June 15, 2015 |

Heart Healthy

By DeAnn Owens

feta, tomato, spinach, pizzaAppeal to new and current customers with health-conscious options


Health food is not a phrase that typically comes to mind when describing pizza. With gooey cheese, heavy toppings and thick crust, pizza is most often synonymous with indulgence, celebration and yum.

But with some tweaks, customers hoping to maintain a healthy diet can have pizza more frequently without fretting.

“Expand your vegetarian offerings,” advises Diana K. Rice, registered dietitian on staff with the Meatless Monday campaign in New York. “Research shows that high consumption of red and processed meats, things like sausage and pepperoni, are strongly linked to heart disease. Try offering Meatless Monday specials as a small step to introduce your customers to heart-healthy fare. No need to take meat off of the menu entirely, just promote existing vegetarian items or introduce new, seasonal specials.”

To add more heart-healthy options to the menu, Rachel G. Riddiford, a registered dietician and the organizational nutrition and healthy way officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, advises operators to include options like adding seeds to crust, such as sesame or poppy, low-fat cheeses like feta, fresh, low-fat mozzarella, low-fat ricotta and to avoid adding unhealthy oils to the top of the crust.

“The American Heart Association has recognized pizza as one of the ‘salty six,’” says Kimberly Oswalt, the Wellness Center/Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehab Dietitian at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. “This is found in the processed meats, cheese and crust. The pizza sauce can often contain a lot of sodium, so using a low-sodium sauce or a small amount of olive oil can be a healthier base. If the crust is homemade, try decreasing the sodium content.”

Scaling back on the amount of cheese used on a given pizza can help make it healthier, as well.

“Many customers don’t prefer light or low-fat cheese, and it often doesn’t melt well, so instead try offering vegetable-heavy pies with a few shavings of regular cheese over the top,” Rice says.

Building a better anything starts with the foundation, and with pizza, the foundation is the dough.

“As more research is connecting intake of refined carbohydrates to heart disease, offer thin-crust pizzas made with whole grain to cut down on the refined carbohydrate content of the meal,” Rice says. “Many recipes suggest using 50 percent whole-grain flour and 50 percent white flour for improved taste and texture, but you’re really not including that much whole grain in the final recipe with this approach. Instead, try using white whole-wheat flour, which has a milder taste, and offer it in a thin crust recipe so it doesn’t dominate the pizza’s flavor. Alternatively, try offering crusts that aren’t made from wheat flour. It’s not that gluten consumption is associated with heart disease, but exploring options other than wheat provides an opportunity to introduce even more heart-healthy nutrients.”

Morris Sarway, co-founder of Posh Tomato located in New York and Connecticut, has discovered that a little dough goes a long way.

“A traditional pie has 32 ounces of dough, and in an 18-20-inch pie, that’s like four ounces of dough per slice,” Sarway says. “We start with a 90-gram dough ball, 3.17 ounces of dough, so eating one full pie of Posh Tomato is approximately 75 percent of one slice of a traditional pie. Our classic pie is 400 calories. Our full salad pies start with that 90-gram dough ball, and we use it as a plate and put a salad on top of it. Our items have had a great reception. People like the fact that there’s an alternative to enjoy pizza while being health conscious.”

Although some meat might be off the menu for heart-conscious customers, don’t rule out toppings as a way to ramp up the health benefits of a pizza.

Riddiford recommends lots of veggies like onion, mushroom, peppers of any kind, spinach, kale, extra tomato, caramelized (low-fat) fennel, arugula, asparagus, broccoli (of any sort), cauliflower, eggplant (if pre-cooked, only in healthy oils), zucchini and roasted squash. Consider fruits, too, like pineapple, nectarine or figs, and season with pesto, herbs and pepper to reduce salt. She also suggests lean protein such as Canadian bacon, chicken, egg, or tofu (not fried), fat-free and salt-free sausages, and nuts or seeds of any kind.

Forget the breadsticks. sides can be healthy, too.

“Salads and apples are great sides for a pizza,” Riddiford says. “They offer crunch and lots of fiber/water that help a person feel full so they end up eating less pizza. Vinegar-based salad dressings with healthy fat, olive or canola, are a great option to offer. Some people like the low calorie dressings.”

Dalton advises also holding the croutons, olives and cheese.

Customers craving a heavier meal can add grilled chicken to a salad pie, Sarway adds.

“For pasta dishes, offer a whole-grain option, as fiber is an important nutrient for heart health,” Rice says. “Whole-grain pastas have improved in taste and texture dramatically over the past few years and many customers now prefer them. If possible, don’t upcharge for the whole-grain option –– let’s make eating heart-healthy just as affordable as standard options.”

Even desserts can be on the menu for health-conscious diners.

Riddiford suggests a sorbet, which is high calorie but low in added fat and salt, any fruits that can be dipped in chocolate or nuts, and biscotti, minus the frosting.

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human-interest stories.