Pizza — it’s no wonder that your mouth starts watering right away or that the word is the same in all of the top Romance languages.
This Italian delicacy is well-loved, universally known, and commonly eaten. However, common pairings include salty party snacks, greasy fries, creamy ranch dip or oily garlic, decadent stuffed cheese crust, or sweet treats like cake and ice cream to wash down the crust with.
It’s safe to say that most people do not consider pizza healthy, in other words. Yet, most of the assorted foods that come together to create a delicious open-faced dinner pie that so many of us love comprise important nutrients that your body needs for fuel. Pizza is not wholly unhealthy if you plan the ingredients accordingly.
Let’s see how to make pizza healthy with some tips from Able.
It’s not always about the cards you have, but how you deal with those cards. You can apply the same principle to pizza.
It’s not its component ingredients that make pizza unhealthy, but how restaurants and manufacturers prepare those ingredients. Most restaurants serve pizza with thick, fluffy crust whose dough comprises the not so nutritious refined white flour as a base ingredient.
Not to mention the heavy, rich sauce slathered over the crust, layers of creamy cheese, and all of the greasy toppings.
Oily garlic-butter dipping sauces, the options for extra meat, or extra cheese stuffed into the already carbohydrate-heavy crust are other tempting possibilities that can make pizza denser than you bargained for.
Each pizza component has unhealthy factors in the way manufacturers or restaurants usually prepare them. The crust usually bakes from dough made with refined white flour, which processes so that it loses a lot of its nutritious vitamins and minerals. This leaves pizza crust as a carbohydrate-heavy supplier of empty calories.
The standard red pizza sauce is typically very high in sodium, a factor that can contribute to high blood pressure and put you at more risk for heart disease. Other sauce options such as white or alfredo sauce are very rich and creamy, often made with heavy high-fat dairy products that can increase bad cholesterol levels in your bloodstream as well as lead to weight gain.
Most pizza toppings are also very rich, fatty, oily, and greasy, especially processed meats like sausage or bacon. With all this fat, oil, and carbohydrate load, pizza quickly becomes high in calories and makes you more prone to weight gain and heart disease.
True, we all need fat and oil–they provide our body with essential nutrients for our diet. Fats give us energy, help our immune system, provide us with vitamins A, D, E, and K, and even help our brains work properly. However, there are two main types of fat, and only one of them is a good kind. Known as ‘unsaturated’ fat, this healthy version is usually liquid at room temperature.
Compare this to its unhealthy counterpart, saturated fat, which is usually solid at room temperature, and it’s easy to tell the two apart. Most foods high in saturated fat content derive from animals. Think meats, dairy, and all their associated products.
Cream; full-fat yogurt, cheese, or ice cream; butter, lard, or hard margarine; sausage and bacon: these ingredients all have high saturated fat content. Coconut or palm products also have very high levels of saturated fat. This fat is harmful because consuming large quantities can increase your bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and put you at a much higher risk for heart disease.
In contrast, unsaturated fats, which are mono or polyunsaturated, have far better effects on your body because they help lower your bad LDL cholesterol levels and therefore minimize or prevent your risk for heart disease. You may want to replace foods high in saturated fat with plant-derived foods or oily fish.
Vegetable, nut, or seed-derived oils and spreads, raw nuts and seeds, avocado, or oily fish like salmon and trout all have high unsaturated fat content. These are heart-healthy options you can try to incorporate into your diet often, especially when it comes to pizza ingredients.
All in all, pizza is high in calories, fat, and sodium. But it doesn’t have to be this way! You can make your own pizza at home in a much healthier way so that you can still enjoy this delicacy and feel good about yourself and your body while doing so. If you change the type and amount of ingredients, you can easily make pizza a lot more nutritious–small changes go a long way towards health!
Here are some of Able’s top tips for how to make pizza healthy when you prepare it yourself at home.
Instead of making (or buying) your crust with white flour, try a whole-grain option. Whole grains are naturally rich in fiber, which will keep you full for longer to help you maintain a healthy weight while you enjoy your pizza.
In addition to fiber, whole grains also have higher amounts of vitamin B, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium when compared to other grains’ vitamin and mineral contents. The next time you make a pizza, try using a whole-wheat-based dough, whole-wheat pita bread, a whole-wheat tortilla, or omit the grain altogether and go for a cauliflower-based crust.
When thinking about your pizza choices, particularly your crust, ingredients with higher fiber contents are far healthier options for your meal. Dietary fiber, which refers to the areas in plant-derived foods that your body cannot digest or absorb, has many different health benefits.
Fiber helps block your digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol and therefore links to lower levels of bad cholesterol and lower risk for heart disease. Some research even indicates that fiber helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
Fiber also helps regulate blood sugar because it slows down its absorption into the bloodstream and thus helps improve too high levels. Moreover, foods that are rich in fiber pack with nutrients to keep you full for longer yet are not that high when it comes to calories, so more fiber means an easier way to maintain a healthy weight for a well-balanced lifestyle.
Whole grains are not the only harborers for fiber; vegetables like peas, green beans, and cauliflower are also great sources.
The cauliflower crust suggestion makes more sense now, right? You can even carry these high-fiber vegetable suggestions over to your topping ideas for your pizza. We’ll get to that later on.
When it comes to sauce, the fresher the better! Cut up some fresh tomatoes to spread fiber, vitamins C and K, potassium, and manganese over your crust. If you don’t have time and want to purchase tomato sauce instead, choose low sodium or no-salt-added options.
Crushed garlic mixed with olive oil is another great sauce choice. The olive oil is a great unsaturated fat option for a heart-healthy boost to your meal, and so is garlic.
Garlic is also linked to heart health; it helps manage blood pressure to reduce your risk for heart disease. Pesto, too, which has olive oil, garlic, basil, and pine nuts for added flavor, is a delicious and healthy choice for a sauce.
All in all, when you choose pizza sauce, you should choose low-sodium options or options that are not rich or creamy. Try not to add alfredo or white sauce because they have high saturated fat content due to their high-fat milk. Unfortunately, while barbeque sauce is also delicious, it has a lot of sodium and sugar, so try to limit that as a sauce option.
An easy way to make pizza healthy is to go heavy on vegetable toppings. Out of all the ingredients that comprise pizza, vegetables most often supply you with the highest number of nutrients. They are also perhaps the quickest way to up the healthy scale for your pizza because there are so many different options and combinations to choose from when it comes to pizza. Bell peppers, in particular, have a lot of vitamins; so do mushrooms.
Onions and tomatoes can add more vitamins and fiber to your pizza, with tomatoes being rich in potassium and manganese. Add some pineapple chunks for a sweet element, complete with vitamin C and manganese; add olives for more flavor with vitamin E and high unsaturated fat content.
Leafy greens like spinach, arugula, or kale can pack your pizza with vitamins, potassium, fiber, and calcium.
You don’t always have to add meat to fuel yourself with a steady protein supply as with any meal. Pizza tastes just as yummy meatless, and there are many different options for alternative protein toppings. A few of our favorites are tofu, shrimp, veggie sausage, chickpeas, or avocado.
If you enjoy meat, just make sure that your toppings comprise lean meats such as chicken or turkey breast. Try to avoid adding pepperoni, sausage, or ham; these processed options contain a lot of sodium and saturated, unhealthy fat that makes you more prone to weight gain and heart disease.
What would pizza be without cheese and extra toppings? Unfortunately, dairy-based cheese contains saturated fat and sodium, so there is no avoiding these health risks. However, you can mitigate the unhealthy scale by adding light cheeses made from skim or low-fat milk. An even better way to make your pizza cheese healthier is to choose fresher cheeses, such as feta or fresh mozzarella.
As for that last drizzle–the cherry on top in the pizza realm–try some extra virgin olive oil and freshly crushed garlic pieces, some freshly chopped tomatoes and rosemary, or some chili powder and red pepper flakes. The strategy is to avoid greasy options like garlic butter and opt for fresher or spicier flavors instead.
If you order pizza at a restaurant, you can still use the above tips when thinking about your options. If there is no whole-wheat crust version, try a thinner crust altogether. Choose your toppings wisely, load veggies onto your order, and consider asking for less cheese. When your delicious oven-baked savory pie arrives, don’t forget to take your napkin to dab off grease and oil.
Although the standard for making pizza usually renders this Italian delicacy unhealthy, pizza is easy to make healthier for you to eat. When trying to make pizza healthy, change your ingredients; with some simple substitutions or additions, you can transform pizza from a greasy, carbohydrate-loaded high-fat junk food meal into a lighter, healthier meal that is just as delicious.
Pizza or no pizza, get started on your wellness and nutrition goals now with Able for access to live chats with a personal dietitian, nutrient tracking, fitness, and self-care challenges.
Able has more tips that extend far beyond pizza to develop a happier, healthier you. We believe in using habit and behavior change, not restrictive dieting, in yielding achievable goals with visible results.
Wellness has many facets, and while nutrition is just one, it is a big part of your health and well-being. Able is here to help you every step of the way!
Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet | Mayo Clinic
Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet | Mayo Clinic
How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet | MedlinePlus
How to Make Healthy Pizza | Cleveland Clinic