Pizza is the perfect food if it’s from New York City! Not only is pizza delicious, it may well be the most versatile food on the planet. It can be the main course for any meal, and, if you think listing it as a breakfast choice is pushing it, then you have never lived in a college dorm or woke up thinking about the leftover pizza from the previous night. It can definitely be served for breakfast, hot or cold. Pizza never gets boring. It comes with such a variety of crusts, sauces and toppings that you could have pizza every meal of the day for weeks and never repeat the same one. If that isn’t enough to vote it the most perfect food, if you make the right choices, a slice of pizza can contain all of the food groups recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
But is pizza healthy for us?
The short answer is “yes” and “no”. Recommended by the government or not, there are pros and cons related to practically all types of food. Some fruits have too much sugar. Some veggies, like potatoes, can be high in starch and calories. Breads, pastas, cereals and other grains come with a list of health risks, as does different types of protein and dairy, depending upon who you listen to.
Assuming that you do not have issues related to any particular ingredient, like celiac disease, an immune system disorder connected to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye, pizza can be a healthy food choice. It can certainly be a far better option than what is normally found at most fast food chains and, since it is most often made with fresh ingredients, it scores higher on the nutritious scale than all of that processed food found in the grocery store. As always, of course, there is a caveat: how healthy the pizza you eat will depend on the ingredients used to make it as well as your portion size. Ordering the Meats Lovers Special and requesting extra cheese on a stuffed cheese crust pizza is never going to be a healthy choice for anyone. Tasty? Without doubt. Healthy? Not a chance. But, you already knew that, right?
Healthy Pizza Choices
So, how can we have our “pie” and eat it too? There are lots of ways to cut fat, sodium, gluten and overall caloric totals to make pizza healthier without turning it into an unrecognizable faux food. Some of those include:
- Use whole wheat flour instead of overly processed white flour or compromise and use half whole wheat and half white flour.
- Choose thin crust over thick and stay away from deep dish and stuffed varieties.
- There are even gluten-free crusts that are fairly widely available.
- Reduce the sodium in the tomato sauce by making your own or finding a local pizzeria with a low-sodium option.
- Substitute olive oil for tomato sauce as the pizza base. This will not only reduce your salt intake, it is delicious!
- Replace the cheese with part-skim mozzarella. This may taste different the first couple of times you do this, but after awhile you won’t even notice the difference.
- Instead of overdoing it with multiple meat choices, restrict protein to one, at most. Your better choices will be chicken or Canadian bacon rather than sausage, pepperoni or most of the others.
- Pile on the veggies! The more vegetable toppings, the greater the range of healthy nutrients and the greater the chance of your becoming happily full without reaching for one more slice.
- Don’t forget the fruit! Pineapple is very popular on pizza and, despite popular wisdom, does not have to come with ham or bacon. Include it on your next pizza and check off that last food group.
The bottom line on pizza is that you can enjoy one of America’s favorite foods and still maintain a healthy diet. You just have to use a little common sense when you place your order.