Healthier Pizza May Fight Cancer, Heart Disease, Researchers Claim

A team of food chemists at the University of Maryland has discovered how to boost the antioxidant content of pizza dough by optimizing baking and fermentation methods, a finding that could lead to healthier pizza, they say. (Credit: Photo by Scott Bauer / Courtesy of USDA/Agricultural Research Service)
CHICAGO — Scientists are developing a healthier pizza they say can fight heart disease, cancer and obesity. The research was presented Monday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago.

There’s no magic — you can’t pile your pizza full of fatty cheese, pepperoni and sausage, eat it three times a day and expect to stay healthy. But scientists said they believe you can make some small changes that could make a big difference. The secret is in the crust.

Scientists at the University of Maryland claim that baking pizza faster and at higher temperatures can release disease-fighting antioxidants that ward off illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

“The message that’s important is the way we prepare food may make the food different,” said Sot Lucy Yu, a researcher at the University of Maryland’s nutrition and food science department.

In the university’s food lab, the high-temperature baking method increased antioxidant levels up to 100 percent.

We wanted to see how it works, so NBC5′s Tracie Potts took the lab to her kitchen. The scientists baked three pizzas at 500 degrees for six minutes.

The scientists used whole wheat dough, which is already rich in antioxidants. They let it rise overnight before using the hot, quick baking method. The researchers said the dough quality combined with the baking method allows more antioxidants to be released.

But can it really make you healthier? Michael Jacobson with the Center for Science in the Public Interest was skeptical.

“I think this is probably a lab curiosity. It might get the students a Ph.D, but it won’t lead to healthier pizza,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said that while interesting, the study probably won’t prompt your corner pizza joint to change its cooking methods. Jacobson also pointed out that the toxin acrylamide can also be released if a pizza is baked too long.

The study was not funded by the pizza industry, but it is supported by the government and wheat farmers, Potts reported. A few years ago, they were having financial problems and asked scientists to help them find practical ways to get Americans to use their products.

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