Last Saturday as I was poring through the Business Section of New York Times, I came across an interview with Nigel Travis, the CEO of Papa John’s Pizza. The reason that my eye even rested on this article for a second was the headline: “Atkins Who? Let Them Eat Pizza.” As I read through the piece looking for the Atkins reference (it was insignificant. When asked about concerns over health affecting is business, Mr. Travis replied: The Atkins diet affected the whole industry. That seems to have passed.) and read that there were almost 3000 Papa John’s Pizza places in existence, it got me to thinking.
There are pizza places of all kinds everywhere. There are, along with the aforementioned Papa John’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, California Pizza Kitchen, Godfather’s Pizza, Pizza Express, Old Chicago, Little Caesar’s, Chuck E. Cheese, and a host of others. And that’s not to mention the zillion independent, non-chain pizza places nor all the Italian restaurants that serve pizza. And it doesn’t take into account the enormous variety of pizzas that can be purchased at the grocery store and heated up at home. Most of these pizza places deliver, which can’t be said for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and all the rest of the big-name burger chains. You’ve got to go there to get your burger–if you want a pizza (or two or three) all you have to do is pick up the phone.
In doing my research on the post a few days ago on the worthless saturated fat study, I noticed that most of the news outlets all used the results of this study to warn people off of hamburgers. Medical News Today wrote “Before you bite into that burger…” Healthday had a picture of a cheeseburger and fries in its article. And WebMD warns about “eating a meal high in saturated fats, like a cheeseburger…” None of these sources nor any other I found even mentioned pizza. Pizza, it seems, always gets a free pass when it comes time to disparage fast foods.
Having consumed more than a few pieces of pizza over my lifetime, I decided to take a look at pizza compared to cheeseburgers in terms of nutritional value.
I first (for about three seconds) considered making up some kind of chart showing how all the most common pizzas compared to all the burgers, but decided that I didn’t want to make a life’s work out of this. I decided instead to compare the most famous (and common) hamburger outlet’s fare with that of the most famous pizza chain. So it’s McDonald’s verses Domino’s head to head.
Both places have nutritional values posted (click here for McDonald’s; click here for Domino’s), but the McDonald’s is the easier to read. McDonald’s has their listing of nutritional contents set up by entree. Look up a Big Mac and here’s what it has in it. Domino’s takes a little more work. Just as you have to specify how you want to have your pizza made–what kind of crust? what topping? what sauce?–so have you to go through and build your pizza nutritional contents-wise.
I decided to compare a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese to the Domino’s Feast Pizza with the Classic Hand-Tossed crust. Why? Because two pieces of this particular pizza equals the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese calorically. The burger has 730 kcal; two pieces of the pizza contain 660 kcal. In order to make the calories come out equal, you would have to eat 2.2 pieces of the pizza, which is how I figured it. The problem with all this is (the extra 0.2 slices of pizza aside) how many times have you stopped at 2 pieces, or 2.2, to be exact? When I’m in hog mode, I can easily polish off three or four or… Even MD doesn’t stop at 2 pieces unless she’s mustering up some kind of superhuman restraint. I suspect that not many people double up on the Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese, but I imagine a whole lot of people eat more than 2.2 slices of pizza.
I compared the pizza and burgers in a couple of ways. I first looked at saturated fat because that’s what all the mainstream nutritional folks get their panties in a wad about. The hamburger contains19 grams of saturated fat; 2.2 slices of pizza contains 13.2 grams of saturated fat. Not a major difference, but if saturated fat is what you’re worried about, you would be better off with the 2.2 slices of pizza.
The other way I compared the two is by their ratios of carbohydrate to protein. I like to use this parameter when evaluating foods because it tells me how much stuff I don’t need (carbs) I have to take in to get the stuff I do need (protein). We all know that carbs, especially refined carbs, are absolutely non-essential for life. There are no diseases of carbohydrate inadequacy. Go ahead, look in any medical textbook–you won’t find a single listing. All carbohydrates do–especially of the refined variety–is run your insulin and blood sugar up and convert in the liver to fat, saturated fat at that. Protein, on the other hand, is essential to life. So is fat, but in much smaller quantities. And we all have a storage reservoir of fat, some of us more than others. But we all–even the skinniest of us–have plenty stored. Protein is a different story. There are protein insufficiency diseases in the medical textbooks, with the biggest one being protein malnutrition, i.e., starvation. If you don’t get any carbs, nothing happens, except maybe that you become healthier. If you don’t get protein, you ultimately die.
So, since protein is essential and isn’t really stored anywhere in the body (except in the muscle tissue, and we don’t really want to lose any of that) it makes sense to see how much harmful carb (or looking at it in the most sympathetic light–how much worthless carb) do we have to take in to get our protein.
In the case of the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese we get 46 grams of carb along with our 47 grams of protein, or a ratio of 0.98, just under 1. With the 2.2 slices of Deluxe Feast pizza we get 99 grams of carbohydrate and 28.6 grams of protein giving us a ratio of 3.46, meaning that we have to eat 3.46 grams of carb for every gram of protein we get. Compared to the burger, the pizza doesn’t seem like such a deal. Especially when you consider that your GI tract will convert those 99 grams of carb in the pizza to almost a half cup of sugar. The 46 grams we get in the burger converts to a little less than a quarter cup, which is bad enough, but the half cup in the pizza is a little much. If–God forbid–you were to eat 3 or 4 slices of this pizza, as Emeril says, “I’m not gonna go there.”
Just in case you think I was stacking the deck in favor of the burger, go on the sites and compare for yourself.
The purpose of this exercise (other than to keep me busy for a couple of hours) was twofold. I wanted to see if pizza deserved the lack of attention it got from the anti-fat, anti-fast-food crowd, and, as far as I’m concerned, it really doesn’t. Yet somehow it manages to stay off the radar screens of all these dietary do-gooders. Second, I wanted to see for myself the difference in case I want to indulge in a little fast food. I wanted to see where my best bang for the protein buck came from. It’s pretty obvious to me.
A fast food that flies under the radar screen