Pizza — the birthday party staple, the college student’s dearest friend, and the protagonist of our molten cheese dreams — just got an overhaul. Mike Lean, chair of human nutrition at Scotland’s University of Glasgow, teamed up with businessman Donnie Maclean to take on pizza, a potentially unhealthy part of the frozen food aisle that they say has seen little change in 20 years. Unimpressed with the nutrition bonafides of prepared meals, the duo are introducing their own, healthier take on frozen pizza.
Most old-school pizzas (like the kind we’ve been eating up 'til now) are high in saturated fats and salt, while running low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eat Balanced plans to flip that design. While the brand makes big claims about a revolutionary product design, it's tough to confirm or deny the benefits of this pizza compared to those on the market sight unseen. (Eat Balanced's actual pizza nutrition stats and ingredients will not be available until the pizza's release this September.)
So how do they plan to make their pies so healthy? After running through a barrage of different recipes and ingredients, Maclean and Lean say they found a combo that keeps pizza’s delicious taste without all the bad stuff. For example, seaweed — not salt — was used to create that crave-worthy, savory, umami taste in the crust. Seaweed actually mimics a salty taste profile (one tablespoon has 6,975 mg of sodium versus seaweed’s 73mg equivalent), while also pumping the pie with other good nutrients such as iron, iodine, and vitamin B12 to the pie Seaweed minerals as nutraceuticals. Misurcova, L., Machu, L., Orsavova, J. Department of Food Technology and Microbiology, Faculty of Technology, Tomas Bata University in Zlin, Zlin, Czech Republic. The Journal of Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 2011;64:371-90.. Won’t that make pizza taste funky? Not so, says Maclean, who found that other companies (like Artisan Bread Organic) use seaweed in their bread recipes. Eat Balanced also added red peppers into the tomato sauce to pump up the vitamin C content. But aside from those two substitutions, Lean and Maclean don't plan on including any radical superfoods that could turn the pizza into a health rockstar.
After spending a year working on the science behind the pizza, Lean says it will change catering, food thinking, and food marketing by putting a renewed focus on nutrition, even in prepared and frozen foods that are normally associated with poor diets and inexpensive products. It’s hard to say if a healthier version of pizza will change the world, but for Lean it’s a start.
While the Eat Balanced site claims the product provides consumers with the right levels of all the main nutrients needed, it’s important to note that this information is based on the U.K.’s nutrition guidelines. (At the same time, both U.S. and U.K. health organizations are pushing to lower sodium intake An evaluation of the UK food standards agency’s salt campaign. Shankar, B., Brambila-Macias, J., Traill, B., et al. Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, UK. The Journal of Health Economics, 2012 Jan;6..
Making over a pizza with food science and rigorous testing may bode well for better options in the frozen food section, but making a healthier pizza doesn’t have to be all science-y. It’s possible to create a better pizza at home, even if it’s not exactly how Eat Balanced does it. Greatist expert Lindsey Joe says traditional pizza definitely has its faults, but for a smarter version, “Top your pie with your favorite produce, go light on the cheese and include leaner protein sources.” It may sound simple but it’s also the plan for Eat Balanced: Less bad stuff, more good stuff. Which raises the question, why hasn’t anyone thought of a healthier pizza beforehand, and why will Eat Balanced stand out from the crowd?
The pizza hasn’t made it stateside yet but we are curious to see if Maclean and Lean’s “healthy pizza” can pull off nutritious and delicious simultaneously.
Would you eat a “healthy” pizza? Can pizza ever really be made into something nutritious? Share your thoughts in the comments below.