Prevent Heart Attacks—with Pizza?
People in Italy who regularly eat pizza are less likely to have heart attacks than those who don’t eat pizza, according to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004;advance online publication 12 May:1–4).
Pizza is a traditional Italian food and one of the most popular foods in the world. In its simplest form, it is made of a wheat flour crust risen with yeast, coated with olive oil and tomato sauce, and topped with mozzarella cheese. One large study found that women who eat two or more servings of pizza per week have a 34% lower risk of heart disease than women who don’t eat pizza. Other studies have suggested that some pizza ingredients, such as tomatoes (with their powerful antioxidant lycopene) and olive oil, can protect against heart disease.
The current study took place in Italy; it compared the diets, health characteristics, and habits of 507 people hospitalized for their first heart attack with those of 478 people who had never had a heart attack. Answers to questionnaires revealed that, compared with the people who had never had a heart attack, the people who had experienced a heart attack were more likely to be smokers, coffee drinkers, and overweight; they were less likely to drink alcohol, less likely to exercise, ate fewer vegetables and fruits, and ate more calories overall. Even when the analysis corrected for all of these differences, eating pizza was found to be linked with a lower incidence of heart attack: eating one 7-ounce serving of pizza per week reduced the likelihood of having a heart attack by 38%, and eating two servings of pizza per week reduced the risk by 56%. The beneficial effects of pizza consumption were still seen, even after researchers adjusted the results for total intake of tomatoes and olive oil.
The results of this study suggest that eating pizza may uniquely benefit heart disease risk. It is possible that the observed benefit is due to lycopene from tomatoes or olive oil, or both, but further research is needed to determine this.
Recommendations to eat pizza should take into consideration the relatively small size of pizza servings in this study. Pizza in Italy is generally made with a thin crust and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, and an entire pizza might provide 500 to 800 calories. Compare that to a standard pizza in the United States, with its thick, doughy crust and piles of cheese, that can have as much as 2,000 calories. Nevertheless, the only previous study examining the effect of pizza consumption on heart disease risk was done in the United States, and it also found a positive effect. While pizza may turn out to be a health-promoting food, it would be prudent to consume it only in amounts that do not contribute to overeating and obesity.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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