Stop Blotting Your Pizza – Elemental

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Nutritionists address the age-old dilemma of pizza eaters

Emily Moon
Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

AsAs long as there’s been pizza, there have been debates about the best way to eat it. Folding it lengthwise is okay. Fork-and-knifing it is utter nonsense. But what about blotting the layer of grease found on a particularly cheesy slice? It looks weird, but does it have any health benefits?

“This is the age-old question of pizza eaters,” says Rachel E. Scherr, assistant research scientist in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. “Does blotting pizza make a difference? Is it worth it?”

Generally, nutritionists agree that patting pizza with a napkin results in less fat, and less fat means fewer calories. “By blotting off the grease, you’re going to reduce the number of calories consumed per slice of pizza,” says Dale A. Schoeller, professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “That’s likely to be good [for people who] have an issue with consuming too many calories per day.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ healthy eating patterns survey, most Americans exceed the dietary guidelines’ suggestions for saturated fats, and many consume more than the recommended number of calories.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean victory for the blotters. “The bottom line is yes, you [remove] some level of fat and calories from blotting,” says Caroline Passerrello, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. However, Passerrello cautions that whatever you remove would be minimal, although no researcher has quantified exactly how much. Plus, for people triggered by counting calories, fixating on a small amount of fat could be a health risk in and of itself.

Scherr, who’s also an expert in nutrition misinformation, says blotting is not as nefarious as some fads and health claims that come across her desk — laxative teas promising to “detox” your system, for example — but the science is still hazy, and the merits of blotting are likely overblown. Part of this is because it’s difficult to tell the source of the fat you’re wiping up. “Oil and fat are not all created equally,” Scherr says.

Pizza is a medley: When the ingredients warm in the oven, oils from meat and cheese mix together in a layer of liquid gooeyness. This does wonders for flavor, but it also puts pizza right in the center of one of the most contested debates in nutrition: which fats are “good” and which are not.

Blotting oil from a slice of pepperoni or sausage could make it healthier, for instance: Saturated fat from meat and other animal products is associated with several negative health consequences, including high cholesterol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (Even so, some nutrition experts have questioned claims that saturated fat is the main culprit, pointing out that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates and sugars is unlikely to reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.)

If you’re blotting off grease from the milk fat in the cheese, however, Schoeller says the effect is less substantial — a claim that’s long been debated in nutrition journals. “If it’s coming from olive oil used in making the pizza, it might actually reduce the benefit of eating healthier, Mediterranean diet-type oils.”

Oils aside, blotting pizza of any type comes at a price. “You run the risk of blotting off the spices and flavor,” Passerrello says.

This nuance is largely missing online, where a Google search brings up pages of headlines in praise of pizza blotting. As BuzzFeed reported in 2015, the data most of these stories cited came from the Georgia-Pacific Health Smart Institute, a now-defunct arm of Georgia-Pacific, one of the largest manufacturers of pulp and paper products, including paper towels and napkins (known in some circles as pizza-blotting implements).

“It’s emblematic of the public relations that passes for science that drives so much of our food system,” says Gary Ruskin, co-founder and co-director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit group that has helped expose Coca-Cola’s influence on nutrition research. “This is one of the core problems that the food industry and other companies perpetrate.”

Between misleading studies and diet culture, it’s no wonder that many people feel overwhelmed or confused by nutrition advice. Passerrello, who previously ran a nutrition consultation service, says the question of whether or not to blot came up frequently among clients trying to manage their weight. Many of them told her they blotted to try to make the best of an unexpected pizza situation — say, someone brought it in for a work lunch. “It makes them feel better,” she says. “It’s an ‘any little bit can help’ kind of mentality.”

If blotting makes someone feel healthier, does that make it worth it? Passerrello says small habits like this one can make people more comfortable, but they can also push the boundaries of disordered eating, particularly if the person feels like they have to do it in order to eat. “I encourage my clients to enjoy their food and not obsess too much,” she says. “If it seems out of place in the social situation and it’s a more of a disordered [eating] behavior, then I would discourage it.”

For what it’s worth, none of the experts I spoke to for this story were hard-core blotters themselves. “I’m also a little bit of the camp of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’” Scherr says. “Just because I have the knowledge doesn’t mean I’ll do something every time. Moderation is the most important dietary factor. Sometimes you just have to enjoy pizza.”

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