Healthy Snack of the Week: Building a Better Pizza
Healthy pizza. On the surface, the very concept seems to be an oxymoron.
Virtually everyone loves pizza, but we also know that the dough and the cheese and all those toppings can make this snack time favorite a threat to dietary sanity.
Experts say that it doesn’t have to be that way. So today, Healthy Snack of the Week is committed to building a better pizza.
According to PizzaOven.com:
“There is a common misconception that pizza belongs in the ‘fast food’ category, whereas … pizza prepared in certain ways can actually be considered a ‘health food.’ Pizza in America … can differ drastically in recipe, taste, appearance and, of course, nutritional value. When it comes to pizza there are extremes at both ends of the nutritional spectrum. Unfortunately, many of the most popular pizza chains in the country do not necessarily produce a healthy product. Often filled with grease and covered with gobs of fatty cheese atop sugar-and-salt-loaded-sauce, some of the most popular chains do not make us feel good about what we are ingesting. However, with a conscious effort your health can actually benefit from eating pizza, all in moderation of course.”
Did we just use “pizza” and “health food” in the same paragraph? Well, as PizzaOven.com notes, whole wheat flour provides complex carbohydrates and fiber. Tomatoes and red peppers are loaded with Vitamin C and serve as antioxidants. Cheese does contain calcium, good for healthy bones. And few will quibble with fresh vegetables, especially if they’re home-grown and pesticide-free.
Summarizing PizzaOven.com’s suggestions for a healthier pizza:
- Choose whole wheat crust as opposed to standard white flour crust
- Opt for a thin crust as opposed to thick crust pizza
- Go light on the cheese and consider using cheddar instead of mozzarella to reduce fat content by one-third
- Be health-smart by going with fresh vegetables instead of sausage, pepperoni or other fatty meats
Wesley Delbridge, registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees with the thin-crust philosophy and suggests several other best practices, whether ordering or making pizza from scratch. First is to curb your enthusiasm.
“Portion control is everything with any food,” Delbridge says. “It’s OK to have pizza once in a while, just limit the number of slices you have. Drinking water and eating veggies before or during your pizza meal will also help you feel fuller much more quickly.
“If you order a large pizza instead of a medium, you end up consuming nearly 40 percent more pizza per slice. Choosing thin crust over regular crust, when possible, will save 50–100 calories and 200–300 milligrams of sodium per slice without sacrificing flavor. You should also avoid deep dish pizza when possible. Deep dish pizzas have more than twice the calories, fat, and sodium than you consume with a regular crust.”
Delbridge notes that pepperoni is one of the toppings highest in fat and calories. He says that another mistake some people make is to dip their pizza in high-calorie dipping sauces. He says pizza lovers can save as many as 200 calories by skipping the garlic dipping cup—250 calories if it’s ranch sauce.
Like Delbridge, Jessica Cox, a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist based in Birmingham, Alabama, also writes for EatRight.org. When constructing pizza at home, she suggests: “Start with fresh pizza dough from the grocery store bakery, or use pita bread or tortillas for a simple crust. Provide lower-sodium marinara sauce, low-fat cheese, turkey pepperoni, and plenty of fresh vegetables, and allow the kids to add their own toppings.”
One quick and easy pizza alternative is the double-cheesy English Muffin Pizza recipe found on The Smart Cookie Cook website, which they say comes in at less than 200 calories, is low in fat, yet high in protein. The Smart Cookie Cook suggests extra garlic, shredded rather than grated Parmesan cheese and adding veggies. Other web sites suggest tuna fish as a nice additional topping.
Have you made pizza from scratch? Do you have ideas you’d like to pass along? To share, please use the comments section below. For previous Snack of the Week suggestions and more articles on healthy eating, visit Learning Liftoff’s food posts and view our recipes.
Featured Image – sunny mama / CC by 2.0
Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.