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The Reason Why Pizza Is Considered Unhealthy Even If Actually It Isn’t

I'm from Italy. Here I am, writing about food from my country. I also write about food I like from other countries.

Raise your hand if you have never ordered a pizza in your life or eaten it at the restaurant with your family or friends. Pizza is something part of our culture, an iconic dish that almost everyone knows. People love its taste and the various toppings you can add on it. There is only a problem with pizza: it is considered a junk food. Is it true or not? One thing should be pointed in advance: pizza is not a junk food. Pizza can't be simply compared to super oily chips or to a burger topped with several layers of cheese, bacon and mayonnaise. There's definitely more to say before calling pizza a junk food and this article will help understand why it is wrong to believe this dish is something to avoid at all costs in a diet, providing that we have a clear idea of what we really mean for 'pizza'.

The debated origin of pizza

Today it is easy to call 'pizza' any kind of pie topped with something. In the USA some people believe pizza has been invented in New York and - in theory - this should not be considered wrong totally. Well, I am joking: it is wrong, because pizza has not been invented in the USA. There's simply more to say. Pizza, the original dish in absolute to be called by this name, is an Italian dish. Strictly speaking, this dish has nothing to do with pizzas you can eat in the various famous chains of pizzerias in the USA and the other parts of the world. By thinking at this, it is correct to say that "this kind of pizza which looks completely different than Italian pizza" has been invented in the USA, because it is literally a different dish. The only question is: how much it is different?

A traditional pizza you can eat in Italy: even by looking at it in a picture you can notice this is not exactly the kind of pizza you would eat in a common chain of pizzerias in the USA or other countries.

A traditional pizza you can eat in Italy: even by looking at it in a picture you can notice this is not exactly the kind of pizza you would eat in a common chain of pizzerias in the USA or other countries.

Two completely different dishes: American vs Italian pizza

The original pizza, the one you can eat almost everywhere in Italy, is simply composed of a base of wheat-based dough (often wood-oven baked), tomato and mozzarella cheese (the same mozzarella cheese in Italy is something completely different than most of the dried cheeses called 'mozzarella' you would find in various chains of supermarkets in the USA). That's it. This is the simplest version of pizza we know and it is called 'margherita'. Then we have several variants: we have white pizzas (without tomato) and also pizzas topped with several ingredients: vegetables, meat and so on. The richest pizzas are surely caloric and not exactly the best when in a diet, but these are still variants of a dish which is, at the beginning, a very light and simple one. To better give you an idea, in the USA the 'basic' pizza features 'pepperoni', a kind of salami, which is more caloric than Italian 'margherita' just for this reason. Pizzas in the USA generally tend to be also very greasy and cheesy compared to the Italian ones. They are completely a different dish if compared to Italian pizzas because, despite they are still made of a base of dough topped with several ingredients, what completely changes the dish is how these are balanced and what they are made of. Mozzarella in the USA is already completely different than the mozzarella cheese you can taste in Italy, if it is also added in huge quantities compared to what it happens with Italian pizzas, we have already achieved to make a completely different dish to what pizza originally is. If this pizza cannot be imagined simply with tomato and mozzarella cheese, we are again talking about something different, because in Italy, this is what we could traditionally consider the 'original pizza'.

A caprese salad, a popular Italian dish composed of tomatoes and slices of mozzarella. Mozzarella in Italy is shaped like a balloon, it retains liquid and has a very fresh taste.

A caprese salad, a popular Italian dish composed of tomatoes and slices of mozzarella. Mozzarella in Italy is shaped like a balloon, it retains liquid and has a very fresh taste.

Is it American or Italian pizza better or healthier?

Most people in Italy would surely say pizza here is better in the USA, this due also to a certain pride many Italians have when they talk about food. I tend to be instead more objective and I would answer that there is not a 'good' pizza and a 'bad' one. We can only say that Italian pizza is what we could consider the 'original pizza', but, after having pointed this, both versions of pizza are good for people who enjoy them.

A small pepperoni pizza served in California, USA

A small pepperoni pizza served in California, USA

The only important thing to understand is that they are different dishes, so we should have an idea of what we are talking of when we say 'pizza is unhealthy'. A super greasy pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni is surely unhealthy. A Neapolitan pizza with tomato sauce and traditional mozzarella cheese in not excessive amounts cannot be seriously called unhealthy: it is instead the perfect example of a dish which is well balanced in carbs and proteins. This doesn't mean it is healthy to eat Italian pizza everyday, because variety is important in a diet, but it is surely exaggerated to call pizza a 'junk food', at least if we are talking about Italian pizza. Articles debating on how much pizza is unhealthy should focus also on what we are referring to when talking about 'pizza' and not simply concluding that 'pizza is unhealthy', considering the original pizza is all but unhealthy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Alessio Ganci

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