July 1, 2007 Food chemists have shown that making a pizza crust with whole wheat flour and cooking it longer releases more antioxidants. These chronic disease-fighting compounds increased by 82 percent when baked at a higher temperature, by 60 percent when baked twice as long and doubled when the dough was left to rise an extra day.
There's no doubting its popularity -- we eat 350 slices every second in this country.
But no matter how much you love pizza, the tomato sauce on top does not mean you're getting your veggies for the day. In fact, it's usually unhealthy. Now, a new way to make pizza actually increases antioxidants which could help prevent cancer and heart disease from forming.
"The key important factor is that it's made with whole wheat flour," Marla Luther, a University of Maryland graduate student studying food sciences, says. Food chemists found that baking pizza longer, at higher temperatures gives the dough time to release more antioxidants, the nutrients in our bodies that help fight chronic disease. "The whole wheat flour is higher in antioxidants than just regular all purpose flour, and it's those antioxidants that we studied," Margaret Smitka, a registered dietician, says.
Antioxidants increased by as much as 60 percent when baked longer and as much as 82 percent when cooked in a hotter oven. Letting the dough rise for two days doubled the dough's antioxidant levels. "The important message is ... the little things you do at home may make your diet better," says Liangli Lu, Ph.D., a food chemist from the University of Maryland.
Taste testers confirmed this new baking style recipe is an easy way to cook up a great tasting pizza at home just by making a few simple changes in the kitchen. "As a general consensus, people really enjoyed this as a homemade pizza product," Smitka says.
BACKGROUND: A team of food chemists at the University of Maryland has discovered how to boost the antioxidant content of pizza dough by optimizing baking and fermentation methods. Diets rich in antioxidants are thought to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Making popular foods healthier using the tools of chemistry could have a significant impact on public health.
ABOUT THE STUDY: The Maryland study is part of an ongoing effort to discover and develop new technologies that enhance the levels of natural antioxidants in grain-based food ingredients such as whole wheat flour. Pizza dough is one of the most popular wheat-based food products in the US. Pizza bakers have known for some time that longer baking times and higher temperatures can enhance the flavor of pizza. The new study shows that these intense baking conditions may also boost antioxidant levels in dough, especially whole wheat varieties. That's great news for fans of deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza, whose longer baking time and thicker crust could have the potential to deliver higher levels of antioxidants in comparison to other pizza styles.
WHAT THEY DID: The researchers exposed whole grain pizza dough from two different varieties of wheat to different baking temperatures, ranging from 400 to 500 degrees, and also to different baking times: from 7 to 14 minutes. A number of tests were used to measure changes in the crusts' antioxidant properties. They found that longer baking times or higher temperatures generally corresponded to higher levels of antioxidants. In fact, antioxidant levels increased by as much as 60% during longer baking times, and 82% during higher baking temperatures, depending on the type of wheat flour and antioxidant test being used. The researchers believe that the antioxidant boosting effect used in the study will be less obvious in pizza dough made with refined flour, because the bran and endosperm -- where the antioxidants are found -- have largely been removed. The exact mechanisms that could account for the increase are not yet known.
WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS? Antioxidants are nutritional substances -- vitamins, minerals, and enzymes -- that can counteract the damaging, but normal, effects of oxidation in animal tissue. They block the oxidation process by neutralizing free radicals: chemically active atoms that grab electrons from the body, thereby damaging cells, proteins and DNA. The same process causes oils to go rancid and peeled apples to turn brown. Antioxidants may play a role in preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, consuming mega-doses of antioxidants can be harmful, causing diarrhea, bleeding, and the risk of toxic reactions.
ON THE WEB:
The recipe for healthier pizza crusts can be found here: http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/scitech/pizzarecipe.cfm
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.