Leach: "How we made a healthier pizza"

Sept. 21, 2010

 In the second part of his series, Naked Pizza's Jeff Leach describes how his chain defines a healthier pizza, without going organic.

Last time, we made it clear that taking one side or another on the debate of organic versus conventionally grown foods is a bit insincere, as the line fades from clear to blurry depending on the facts you chose to consider or ignore. However, as the nutritional studies cited indicate, it’s probably time we soberly accept the fact that organic foods are no better or worse in our fight to attenuate human disease than conventionally grown sources.  And yes, it’s true there are some items that seem to attract more than their share of pesticides, a group of plants the Environmental Working Group has labeled the “dirty dozen.” Celery, peaches, strawberries and apples are among the worst. But no need for me to download the iPhone App to keep track, I don’t sell peaches - I sell pizza.

In starting this journey over four years ago, we set out to create a great tasting pizza that brought to bear all that science and evolutionary thinking had to offer at a price we could afford. Importantly, then, we needed a business model that would scale if we were ever going to achieve influence with our mission, and it’s the scale part of the equation that is too often overlooked in our collective desire to move the health needle in America. For the business model, we chose the most successful one available – carry out and delivery, no dining. We hacked this model and clothed it with a cool, engaging brand and offered up a product that is more helpful than hurtful. By choosing this model we also entered the hyper-disciplined world of an 8-10 minute delivery area and an operational promise that if you ordered from us, you could plan the next 30 minutes of your life.

The real beauty of this model is that we concealed a much healthier “delivery pizza” in regular pizza boxes’ clothes. Here’s how we did it.

The science behind healthier pizza (hint: it’s not less salt or fat)  

Organics’ inflated status as a magic bullet has dumbed-down the conversation to the point that anyone who seeks a less ideological alternative is labeled as an unethical eater. This is unfortunate. At Naked Pizza, we have chosen a different route - one that allows our business model a fighting chance in this highly competitive sector and a perspective on health that focuses on modern science with an eye towards our evolutionary past.

Our product offering is all-natural. It’s simple: no additives, preservatives or freaky chemicals of any kind in our dough, sauce, cheese and toppings. This means no bleached or bromated flours and no dough stabilizers. It means no artificial citric acid in our sauce or growth hormones in our cheese. We also have no added sugar, HFCS and use no trans-fatty acids. We ousted the olive oil in our dough for canola oil, which has a better fatty acid profile. We brought together 10 seeds and grains into an “Ancestral Blend” that also includes heat resistant probiotics and a special soluble fiber from the fabled agave plant that is clinically proven to selectively stimulate the growth of good-for-you bacteria. These ingredients were brought together for their taste profile and “real” health benefits for our customers, not because they represent some flavor of the day health claim.  

The reality is this: everyone that peddles pizza for a living is the nutritional equivalent of an arms dealer. It hurts people because pizza has traditionally been a highly processed carbohydrate that is immediately digested and absorbed which results in over production of insulin from the pancreas. It hurts people because grains have not been on the menu for 99.5 percent of human history and represent something completely unfamiliar to our genome. It’s not the grains per se that are bad, it’s how we present them to our gastrointestinal tract in their highly processed form. That crappy feeling most people have after eating a pizza is insulin dumping into our system. So what can we do?

What we can do as an industry is cut back on the amount of high gluten flour and include a few other grains and seeds. This will slow down the digestion and absorption and reduce the amount of insulin in the system to a slower, more manageable drip. This is the area where we can do the most good. Focusing on salt and fat reduction in cheese and toppings – as science and history have proven – will not result in any meaningful progress. At Naked Pizza we take this a step further with our emphasis on improving the health and well being of the microbiome, which is to say the intestinal microflora of our customers with our diversity of fibers and addition of probiotics. This is our shtick – how we define a healthy pizza. An organic high gluten flour is just as bad as a conventionally grown one – pure, white and deadly. Though we do not focus on calorie and fat content, ours is a tad lower because of our formulations.

But most important of all, ours is a product and brand that is about starting a conversation. It’s an honest place on the landscape where we are trying hard to do the best job we possibly can.

Topics: Going Green, Health & Nutrition

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