Mickey's Healthy Minute
Mickey Cariglio, Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and co-owner of Lorenzo’s, is the author of "Mickey's Healthy Minute," offering tips on important health trends and the reasons why she chooses nutritious ingredients for Lorenzo’s menu.
PIZZA AS HEALTH FOOD, Part I
Mickey Cariglio, R.D.
San Marzano Tomatoes on Beautiful Flame Pizza
Pizza Gets a Bad Rap
A short time ago a friend of mine told me her mother had a heart attack. It wasn’t fatal, thank goodness. I told her to stop by Lorenzo’s for a healthy, nourishing dinner.
“We can’t eat at Lorenzo’s. My mother can’t eat pizza!” my friend hollered. I protested: “Yes, you can.”
My friend’s perception that pizza was bad for your health was distressing. As a Registered Dietitian I create nutritious meal plans for older people and families with a variety of health problems, including cardiac disease, obesity, diabetes and food allergies.
In the right portion size and with a combination of healthy vegetables and a thin crust, pizza is almost a perfect food.
It’s like going to a supermarket. You can choose to buy high-fat and processed foods, or you can spend more time in the vegetable aisle. When you go to Lorenzo’s you have a wide choice of vegetables to top your pizza or you can opt for other ingredients.
Put a Rainbow on Your Plate
According to health experts, people should eat more colorful fruits and vegetables because of their antioxidant, disease-preventing properties. I tell my clients to consume five to 10 servings (a serving is equivalent to one cup) of colorful produce a day.
Colorful vegetables include red and green peppers, red onions, carrots and dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, arugula and mesclun. While tomatoes are technically a fruit, they’re used like a vegetable.
Tomatoes are the star ingredient in pizza. They have high levels of lycopene, a “phytochemical” that gives fruit and vegetables their red pigment. Research has shown that lycopene is important in the prevention of cardiac disease and cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon and pancreas.
A Harvard University study of 48,000 men who ate two servings of tomato sauce weekly revealed that 35% of them were less likely to develop prostate cancer. The study, conducted over a 12-year period, was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, December 6, 1995.
At Lorenzo’s, my husband Larry uses premium San Marzano tomatoes, imported from Italy, for his wood-fired pizza, The Beautiful Flame. Sweet and meaty, San Marzanos are higher in lycopene than other tomatoes. (He uses California tomatoes for his regular pizza and spaghetti sauces because they are slightly more acidic.)
Lycopene is not soluble in water but fat. So, to release the lycopene into the blood stream Lorenzo’s tomato sauces are cooked with olive oil, a fat.
Also, our bodies are not able to extract lycopene from raw tomatoes because the pigment is bound up in cell walls. When tomatoes are boiled in our sauces the cell walls are broken down, freeing up the lycopene.
The Synergy of Food
There’s nothing haphazard in the kitchen at Lorenzo’s. Larry and I firmly believe in the synergy of food, combining a variety of vegetables to maximize not only flavor but disease-preventing antioxidants.
That’s why we choose other nutrient-packed vegetables for our pizzas: peppers, eggplants, red onions and spinach.
A notable exception to our “colorful” rule is mushrooms (they’re actually fungi). Mushrooms have as high an antioxidant capacity as tomatoes and peppers and are considered a “super food” that helps decrease the risk of breast cancer.
Lorenzo’s is also one of the few pizzerias that does not pre-cook its vegetables (other than tomatoes). The longer vegetables are exposed to heat the more they lose their nutrients. The veggies are placed on top, so once in the oven all their delicious juices and healthy nutrients soak down into the pizza.
My Healthy Pizza Picks
Here is what I recommend for my friend’s mother and other health-conscious individuals:
Pizza One: A vegetarian pizza on a thin, whole-wheat crust with tomatoes, red onions and peppers.
Pizza Two: A vegetarian pizza on a thin, whole-wheat crust with eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and garlic.
(Ask for limited or no cheese on top.)
Pizza gets a bad rap. But when you have two or three slices of one of the pizzas described above and a side of our Mesclun Salad with its dark, leafy greens, you’re super-charging your immune system. A meal like this gives you three to four daily servings of the colorful produce that I recommended earlier.
Oh! And don’t forget to treat yourself to a small glass of red wine. (A key ingredient in red wine that might help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce cholesterol and prevent blood clots is Resveratrol.)
Stay tuned to my next Health Blog, “Pizza As Health Food, Part II.” We’ll discuss the flours we use in our doughs and low-fat proteins. Questions or comments? Please email me at email@example.com.