America has a love affair with pizza. We consume about 100 acres of it daily, 350 slices per second, and every man, woman and child eats about 23 pounds of pizza yearly.
Jeff Ruby, Chicago Magazine senior editor, deputy dining editor and co-author of the book Everyone Loves Pizza, says, “There's something about pizza that transcends age and race and sex and all borders. Apart from some pockets of Naples, we're more nuts about it than anyone on earth.” Andrea Giancoli, RD, MPH, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, agrees. “Soft dough, pizza sauce, a cornucopia of flavors and toppings, and that unique mouth feel — there’s no other food quite like it,” she says.
But pizza has gotten a bad rap. Thought to be fattening because of carb-laden dough, fatty meats and cheeses, and portion sizes (who can eat just one slice?), nutritious is not a word often associated with pizza. However, the basics of pizza are healthy. Tomato sauce is rich in the heart disease and cancer-fighting plant chemical, lycopene. Pizza is also one of the few dishes that incorporate all of the major food groups: dairy, grain, meat, veggies and fruit (tomatoes are fruits!). The truth is that pizza can fit into your diet without wrecking your waistline (it’s included on the new plate icon just released by the USDA). Follow these five sound strategies to make your next slice more nutritious and diet-friendly.
It’s best to stick to one or two slices (as difficult as that may be). If you order an entire pie, make it into several meals, Giancoli suggests. Better yet, have a salad on the side to help fill you up.
Skim Off the Top
Instead of making meats and cheeses the main attractions, ask for sparse toppings. Also, you’ll save hundreds of calories if you ask for 50 percent less mozzarella. Or swap mozzarella for a very flavorful cheese, such as feta, and you won’t need as much, Giancoli suggests.
Skim Off the Bottom
If you want to fill up without filling out, choose a thin, wafer-like crust and moderately-sized slices. Stay away from deep dish or cheese-filled crusts. For example, a slice equivalent to 1/8 of a 12-inch thin crust pizza contains about 164 calories in the crust alone. A thick crust slice bumps you up to 203 calories for the same size. Whole wheat dough is a healthier option because it provides fiber and other nutrients only found in whole grains. But it doesn’t necessarily translate into being lower in calories. Portion size still rules here.
Choose Skinny Proteins
Try adding grilled chicken, shrimp or Canadian bacon to your pie, which are lower in calories and saturated fat than pepperoni and sausage. But if you must have your pepperoni, ask for half the usual portion.
Stack your pie with extra tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, spinach, broccoli and eggplant for a nutritious hit, loads of flavor and belly-filling fiber. You just had your pie and ate it, too. Bada bing!
Author David Grotto is a FitStudio advisory board member, registered dietitian and the founder and president of Nutrition Housecall. He is the author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and 101 Optimal Life Foods. He served as a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association for more than six years.