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TRYING TO CUT DOWN ON FAT? BETTER PASS ON THE PIZZA

Millions of Americans eat pizza for lunch. Sometimes one slice, sometimes two. It's quick. It's inexpensive. And it tastes good.

So what's the problem?Fat. Whether pizza eaters know what they're actually getting, or care, is another matter.

At pizzerias in New York City, customers were randomly asked: "How many calories do you think there are in the pizza you are eating?"

No one knew. Nor did they know the amount of fat. Their answers seemed related to their body weight. Fat people guessed that a slice had 120 calories, or maybe 300 calories, with 4 or 5 grams of fat. Thin people said 1,000 calories or 1,200 calories and 10 grams of fat.

All of them were wrong.

Even the federal government gives a pizza profile that is far from reality. The Agriculture Department's "Handbook 8" says a slice weighs a little more than 2 ounces and contains 140 calories and 3.21 grams of fat.

No pizza slices in this survey came even close to that puny size. Perhaps that is how one overweight woman rationalized her pizza lunch this way: "Let's see. It's a starch, a vegetable, protein, fat. You can have it on Weight Watchers. So it couldn't be too bad."

To find out what's really in pizza, slices of regular cheese pizza were bought at 10 popular pizza places in Manhattan and analyzed for weight and calories and fat content. Many of the pizza parlors have branches elsewhere in the city. In two pizzerias, samples were also taken of slices designated "healthy" and "Garden De-Lite."

The most famous pizza establishment in New York, Ray's of Greenwich Village, is the one against which all others are judged. And for good reason. It serves an 8 1/2-ounce slice of pizza that has more calories and fat than any other pizza in the survey - 613 calories and 25 grams of fat. An order of french fries and a hamburger from McDonald's contains 475 calories and 21 grams of fat.

The pizza with the least amount of fat came from a branch of Famous Original Ray's. Its Garden De-Lite slice weighs 8 ounces and has 481 calories and 10.5 grams of fat. It is made with reduced-fat cheese, and the difference can be tasted in every slice.

Two other slices analyzed with relatively low fat content - from California Pizza Oven, in the Village, and Pintaile's Pizza, on the Upper East Side - were 90s versions of a slice: everything about them was smaller and lighter.

Some national pizza chains also have branches in the city, and several of them provided nutrition data. For example, Domino's Pizza, which has four outlets in New York, said its typical serving, which is two slices weighing a total of 5 1/4 ounces, has 344 calories and 9.5 grams of fat.