Trina Palomarez, MS, CNS, CNC
Pizza is one of the top selling fast food items and there is no wondering why. Just about everyone enjoys eating a warm slice of pizza. Who can resist that gooey melted cheese, fresh baked crust and just the right amount of sauce to make all the flavors come together. Not only is pizza delicious, it is often abundantly available, makes for a quick and filling meal and appeals to a wide range of pallets, from adults to young children.
Pizza Hut has developed a thriving business providing a multitude of pizza options to thousands of people. We know that pizza tastes great, but is is great for you? Let's take a closer look at the Pizza Hut menu and get a better understanding of what they offer and how this relates to nutritional value and health.
Obviously Pizza Hut is known for pizza, from the humble cheese pizza to extravagant special selections like their BBQ bacon cheeseburger pizza and bacon spinach alfredo pizza. Fo those looking for something other than pizza, they offer pasta dishes, sandwiches, chicken wings, salads, soups, desserts and side dishes such as onion rings, jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks.
In terms of nutritional value of the Pizza Hut menu, it is pretty low. Pizza crust is made from white processed flour, which contains little nutrient value. Processed white flour is wheat flour with essentially all the vitamins, minerals and fiber removed. The process of refining leaves a highly concentrated carbohydrate product which has the potential for many negative health effects on the body. Excess consumption of white processed flour products can raise blood sugar and triglyceride levels, which in turn can contribute to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Then there's the cheese. On the positive side, cheesy pizza topping does contain a little protein, but unfortunately cheese is also very high in fat, especially saturated fats. Excess saturated fats in the diet can have the potential to increase cholesterol levels and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Most pizza uses mozzarella as its base, which tends to be lower in fat than other cheeses, although many of the supreme pizza varieties will contain combinations of different cheeses, contributing to a higher fat content. Whether it's mozzarella or other types of cheese, they are often topped on pizza in amounts well above the recommended suggested serving size which can end up equating to higher calories and fat levels.
We know the combination of bread and gooey cheese has low nutritional value, and when we start looking at added toppings, the nutritional situation gets worse. One slice of BBQ bacon cheeseburger pizza is 490 calories per slice! And how many of us are really just sticking to 1 slice of pizza when eating out? The added barbeque sauce is high in sugar, included in the ingredients to help improve flavor. The meat toppings dramatically increase the total fat content, while also being loaded with sodium. High sodium foods can elevate blood pressure, which can create increased risk of heart disease.
Ok, so pizza may not be the best healthy food choice but what about Pizza Hut's other menu options? Unfortunately, they also do not fair well on the nutritional scale. Although they offer a pasta dish with roasted vegetables, the pasta and side of garlic bread served with it are all processed white flour products, void of nutrient value. In terms of calories, their spaghetti and marinara with meatballs comes in at a whopping 990 calories per serving! That is close to an entire days worth of calories in just 1 meal!
Their chicken wings and sides are not much better. All are deep fried, creating trans fats from the oil used to cook them in. Trans fat are considered the worst type fat you can consume and are often referred to as "bad fats". They are highly inflammatory in the body and have been shown to increase risk of heart disease, lower HDL (good) cholesterol and raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the body.
But what about their sandwiches, aren't sandwiches a healthy food option? Well that really depends on the type of sandwich. Pizza Hut sandwiches use white refined/processed flours and are also topped with high fat cheese and poor-quality meats high in sodium. In fact, their sandwiches contain higher levels of fat than many of their pizza choices.
For those looking for the healthiest food choice options on the Pizza Hut menu, their best option is the garden salad, without dressing, followed by their caesar salad and tomato basil soup option. These may not sound as enticing as a slice of pizza, but they benefit overall health by being naturally lower in calories, lower in sodium, contain no processed, refined flours and are generally lower in fat.
Eating one slice of pizza may seem like no big deal, and when you're hungry and in a hurry it may be an appealing choice. As we have learned, although pizza is a tasty convenience food, along with items like wings and pasta, it is not a health food and eating these foods with regularity can contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar levels and high cholesterol.
When looking for healthy options at Pizza Hut, it is best to choose options like their salads or soups. If you can't avoid the temptation of pizza, then it may be best to limit your intake to 1 slice of plain cheese or veggie pizza and pair it with a side salad to create a more filling meal.
Eating on the go can be challenging, but with a better understanding of your fast food options, and how they affect your body, you may be able to make wiser choices for your health!