall… then figure out how to capitalize on it NOW."

Well, here's the writing on the wall. In a May 9, 2003, Associated Press article, Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the U.N. Health Agency is quoted as saying, "We have seen a major shift away from traditional diets to the increased consumption of energy-dense diets with high levels of fats and sugars, as well as salt. Cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory disease, obesity and other non-communicable conditions now account for approximately 60 percent of the 56.5 million global deaths annually."

Two weeks prior, an April 29, 2003, article in WebMD Medical News listed the top 10 food trends according to Food Technology magazine. The number two trend on the list is "Retro Nutrition." It describes it by saying, "Contrary to popular belief, interest in fat, sugar, calories, and dietary fiber did not die with the last decade. People are still interested in 'avoidance products'- the 'less evil' foods and beverages that promise 'no, low, less than, reduced.'"

And, of course, you're familiar with the recent health-based lawsuits against McDonald's and Nabisco (i.e., Oreos). Both suits have since been dropped. But the point is, this is the beginning of a trend, not the end. So what can pizzeria owners and executives do about it?

Given the growing clamor for healthier foods and the government's focus on "corporate responsibility" for creating such foods, pizzeria owners should consider a preemptive nutritional initiative. For most foods, "going healthy" translates into designing the product to have less of some "bad thing." However, we in the pizza industry can go beyond that. We can transcend to a higher culinary plane. That's because we can not only reduce or eliminate the "bad things," we have the opportunity to design our product to comprise virtually nothing but "good things." This article lays out 10 easy-to-apply guidelines for accomplishing that.

For decades, pizza has been cast as a culinary demon of the American landscape – a calorie-laden, artery-clogging, heartburn-creating dietary disaster. Although it's true that some folks order pizzas that fit this description, it's also true that pizza can be ordered in a health-promoting format as well. It's this configurational diversity that makes pizza so interesting, unique, and enduring among food products. It's also what provides pizzeria owners with a potentially powerful competitive advantage in this world of fast-growing nutritional awareness! In short, we have it within our power to create and sell a truly health-enhancing, nutritionally-balanced food – which, for lack of any better term, we'll call Health-Building Pizza.

The Basics of Good Nutrition

Nutrition researchers tell us that a health-promoting diet consists of a greater amount of lower-glycemic foods and a lesser amount of higher-glycemic foods. Lower-glycemic foods include proteinaceous foods, fiber-rich foods, and foods made of coarsely ground starches (e.g., stone ground flour). So we're talking meats, non-sugary dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products, especially when coarsely ground.

Higher-glycemic foods include sugar-rich foods and foods made of finely ground starches (e.g., conventional finely-milled white flour).

In addition, these experts tell us that we should consume fat in modest amounts only… and that when we do consume fat, it should be more of the monounsaturated type, and less of the saturated and polyunsaturated types, and definitely should not be hydrogenated fat, which is high in unhealthy trans fat. Using this prescription as a guide, olive oil appears to be the "perfect fat," followed closely by canola (or grapeseed) oil.

The 10 Guidelines for Health-building Pizza

When transported into the pizza world, the previously mentioned nutritional basics translate into the following 10 guidelines for creating a health-building pizza. Perhaps the hardest one is the first one, and it's not even that hard. In reviewing these guidelines, bear in mind that they need not necessarily be applied to your current pizza. The best strategy might be to introduce a "health-building pizza" as a new menu item. Here are the guidelines:

  • Use a high-fiber dough recipe for the crust. Using whole-wheat flour in the recipe helps. Other ingredients, such as psyllium husk powder, can be added in small amounts to increase fiber level as well. For a "super-healthy crust" use a stone ground whole-wheat flour. Unfortunately, stone ground flour may not always be available. Plus it tends to result in a heavy, dense cell structure, which some pizza-eaters might find unappealing. The table above (Fig.1) contains a Health-Building Pizza Dough recipe using stone ground whole white wheat flour. If you'd like to go still further, try this. Experiment with creating a pizza dough recipe using soy protein flour as a substitute for a portion of the wheat flour. This will create a higher-protein, lower-carb pizza crust (which, by the way, will have a slightly different taste and texture from that of regular pizza crust). A pizza made of this type of crust could hold special appeal to the growing number of low-carb, high-protein dieters – namely, the Atkins devotees.
  • Keep sugar to a minimum in dough and sauce recipes – no more than 1 percent of each.
  • Keep oil and fat to a minimum – no more than 3 percent in dough, based on flour weight. Use little or none in the sauce.
  • When oil is used, use olive oil. If you want to incorporate olive flavor into a recipe, use virgin or extra virgin oil. If you don't want olive flavor, use "extra light" olive oil.
  • Make it a thin crust pizza. For dough portions, use a seven-ounce dough ball for a 10-inch pizza, 10-ounce for a 12-inch pizza, 14-ounce for a 14-inch pizza, and 18-ounce for a 16-inch pizza. Of course these are guidelines, it's possible to have a slightly thicker crust and still have a healthy pizza, but generally speaking, the thinner the better.
  • For sauce portions, use whatever amount of tomato-based sauce gives the best flavor. So you have great latitude here. Generally speaking, the more the better, as long as it satisfies customers' pizza tastes.
  • For cheese, use a 50:50 blend of low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella and no-fat mozzarella, or any other (blend of) cheese that has the same amount of protein and fat as this blend.
  • For cheese portions, don't overdo it. Use no more than six ounces for a 10-inch pizza, eight ounces for a 12-inch pizza, 11 ounces for a 14-inch pizza, and 14 ounces for a 16-inch pizza. To prevent excessive cheese drying during baking, put the toppings on top of the cheese (as opposed to underneath).
  • For meat toppings, use lean meats. Lean ham, chicken, and/or lean ground beef qualify. Typical pepperoni and Italian sausage would not qualify, although it's possible to create lean Italian sausage. If you do apply pepperoni, use it thin-sliced and put on only a light or moderate portion amount.
  • For veggie toppings, include as much or as little of the typical non-starchy pizza veggies as the customer requests – tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers all qualify.

Interestingly, there are many pizzas on the market today that already come close to meeting these healthy pizza guidelines. So, in fact, pizza is already a healthy food. We're simply talking about making it even healthier.

For a more in-depth look at how to create and market a health-building pizza, check out "Healthy Pizza, Healthy Sales," an article published in the Spring 2000 edition of Pizza Marketing Quarterly, now located on the PMQ website. Fig 1 gives a sample dough recipe that might be used with Health-Building Pizza.

NOTES:

The percents are baker's percents, meaning that they're based on flour portion weight. This formula contains no sugar and, because it's made with whole wheat flour, is relatively high in fiber. It calls for using whole wheat flour milled from white wheat as opposed to the more-traditional red wheat (which is what traditional bread and pizza flour comes from). That's because whole white wheat flour has a less-bitter flavor. It also calls for the flour being stone ground because that type of grind has a larger particle size which converts less rapidly to glucose in the digestive system. (Note that stone ground flour is not the same as roller milled flour.) For information on white wheat flour contact the American White Wheat Producers Association at 913-367-4422. This recipe calls for olive oil because that oil is low in saturated and poly-unsaturated fats. The resulting dough makes a "heavy, hearty" crust. If it's too heavy for your customers, try a 50:50 blend of stone ground whole white wheat flour with regular high-gluten pizza flour. You may need to adjust the water portion to achieve a dough of the proper elasticity or stickiness for your operation. Adjust the yeast portion to achieve the level of rise that you desire. The stone ground white wheat flour may be more expensive than conventional flour, so you may want to price the pizza at least $0.25 higher to recoup the added cost.