When chef Pasquale Cozzolino moved from Naples, Italy to New York City in 2015, he embraced American culture a little too heavily, especially some our full-body foods. Not surprisingly, he gained weight, a lot of it, peaking at 370 pounds. Doctor’s warnings of an early death followed and so did the renowned chef’s vow to snatch back his health. What did Chef Cozzolino turn to—steamed veggies, raw carrots, maybe some hot broth and crackers? Nope. He double downed on his favorite edible vice, pizza. In fact, he incorporated into his weight loss program – losing over 100 pounds while still eating it every day. Impractical, improbable, impossible? Not for this son of Naples. WellWell asked Chef Cozzolino, the author of The Pizza Diet: How I Lost 100 Pounds Eating My Favorite Food — and You Can, Too!, how he managed this trick and effectively reimagined this classic favorite.
You lost 114 pounds over 9 months eating pizza every day. What’s the catch?
The secret is Neapolitan style pizza. Unlike other styles, such as New York or Chicago, Neapolitan is without any sort of fats. There are no oils and no sugar. I then changed the recipe a bit, adding even more water and less salt to essentially create diet pizza and was able to serve myself my favorite food every day for lunch.
In The Pizza Diet, you also mention the 36-hour fermentation period when making the dough. What role does that play?
It is, in fact, a very important factor because the more you ferment the dough the more digestible the pizza becomes. You know how after you have pizza you often feel thirsty and bloated? If you ferment the dough long enough, you can avoid these side effects because the long fermentation period is basically digesting the dough before going into your body, eliminating many of the chemicals and sugars so it’s a great tool for health.
You also maintained a Mediterranean diet throughout your weight loss, how impactful was that?
Massively. The Mediterranean diet is basically the food pyramid everyone knows with wheats at the bottoms followed by fruits and vegetables then meats. It limits a lot of the meats and excludes things like soda, French fries and burgers – things that are super tasty but terrible for your health. It also crucially encourages moderation, which allows for the occasional cheat treats.
You claim a huge part of why you gained so much weight when you moved from Italy to New York is that you started eating like a typical American. What are some ways in which Americans eat less well in comparison to European countries?
I think a big reason is, historically speaking, the U.S. is still a relatively new country. Barely over 100 years old. Italy, where I’m from, is over 3800 years old. So, when you have a lot of inexperience, of course you get more imperfections and that definitely applies to diet and how people feed themselves. The other huge one is the ingredients American companies are able to use – a lot chemicals and purely innutritious stuff.
What are some of the ingredients?
Just a lot of artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, and so much sugar. There’s a lot of the artificials that are used frequently in America that are totally banned in Europe. And it isn’t just the ingredients themselves. It’s how they’re made.
I don’t believe there’s any restrictions on sugar in Italy or Europe, but I know in America, it’s a big issue and there are a thousand documentaries on it. We just tend to throw sugar on everything because we think it makes it everything taste better.
I think the sugar is generally used by the mass production food industry. They use sugar to carve you, get you addicted. I’m very sensitive on this topic because it is to such a degree, I can barely buy any bread in the supermarket without sugar. I’m always looking and 90 percent of them are filled with sugar in the ingredients. It’s so unnecessary and harmful.
Bread’s not something that a lot of people would even look if it had sugar in it. Is it different in Italy?
I mean, our bread is like our pizza. It’s just flour, sea salt, a little yeast and flour. But even there when you go to the supermarket for mass production bread, of course you find most have sugar inside. That type of sugar intake can cause so many problems. One of the biggest is diabetes. I know, in the Unites States diabetes is such a terrible problem and it’s so prevalent. A big part of that is because sugar is forced into so many foods it doesn’t belong in.
And it certainly doesn’t belong in any of your slimming pizzas, correct?
Absolutely. My pies are just fine without it.
About Pasquale Cozzolino
Pasquale Cozzolino is a chef based in New York, specialized in Neapolitan cuisine. The Pizza Diet: How I Lost 100 Pounds Eating My Favorite Food — and You Can, Too! is his first book.
Learn More At www.chefcozzolino.com