It's the junk food junkie's wildest dream come true -- pizza as health food.
University of Maryland food chemists said Monday that they had found ways to enhance the antioxidant content of whole-grain wheat pizza dough by baking it longer at higher temperatures and giving the dough lots of time to rise.
Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Some experts believe antioxidants can lower the risk of cancer, heart disease and other ailments.
Liangli Lucy Yu, a food chemistry professor, said the findings arose from broader research into ways to improve health-promoting properties of wheat-based food products.
"The reason that we chose pizza is just because it is a very popular food product, not only in the U.S. but worldwide," researcher Jeffrey Moore added.
"So we thought if we could find ways to improve (its antioxidant) properties, doing this for such a product could have a larger impact on public health," Moore added.
But Moore had a slice of advice for pizza aficionados who might want to cover their crust with mounds of fatty toppings such as extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef.
"If you're adding back all these other things that have potential negative health consequences, then you're negating anything that you're adding in terms of (health) value," Moore said.
The research was served up at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, a mecca for deep-dish, thick-crust pizza.
The researchers experimented with baking temperatures, baking time and fermentation time -- the time the pizza dough is given to rise.