When you picture a crust stuffed with cheese and pepperoni, a mountain of toppings and a grease spot on your plate, it's hard to think pizza could fit into a healthy diet. On a nutritional grading scale, pizza can achieve any grade from an A+ to a failing, disastrous F. By choosing a healthy crust, sauce, cheese and adding a variety of nutritionally dense toppings, pizza can be a nutritional jackpot! A standard homemade pizza requires four main ingredients; crust, sauce, cheese and toppings. The food industry has made homemade pizzas easier over the years with the introduction of pre-baked pizza crust and canned pizza sauces. However, using these processed foods can mean lowering the nutritional quality. A 12 inch pizza made with 1 jar (14 ounces) of pizza sauce and 1 cup shredded cheese contains 840 calories and 118 grams of carbohydrates per half. By choosing your ingredients wisely, you can make a pizza with half the calories plus added fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Go whole grain! Stop buying the pre-baked white flour pizza crusts and make a simple switch to whole grain. Always check and make sure whole grain is listed as the first ingredient. If time permits, try making a whole grain crust at home by using 100% whole grain flour mix or a combination of flours made with oatmeal, potato, soy, rice, buckwheat or garbanzo beans.
To reduce preservatives, sodium and sugar, use fresh tomatoes and puree them or purchase "no sodium added" canned tomato sauce. Then mix both of these options with basil, oregano, garlic and black pepper. Tomato-based sauces are usually more nutritional than white sauce; however, low-fat Alfredo sauces are available.
Always use low-fat or fat-free cheese which eliminates large amounts of total fat and saturated fat while still providing calcium. Practice portion control and use only half the normal amount of cheese. Try baking the pizza without cheese and then sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top before eating. By adding a little bit of cooking spray to the pizza before baking, the cheese will melt faster and more evenly.
Ditch the standard pepperoni and sausage and use poultry seasoned with oregano and basil. For an even healthier switch, utilize beans or tofu as the protein source. Make sure to cook meat and beans before adding them to the pizza.
Here is your chance to get creative. Add any vegetables you desire; the options are endless. Spinach, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, squash and many, many more are all great choices. A vegetable loaded pizza will fill you up quickly, offers lots of nutrition and will help control portions and calories.
When preparing your pizza, always keep portion control in mind. There is no need to create a mountain of unhealthy toppings such as high fat meats and cheese. Add just enough to cover the pizza. Also focus on controlling the number of slices you consume. Incorporate a salad loaded with veggies and a spritz of dressing for a filling, low-calorie start. Then slow down, enjoy each slice and evaluate after each slice if another one is necessary or just plain overdoing it!
Laura N. Kenny is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Dietitian in the state of Indiana. She received both her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at Purdue University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree from Central Michigan University. Laura works for the Indiana Obesity Center PC under the supervision of Dr. Keith McEwen. She specializes in both surgical and non-surgical weight loss including nutritional adherence, meal planning, and macro/micro nutrient status. Kenny also promotes healthy eating through various speaking engagements throughout Indianapolis and teaches indoor cycling and Pilates classes in her free time. Since staring her dietetics career, she has worked with a variety of populations and chronic diseases. Each summer Laura volunteers at Camp John Warvel, a camp for children with diabetes. She also enjoys writing, sports, exercise, and reading "hot topics" in nutrition. Laura has a true passion for guiding people to choose healthy nutritional choices for each and every individual lifestyle. To contact Laura, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.