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totinos pizza rolls

Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Pizza Roll?

It's an honest question, and we tried to get to the bottom of it. What about the humble pizza roll is so bad for you, and are there any legit alternatives?

Fast Facts

  • Classic pizza rolls are high in fat, calories, carbs, sugars, and salt.
  • They’re also extremely processed foods that are packed with harmful preservatives like BHA and BHT.
  • According to a dietician, the best option is the most obvious: cut unhealthy snacking entirely. 
  • There is a company that’s attempting to make reasonably healthy pizza rolls, and they’re surprisingly good. 

Add this to your list of idealistic yet probably unattainable goals: Stop snacking. Don’t just take it from me, an incorrigible muncher: listen to Matthew Kadey, a dietitian, nutrition writer, recipe developer, and adventure cyclist. “Most people can get their nutrition from three meals a day,” Kadey says. “The snack industry in America is out of control.”

But, let’s be realistic. Nothing beats that 3 p.m. workday slump like something a little crunchy—or toasty, gooey, fatty, and crispy. And what’s hanging with friends sans pizza rolls? So: What’s a hungry fella to do?

What Makes Pizza Rolls So Unhealthy?

Snacking better requires defining what not to eat. What we call “junk food” is better called “ultra-processed food.” As in, the opposite of “whole food.” 

There’s a good chance some of your favorite midday pick-me-ups are ultra-processed—meaning the nutrition has been stripped out of the original ingredients and replaced with fats, sugars, salt, emulsifiers, and artificial flavors and sweeteners. All of these additives make ultra-processed foods highly palatable, which is a very scientific term for dangerously yummy. 

Snacks like pizza rolls aren’t just high in calories, fat, and sodium, they’re typically loaded with preservatives, too. If you go for the pepperoni option, they’ve also got possibly carcinogenic butylated hydroxytoluene (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which extend the rolls’ shelf-life but don’t extend yours (1). These synthetic antioxidants are literally banned in many places (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and a number of European nations). And that mouth-burning, gooey, melty cheese you used to devour after school? Sorry to ruin the memory, but that was actually “imitation mozzarella cheese,” made of over twenty ingredients including modified corn starch and titanium dioxide for color. 

Related: These Anti-Aging Foods Can Add Years to Your Life

Ultra-processed foods like pizza rolls contribute to heart disease and diabetes, have negative effects on cognitive functioning and mental health, and cause weight gain and digestive issues.

If you want to avoid those—and most certainly you do—scan the ingredient list. Fewer ingredients means less additives which means less processed food. And remember to check the serving size too; if a snack lists three pieces as a serving size, eating the whole bag is a recipe for beating up your body.

Second, eat what you know. If you don’t recognize it, chances are it is an additive. Look out for synthetic emulsifiers like polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. And don’t be fooled by words like “enriched.” Instead of enriched flour, which is processed flour with nutrients added back in, go for whole-wheat, which is not processed and contains all that good natural fiber and nutrients your body needs (1). 

A Healthier Option: Snow Days Pizza Bites

You’ll recognize everything on the list of ingredients from Snow Day’s take on the classic pizza roll. Instead of artificial additives, the rolls get their texture and color from better ingredients like carrots, sweet potatoes, and healthy cassava starch. And it’s not just a pizza bite remake—Snow Days twists the ‘za flavors (red sauce and grass-fed cheddar) into a delicious taco-esque bite, replete with sausage, beans, and spices.

The first ingredient in a popular pizza roll is enriched whole wheat flour—which is flour minus its vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and will spike your blood glucose level fast before crashing again. Processed red meats are third on the ingredients list; farther down is the fatty faux-cheese we mentioned earlier.

Compare this to the Snow Days Taco Pizza Bites: Its first ingredient is a sauce made of red bell peppers, carrots, green onion, tomato paste, sweet potato, apple cider vinegar, and more recognizable ingredients. It uses olive oil rather than palm and vegetable oil. Its pork crumbles are far further down the ingredients list than the ultra-processed version. In particular, it’s much less oily than OG pizza rolls, with a richer texture and deeper flavor. Altogether, it’s healthier and tastier than the original, and we all know that’s a feat.

The Bottom Line

The frozen pizza roll is a delicious, nostalgic and totally bad for you snack that you should probably avoid. High in preservatives, low in nutritional value, and all-around destructive to the body, you’re better off skipping the Totino’s for something like Snow Days, which is made with an eye toward your health.