Pizza is one of those foods that are just almost universally loved. And it’s not surprising. Pizza is a lot of amazing things. It’s delicious, it’s diverse (SO MANY TOPPINGS), and perfectly sharable. Pizza would be in the running for the Most Perfect Food of All Time award if only it were healthy. But we all know that pizza is bad for us, right? Like guilt-inducingly bad? Well, maybe not. Sure, it’s not the healthiest food out there, but before we slap pizza with any unfair labels, we need to take a closer look at what it really does to your body.
And that’s exactly what Cosmopolitan did. They enlisted the help of registered dietician-nutritionist Sonya Angelone, who is also a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to help investigate what eating a slice of pizza really does to your body — and it turns out, it’s a pretty intricate process.
First, let’s take a closer look at the pizza Angelone used as her baseline. She based her findings on the effects of eating a large pepperoni slice (the data she used represents an average of nutritional info from the popular, large-scale pizza joints: Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars). Angelone’s “average” large slice of pepperoni would have 311 calories, 13.5 grams of fat, 14 milligrams of cholesterol, 701 milligrams of sodium, 1.75 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein.
Now, onto what that average slice does you to when you eat it. The first bite of pizza activates your brain’s pleasure center but, as with any food, the more you eat, the less pleasure it will provide. Also, your pizza will trigger salivation in the mouth, which includes digestive enzymes. As soon as you swallow, those enzymes go to work breaking down your pizza, starting with the crust, into glucose, which your body will use as fuel.
In 10 to 15 minutes, that sugar will hit your bloodstream, hindered somewhat by the fat in the cheese and pepperoni. Since it takes time to digest fat, but your body typically burns carbs up quickly, high fat topping can actually help you gain more energy from your pizza — which is fantastic news for those of us looking to justify ordering double pepperoni.
About 15 to 20 minutes after finishing your slice, things start to get interesting. Those delicious pizza carbs enter your bloodstream, and your pancreas releases insulin so your body can use the resulting sugar as fuel. If there’s a lot of sugar (potentially because you’ve eaten a few, or even several, slices), the excess will get sent to your liver, which will turn it into fat.
After 30 minutes, you should feel satisfied. Your body is still digesting the fat from the cheese and pepperoni and that fat will go into your bloodstream; if you eat unhealthy fats all the time, this could contribute to clogged arteries.
By the time you’ve reached 45 to 60 minutes after eating, your Leptin (which lets your brain know that you’re full) levels should be high, and you should be feeling energetic and ready to conquer the world, fueled by pizza.
After 3 to 4 hours, your blood sugar will be back to normal, and ghrelin, the hunger hormone, might start flowing again. However, your triglyceride (fat in the bloodstream) levels are still high, so your next meal or snack should be lower in fat (sorry — you knew there had to be a downside somewhere in here though, right?).
The bottom line is: If you live a mostly healthy lifestyle, one slice of pizza won’t change that, and you’ll only gain the weight of the pizza you consumed. However, if you have health issues — including heart disease, or high blood pressure — it’s obviously best not to overindulge. Mostly, this just confirms what we already knew about pizza, but next time you enjoy a delicious slice of cheesy goodness, you can do it with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what it’s doing to your body every step of the way.
(Image via iStock.)