20 May 2005, 04:58:13 PM

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Pizzas, once exclusively an Italian dish, have become a universal favourite.

In Australia, after hamburgers, pizzas are now the most popular fast food in the nation. We eat our way through 160 million of them a year, $1.6 billion worth, that's a whopping one third of the total fast food market in Australia. But how good are they for us?

It's pizza 2 or 3 times a month in the Wilcox household. Mum, Anthea says it's a very economical and filling meal for a family of 7, but in the nutrition stakes?

"They are quite fatty, treats for family on entertainment night, during the week we stick to our normal diet" says Anthea.

So how much fat, kilojoules and salt do pizzas have, and how much meat is on top? Is thin crust better then thick? We tested supreme pizzas from the biggest players in the market, Dominos and Pizza Hut, as well as Eagle Boys and Pizza Haven. Also the frozen supermarket varieties, Papa Giuseppi's and McCain. Those results coming up.

Sharon Natoli, Dietician from Food Nutrition Australia says pizzas should be an occasional treat. Just look at the figures! Highest in fat and kilojoules:

  • Domino's Thin amazingly - around 1228 kilojoules and 14.4% fat in an average slice

  • Pizza Hut thin 1121 kj, 11.4% fat, slightly more than Pizza Hut pan.

  • Lowest in kilojoules with half the fat Pizza Haven Thin, Papa Giuseppi's, Eagle Boys and McCain.

"A thin crust is better than the thick crust, but be aware of the toppings, so the more pepperoni, sausage, bacon on top the higher the readings are going to be even if it's thin [crust] it can be high in fat kj and salt" says Sharon.

So, one slice of supreme pizza is, on average, around 1150 kilojoules, 10 grams fat. A Big Mac Burger is 2010 kilojoules, 25 grams of fat which means not quite 2 slices of pizza is equivalent to one Big Mac!

Most meat: McCain 15% and Papa Giuseppi's 13%, least Dominos thin, Pizza Haven pan and Dominos pan. But remember, the more the meat and the fattier, the higher the kilojoules and fat. And watch that high salt, bad for blood pressure and arteries - almost 2 grams in some of our pizzas.

"Most people would eat 3 slices for an average meal and that would give you more than your salt intake for the day and more, one third of you daily kj intake and half of your daily fat intake, so you are getting a fair whack of those nutrients in one go" says Sharon.

So Sharon Natoli recommends; "try to have them less often and limit the amount you have at any one time, try and serve it with some salad or crusty bread and make a more balanced meal of it."