Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: Take Two Pizzas and Call Me in the Morning

Michelle Brisebois   

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients

Take Two Pizzas and Call Me in the Morning

My grandmother used to tell me that if I ate my bread
crusts, I’d have curly hair. Judging from the amount of money I’ve paid
for perms over the years, apparently my grandmother was “taking
liberties with the truth.”

My grandmother used to tell me that if I ate my bread crusts, I’d have curly hair. Judging from the amount of money I’ve paid for perms over the years, apparently my grandmother was “taking liberties with the truth.”

It did seem too good to be true, however reputable scientists are suggesting that certain chemical compounds found in food have very dramatic and specific health benefits and many of these foods are common pizza toppings. Food nourishes us and keeps us healthy, but is it able to work miracles?  Is food the new drug?

History does hint that food as elixir may be possible. With our plentiful food supply, we take for granted how critical Vitamin C is to our survival. British sailors in the 1700’s routinely perished from scurvy on long voyages. Administering vitamin C (found in fresh fruits and vegetables) caused the patient to recover, however fruits and vegetables weren’t easy to come by in the middle of the ocean. The Royal Navy prescribed limejuice for the sailors – they were dubbed “limeys” because of this and to this day the slang word for British citizens is “limey.”


Natural remedies were all we had until the 20th century and the era of the new wonder drugs. Front line treatment shifted from food to pharmaceuticals. Many believe that new drug-resistant diseases have evolved due to our dependence of pharmaceuticals. As the bulk of our population ages, many companies are paring back their extended health care plans in an effort to save costs.

The prospect of finding a miracle in a fruit or vegetable suddenly seems more alluring. Enter the era of the “functional food.”

In 2004 Canada’s functional food market was estimated to be worth $2.7 billion (Agriculture Canada) and that number is growing rapidly. It’s a trend that those of us in the food industry should monitor closely. Making heath claims on our menus or dispensing medical advice isn’t the goal here. We can however assume that customers are following these reports and looking for menu options that include some of the more notable functional foods.

The great thing about pizza is its ability to be anything you want it to be and many of the higher profile “foodaceutical stars” can be loaded en masse on top of a thin wheat crust. Here are a few that typically top our pizzas.

Tomato Sauce
Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon, their reddish color. Lycopene also appears to be a strong antioxidant with many scientists suggesting that consumption of foods rich in lycopene may lower risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

A 1995 Harvard University study found that eating 10 or more servings a week of tomato products reduced the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 34 per cent. Lycopene is also thought to have a major role in heart health.  Lycopene is not produced by the body, so you can only obtain its benefits by eating foods rich in lycopene.

Tomato based products, such as spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, ketchup and pizza sauce are the major sources of lycopene in the typical American diet. It’s estimated that these foods contribute to about 80 per cent of the lycopene consumed in the United States.

Some studies indicate that pizza as an entrée actually has dramatic medicinal benefits. Italian scientists claimed that eating pizza once a week can protect against some cancers. The study of 8,000 people revealed that those eating pizza as a healthy snack one or more times a week were several times less likely to get mouth and colon cancer than those who chose other meals.

The tomato is suspected to be behind the results reporting that eating pizza lowered esophageal cancer by 59 per cent, colon cancer by 26 per cent and mouth cancer by 34 per cent. The researchers looked at 3,300 people who had developed cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat or colon and 5,000 people who had not developed cancer. They were asked about their eating habits, and how often they ate pizza. Those who ate pizza at least once a week had less chance of developing cancer.

The research was led by Dr Silvano Gallus, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmaceutical Research in Milan. He said, “We knew that tomato sauce could offer protection against certain tumours, but we did not expect pizza as a complete meal also to offer such protective powers.” 

Scientists caution that there may be other factors at play skewing the results and that not all pizzas are created the same (i.e. with healthy fresh toppings), but it does pose interesting possibilities for our industry.

Have you ever wondered why onions make you cry when you cut them? Well, it’s a natural defense mechanism against predators. Ironically, this same natural pesticide that protects the onion may defend us as well against certain invaders.

Onions contain large quantities of quercetin, which is a flavonoid (a type of antioxidant credited with delaying or slowing cell and tissue damage by catching free radicals). Research suggests that quercetin can help to prevent cancer, heart disease, and possibly lower blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce blood clots.

Olive Oil
It’s long been reported that people of Mediterranean origin enjoy healthier lives. The American Institute for Cancer Research reports that since 75 per cent of the fatty acids in olive oil come from monounsaturated fat, and only 13 per cent from saturated fat. It’s easy to see why blood cholesterol goes down when olive oil replaces high fat options like butter.

Olive oil also offers several health advantages over more polyunsaturated vegetable oils. It’s suggested that monounsaturated oils seem to cause less production of the bile acids in the digestive tract that can promote colon cancer development.

Red Wine

Ok, red wine isn’t a pizza topping but it sure does go well with a nice hot pie.

Red wine is thought to be the reason for the “French Paradox” explaining why people in France have traditionally enjoyed less incidence of heart disease. Resveratrol is a phytoalexin, an antibiotic compound produced as a part of a plant's defense system against disease and invading fungus. Since fungal infections are more common in cooler climates, grapes grown in cooler climates (such as Canada) have a higher concentration. Extended contact of the grape skins (more dramatic in red wine production) results in a greater concentration of Resveratol. Coronary disease and cancer prevention have been indicated in studies of Resveratol, but only if consumed in moderation (about 5 oz per day consumed with food).

Food isn’t the new drug – it’s an old friend who’s been ignored for the last century. As we rediscover our roots, we may just find a few miracles along with it. Read up on this trend, it’s probably going to gain even more momentum over the next few years.•

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