Better ingredients. More calories. Ok, so that’s not as catchy as a Papa Johns pizza commercial, but researchers are sounding the alarm over a kid’s love of pizza. In some corners, health researchers are wanting to lump pizza together with sugary drinks and fast food as foods you should avoid.

I had no idea researchers didn’t already lump all three together. Who in the world opens a large pizza box and goes, yep, I’m eating healthy tonight?

A new study found that pizza is a large source of calories, saturated fat and salt in kids’ diets. The conclusion? Kids should eat no more than two slices of pizza for a meal and pair it with a salad in place of another high-calorie food.

“Parents should aim to curb pizza consumption, particularly as a snack where it was shown to have the largest adverse impact on children’s [calorie] intake, and they should put their pizza dollars toward healthier brands,” said study co-author Lisa Powell, director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center.

The team collated data from questionnaires of kids ages 2 to 19 complete every two years between 2003 and 2010. In the time period, the number of calories from eating pizza declined 25 percent, so there is progress being made. However, on any given day, 20 percent of kids are eating pizza.

Teens consumer an average of 230 extra calories on pizza day, while young kids add an average of 84. The excess matches the caloric intake on days when a kid eats fast food. “Given that pizza remains a highly prevalent part of children’s diet, we need to make ‘healthy’ pizza the norm,” Powell said.

How can restaurants make pizza healthier? Ditch the saturated fat, reduce salt and whole grain crusts. That immediately makes it ‘healthier’ while retaining the taste. I don’t see kids lining up for kale as the main topping, so baby steps.

Parent Education

Another step is targeted nutritional counseling. The researchers in this study stress that doctors should focus on foods rather than a nutrient profile. Instead of busting out a new food pyramid, explain the pros and cons of different types of foods.

Portion sizing is also a concern. Too many times we blitz a large pizza with outsized slices. A way around this is to make the pizza at home. Not only will you use better ingredients – vegetables and lean proteins – but you are likely to use less cheese.

Instantly the pizza becomes a healthier choice, and it is smaller. You’ll make the pizza normal sized and not the $12 ‘it’s the size of a tire’ special.

All this pizza talk makes me want a double large with breadsticks. Your fault Pediatrics.

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