Here's something every operator should know: When it comes to foods that help ward off cancer, tomato sauce is the boss.
Be it tomato products used for pizza, pasta, soups, juices, whatever, all are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
A 1999 study authored by Harvard researcher Dr. Edward Giovannucci suggested that lycopene and other carotenoids (types of chemicals that give tomatoes their characteristic red color) may account for a "protective association between tomatoes, tomato products and various cancers."
Multiple studies also have found that processed tomato products, like pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce, have greater amounts of lycopene than even fresh tomatoes. Quite simply, cooking removes water, which increases the percentage of soluble tomato solids in a sauce, and increases the lycopene concentration.
While studies strongly suggest lycopene lowers the risk of lung and stomach cancers, its role in fighting prostate cancer is fast becoming legendary. According to a report on FirstPath.com, studies show that lycopene seems to actually settle in the prostate, and men who have high levels of the aggressive antioxidant in their blood appear to have fewer cases of prostate cancer.
Of course, it's one thing to know that lycopene helps, and another thing to take advantage of it. Therefore, to reap lycopene's many benefits, researchers say men should eat at least five servings of tomatoes each week. Pizza and pasta sauces, tomato and vegetable juices, and fresh tomatoes are good sources of the antioxidant.
While studies have yet to make a similar gender-based connection to lycopene and cancers found more often in women, their findings strongly suggest that the health benefits of lycopene-rich foods are so wide-ranging that women should eat plenty of those foods as well.
Despite pizza sauce's inherently super-high lycopene count, pizza makers have done next to nothing to promote that important health benefit. Retail manufacturers of ketchup, which has far less lycopene than pizza sauce, advertise this important fact prominently on their labels. Eager to influence grocery shoppers — particularly mothers looking out for their families' health — makers of tomato soups and juices are making similar declarations of healthfulness.
Are pizza operators missing a golden opportunity?
Yes, said Chip Sclafani, especially given the fact that pizza has taken such a beating in the mainstream media as being unhealthful. Operators should seize every opportunity to tell their customers about pizza's health benefits.
"We've always known that pizza sauce and other tomato sauces are good for you, and now there's research to back that up," said Sclafani, vice president of sales for Violet Packing in Williamstown, N.J. The company produces preservative-free tomato sauces for pizza and pasta products.
"We've always stressed what's not in our product as much as we've stressed what's in our product. If it's not tomatoes and spices, it's not in there."