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Myth: Pizza is a vegetable

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like school lunch pizza has come very far since I was in school.

TRUTH: We’ve all seen the recent, sensational headlines in the media that Congress declared pizza a vegetable last week and it’s simply not true.  This myth spread like wildfire in tweets and blogs everywhere.  So what’s the truth? 

This all started because federally funded food and nutrition programs need to classify foods.  For instance, the WIC program provides assistance for whole grains, low fat milk, and beans.  The school lunch program needs to meet a certain set of nutritional guidelines for students.  “Mixed foods” such as pizza (that contain ingredients from different food groups) can be harder to classify.

Last week, Congress made a decision that pizza sauce can be considered a vegetable.  They didn’t say that pizza counted as a vegetable or even make any mentions of it being healthy (i.e. tempura or fried vegetables are still considered vegetables). 

So what were they talking about?  How much tomato paste counts as a serving of vegetables.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, tomato paste is a very thick paste of concentrated tomatoes.  Since they’re concentrated, it takes a smaller amount to count as a serving of vegetables.  The debate last week was about how much tomato paste it takes.

What’s my problem with this decision? Well, a couple things.

  1. Tomato paste can have lots of added preservatives, salt, and added sugar.
  2. Food manufacturers can now use small amounts of paste (1/8 cup) and then claim that their pizza fulfills a serving of vegetables (making it sound healthier).  They’ll claim the serving of vegetables but make no mention that their pizza may also be very high in fat and refined grains.

BOTTOM LINE: Pizza is not a vegetable.  Nor is it the unhealthiest item on school lunch menus.  Maybe tomato paste should count as a serving of vegetables for America’s children, and I’m fine with that if the other ingredients are appropriate.  Big food lobbyists want cheaply processed items to continue to be acceptable for school meals so the small tomato farmers of America didn’t have a fighting chance here.  Besides, botanically speaking, a tomato is actually a fruit.


  1. Washington Post article
  2. New York Times article

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