“Pizza can be part of a well-balanced meal. Depending on the toppings you choose, our pizzas have items from all of the four major food groups!”
This is from Pizza Hut’s corporate website. They would love for you to believe that pizza is a healthy option, especially for kids. The reality, however, is not this simple.
According to a new study from the Illinois Prevention Research Center, kids in the US are eating too much pizza, and these trends often tickle into Canada.
While it may be true that pizzas could technically have all four groups covered, the options are often very high in sodium and saturated fats, and on days where young people eat pizza they consume a lot more calories, fat, and sodium than they would on an average day.
“The big problem with pizza is how often people are eating it and the portion size,” says Linda Mailhot-Hall, a registered dietitian who works with kids. “It’s because it contributes a lot of saturated fat and sodium to the diet. Saturated fat is linked to heart disease and sodium is linked to high-blood pressure.”
The study also says that when kids eat pizza they are eating too many slices.
“Kids shouldn’t have more than one or two pieces depending on their age. Making sure you eat fruits and vegetables is important too. Most people who have salad with pizza have Caesar salad, which adds more fat because of the dressing. It’s not actually a good salad.”
Mailhot-Hall says the portion size problem is a major issue in how people are eating.
“Our portions have increased over the years on all foods. The muffins they sell now are three times the size than they were twenty years ago. It’s just exponentially getting a little bit out of control, which is causing a lot of health issues. We are seeing a lot of adult health issues in children. Kids are going to die before their parents.”
Pizza isn’t always lumped into the same category as other junk foods, but Mailhot-Hall thinks it should be.
“It’s just like chicken fingers and french fries. I categorize those foods as ‘sometimes’ foods when I’m talking to children. It’s something that should just be a special treat on occasion.”
So what can be done to make pizza better without cutting it entirely? For starters, Mailhot-Hall recommends ordering pizza once a month or every couple of weeks as a treat. Making homemade pizza also ensures that you can use better ingredients that are more healthy, and changing up the toppings can make all the difference.
“The choice of toppings can make it a little better but it’s hard because cheese is so high in saturated fat, and the meats that are added like pepperoni or sausage that are high in sodium and saturated fat as well. If you just get vegetables on it, you can get chicken and broccoli, you can get feta cheese on it, it’s still tasty. You can get the whole wheat crust which makes it higher in fibre. But you’re not going to get away from the salt unless you make it at home with lower-sodium options.”
Most people tend to order pizza when they’re in a rush, unable to find time to make a pizza from scratch. In the long run, though, finding time could be worth it in the long run.
“I think if you do a little bit of pre-planning, you can still make good home meals on the weekend that you can just heat up on those busy nights.”