Benign and universally beloved as it seems, pizza is a food that’s rife with controversy. The New York/Chicago rivalry over whose pizza is “best” will never be resolved, and politicians have been mocked for taking fork and knife to a slice. Perhaps even more contentious than these is the question of pizza-blotting—is it a culinary crime to dab at the grease atop a pizza with a napkin? Either way, there's some good news for blotters: blotting the oil off the top of pizza does make it measurably healthier.
Shockingly, federal funding for research into pizza nutrition has been limited, so there’s no strict scientific consensus on how many calories make the jump from pizza to paper towel when a slice is blotted. The closest approximation comes from the Food Network’s series Food Detectives. Host Ted Allen and a team of researchers from Popular Science came up with the figure of “35 calories per slice on average (3.5 grams of oil).” CNN’s Dr. Roshini Raj gives a similar appraisal: “You are probably cutting 20 to 50 calories a piece – not a whole lot, but […] if you have a couple of slices, it adds up.”
With an average slice of cheese pizza weighing in at 272 calories, blotting off 35 calories per piece equals a 13% reduction. Nutrition-savvy readers might recognize that 35 calories also equates to 1/100th of 3,500 calories: the number doctors generally agree equals one pound of human fat.
An infographic by Labdoor Magazine gets a little bit more realistic with its calculations, using a slice of Domino’s pepperoni pizza as its standard and calculating total calorie reduction over a year based on the national average for pizza consumption: 23 pounds of pizza for every American. According to those calculations, blotting off the pizza grease can soak up 6611.2 calories in a year, or nearly two pounds’ worth of fat.
Of course, there are caveats to the pizza blotting strategy. Along with fatty orange oil slicks, an injudiciously applied napkin might remove a pizza’s seasonings or take a bit of cheese and sauce with it, so it’s a choice that shouldn’t be made lightly. Blot if you will, but maybe just once in a while, leave the napkin on the side and live a little.