Banza Just Released Frozen Chickpea-Crust Pizzas — But Are They Healthy?
The latest development in the alt-crust market, Banza pizzas pack a serious punch of protein *and* flavor.
When it comes to pizza, the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” most certainly applies. The combination of chewy crust, salty cheese, and garlicky marinara sauce, all tied together with a hodgepodge of spicy and crunchy toppings, is arguably faultless.
But now, chickpea-pasta brand Banza is clearly saying to hell with that cliché by releasing its own line of frozen pizzas made with a chickpea crust (Buy It, $50, amazon.com) — the first of its kind, per the brand. The innovative pizza crusts, made from a simple blend of chickpeas, water, tapioca, cocoa butter, olive oil, and spices, meaning they're both gluten-free and vegan. The crusts are sold both sans toppings for a DIY pizza night *and* as ready-to-eat frozen pizzas, including Four Cheese, Margherita, and Roasted Veggie. (Related: Healthy Pizza Crust Recipes Using Veggies and Whole Grains)
On their own, the plain crusts pack two grams of fiber and four grams of protein per slice, but when piled with toppings, they’re a nutritional powerhouse. Just half of the Four Cheese pizza (Buy It, $8, target.com), for example, contains five grams of fiber and a whopping 17 grams of protein — 17 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for fiber and more than a third of the RDA for protein, per the USDA.
“Nutritionally, I would recommend the Banza pizza,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member. “It has a great amount of heart-healthy fiber and satiating protein — love it.”
One downside, though, is the pizza's saturated fat content. One serving of the Four Cheese pie contains 10 grams, or half the USDA’s recommended daily intake for saturated fat, which isn’t all that surprising given how much cheese is piled on top, says Gans. “I wouldn’t let the saturated fat deter someone from having this pizza,” she adds. “I would, however, make sure that they’re mindful of how much saturated fat they’re having elsewhere throughout the day. The reason for that concern is that saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease. Even when you’re younger and it’s not as much of a concern, it's never too early to start prevention.”
Compared to the cauliflower-crust pizzas shaking up the market, Banza’s aren’t all that different, nutritionally speaking. Take Caulipower’s Three Cheese Cauliflower Crust pizza (Buy It, $7, target.com), for example. The pie boasts 20 fewer calories and four fewer grams of saturated fat per serving than Banza’s ultra-cheesy, 410-calorie version, but it also offers less fiber and protein. Essentially, neither pizza is hands-down better for you than the other. “If I had to recommend one over the other, I’d be going strictly on what someone enjoys,” says Gans.
While Banza does have a small leg up on traditional frozen pizza in some respects, it's not a wildly healthier choice. For example, a single Amy's Cheese Pizza (Buy It, $7, target.com) contains 40 additional calories, roughly 500 more grams of sodium, and less than half the amount of fiber as Banza's Four Cheese, though Amy's version has less saturated fat and a few extra grams of protein. Again, the deciding factor should all come down to your tastebuds. "If you don’t like the taste of these alternative pizza crusts, you don’t have to feel guilty about having a regular slice of pizza," says Gans. (P.S., you'll want to stock up on these other nutritionist-approved frozen pizzas too.)
But based on my initial taste tests, Banza’s pizzas are sure to satisfy. The chickpea crust was audibly crispy and had visible layers (much like the lamination you’d see in a puff pastry dough), which gave it a lighter texture than I was expecting. The Margherita was topped with heaps of silky mozzarella, and as a sauce gal, I appreciated the thick layer of marinara blanketed by the cheese. The bell peppers, caramelized onions, and spinach weren’t overshadowed by the three — yes, three — types of cheese used in the Roasted Veggie pie, meaning I could pick out all the individual flavors in every mouthful. If I had done a blind tasting between Banza’s pies and regular wheat-crust ones, my pizza-attuned tastebuds wouldn’t have been able to pick out the chickpea version, no matter how hard they tried.
Since the 'zas were insanely delicious, I did what any hungry 20-something would do: Wolfed down an entire pie all by myself. Contrary to what my stomach made me believe, the average woman probably shouldn’t consume a whole Banza pizza, which can have up to 820 calories and nearly hit the recommended daily maximum intake saturated fat per pie, says Gans. “We all like to finish individual pies, but individual pies can be misleading,” she says. “For the average person, the portion size is half a pie, not the full pie, so I would suggest having a big tossed salad on the side of it to help fill you up.” Duly noted.
While I can't say I'll choose a gluten-free chickpea-crust pizza over a flour-based one every time an inevitable craving strikes, Banza's pizzas have earned a rightful spot in my freezer for the foreseeable future. Keeping the supplies for a side salad in my fridge, though, is another story.