There are few foods that are as wildly popular as pizza. If you enjoy eating pizza at least once per month, then you share a dietary choice with 93 percent of Americans. If that factoid piqued your interest, then take a minute to chew on these other pizza-related tidbits:
- As of 2012, pizza sales represent a $32 billion dollar industry in the United States.
- If you can believe it, Americans eat 350 pieces of pizza are every second. To put this in proper perspective, roughly 1800 pizza slices were consumed while you read these past two sentences.
- There are over 70,000 pizzerias operating in the US today. The state of New York alone accounts for 9,000 of these businesses.
- Approximately 3 billion pizzas are bought by Americans annually. When the rest of the world is taken into account, this number expands to 5 billion.
- In the US, 252 million pounds of pepperoni are eaten on pizza slices each year.
Though pizza has an almost universal appeal, its popularity is often matched by its sheer unhealthiness. Most fresh and frozen pizzas sold today are brimming with sodium, cholesterol and fat. Just two slices of cheese pizza from your favorite pizza chain will net you 14% DV (daily value) of cholesterol, 44% DV of saturated fat and 46% DV of sodium. As bad as those numbers seem, keep in mind that they can get much worse once toppings are factored into the equation.
The good news is that pizza doesn’t have to be a calorie-laden, diet-busting guilty pleasure. In fact, if the following guidelines are followed, you can create delicious yet relatively healthy pizza right in your own kitchen (as an added bonus, just think of all the money you’ll save from not tipping delivery drivers!)
Start From the Ground Up – Making your own pizza means you will have to acquire all of pizza’s essential ingredients, starting with the dough. Pizza dough can be found in both fresh and frozen form at your local supermarket. Make sure to buy whole wheat dough instead of dough made from white flour; whole wheat dough offers much more fiber than its white counterpart. If you are in a time crunch, then pre-made whole wheat crusts make an acceptable substitute.
Get the Right Kind of Pizza Sauce – You might be surprised to learn (or perhaps not too surprised if you’re a regular reader of Natural Knowledge 24/7) that many store-bought pizza sauces are crammed with fat and added sugars. Yes, sugar and fat are found even in piazza sauces. By carefully checking the sauce’s nutrition label, you can avoid unintentionally adding these ingredients to your pizza.
Pick Extra Virgin Olive Oil over Vegetable Oil – As healthy as vegetable oil may be, olive oil has it beat when it comes to nutritional value. Olive oil, particularly of the extra virgin variety, is a rich source of healthy fats. Even extra virgin olive oil, however, still should be used judiciously when making a pizza. For a 12 inch pizza crust, it’s best to use about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Go Easy on The Cheese – Cheese might be one of the staple ingredients of pizza, but it can easily be detrimental to your health. Many of the cheeses found in stores are loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. When scanning the aisle for shredded cheese, chose one that is low in both calories and fat. Only use a sprinkling of cheese on your crust.
Pick Healthier Pizza Toppings – Pepperoni and sausage are arguably the most popular types of pizza toppings. Unfortunately, the processed pepperoni and sausage used for pizzas are also terrible for the body. Whether they come fresh from a pizzeria or frozen from the store, meats used for pizza toppings are usually packed with sodium, cholesterol, fat and calories.
The healthier route is to opt for more nutritious toppings. Your best bets are items such as bell peppers, olives, tomatoes and mushrooms. Low fat meats can also be used in lieu of pepperoni or sausage. This list includes chicken breast pieces, turkey and tuna.
Eating Better at the Pizzeria
While making your own pizza can be a fun and rewarding experience, it does require a good bit of time and effort. Given the limited amount of time available during the workweek, many people are simply too busy to make meals from scratch. With so many pizza chains offering tasty, relatively inexpensive fare, consumers often find it much more convenient to get their pizza fix from outside sources.
If you succumb to the temptation to patronize your favorite pizza chain (and, being human, you probably will) here are some tips that can minimize the damage done to your body.
- While some people may deride thin crust as lacking taste and texture, pizzas with thinner crusts contain significantly fewer calories than their thicker counterparts. A large thin crust pizza at a popular pizza chain, for instance, contains 700 fewer calories than the deep-dish alternative.
- If you’ve ever rested a slice of pizza on a napkin or paper towel, you’ve likely noticed the large grease stains it leaves behind. As you can imagine, all of that grease isn’t exactly good for your long-term health. When you finally get a hold of your order, try dabbing the pizza with a few napkins; this will soak up a good deal of grease and oil.
- Ask your server if you can have your pizza made with half the amount of cheese normally used.
- Order vegetables, and ask for a lot of them. Be mindful, however, that many pizzerias douse their veggies in fattening cheeses. While ordering, check beforehand to see if this technique is common practice at the pizzeria; if it is, ask for them to skip the cheese.
- Some restaurants and pizza chains offer salads and vegetables as side dishes. Though this can boost the nutritional value of your meal, they can also be stealth carriers of fat and calories. Should you order a salad or side of veggies, make sure to pass on the croutons, bacon bits, pepperoni slices, cheeses and salad dressings.
- Virtually any pizza chain worth its salt will offer “extras” with its pizzas, such as breadsticks, wings or friend jalapeño poppers. Though they may not hold the spotlight, these side dishes can sneakily add hundreds of calories to your meal, not to mention large quantities of sodium, fat and cholesterol. Tempting as they may be, your body will thank you for passing on these extra offerings. The same guideline also applies to the various dippings and sauces available at pizza chains.