Counting pizza sauce as a vegetable is no laughing matter, expert says

November 22, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Journalists, bloggers and comedians have been making hay with a Congressional bill that would count pizza sauce as a school lunch vegetable, but a leading child nutritionist says the sad joke is that the sauce has counted as a vegetable for a long time.

The provision would require schools to quadruple the amount of sauce in order to maintain its vegetable status. Purdue University nutrition sciences professor Sibylle Kranz says the change was a nonstarter because nobody would actually serve or eat a half cup of sauce either on a pizza slice or as a side serving.

"We are fighting a national battle against childhood obesity, and children need to eat more vegetables," Kranz says. "We should push for increased intake of conventional vegetables and not look towards pizza as providing a satisfactory substitute."

Kranz, a registered dietitian who chaired the American Public Health Association's Food and Nutrition section in 2010, says the current one-eighth cup serving of pizza sauce is likely to be the only vegetable on the pizza and is higher in sodium than a typical serving of vegetables four times as large. Much worse, Kranz says, is that a pizza slice can easily weigh in at almost 400 calories - a hefty replacement for a healthy vegetable such as broccoli, which contributes about 70 calories.

Kranz says pizza isn't even the worst food served to kids and is OK in moderation.

"But to declare it a good source for vegetables in the school lunch program has far-reaching consequences," Kranz says. "Unfortunately, healthy vegetables can wilt and look grey after just 20 minutes on a server - then no one wants to eat it."

Kranz says pizza has the advantage of looking and tasting good even after hours under a hot light. As past chair of the Obesity Society's Nutrition Epidemiology Section she has researched how schools can help improve student nutrition. She says it's a complicated problem.

"Schools have increasingly less money to feed children and pizza is popular, affordable and easy to prepare," Kranz says. "So the temptation to make it a school lunch menu staple is strong."

The Kranz Lab researches children's food intake behavior, diet quality and how these relate to chronic diseases. The lab also develops and implements methods to improve childhood nutrition to maintain optimum growth, development and health.

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Source: Sibylle Kranz, kranz@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Sibylle Kranz is available in person or via satellite uplink. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu