There’s no food more popular than pizza. Wherever you are in the world, you can find a pizzeria in the vicinity.
Additionally, every grocery and convenience store has a freezer section stocked with frozen pizzas.
Pizza originated in the 18th century as a poor man’s meal using simple ingredients to create a filling and balanced meal on the fly.
It has evolved into the world’s most beloved Italian dish, with countless varieties ranging from deep-dish to Neapolitan.
Pizza is often considered junk food, filled with cholesterol-laden cheese, processed meats, and grease. However, healthy pizza does exist, and it all depends on the ingredients you use.
Read on to discover how pizza is healthy and how to make it healthier for you.
Why Pizza Can Be a Healthy Meal
If you’re wondering if pizza is healthy, the short answer is yes. Pizza consists of whole ingredients and well-rounded macronutrients.
The foundation of pizza consists of a wheat crust that provides a key source of carbohydrates, an integral macronutrient in the human diet.
Tomatoes and olive oil make up the sauce. These ingredients are rich in vitamins and minerals.
In addition, tomatoes contain the chemical compound lycopene, which has been shown to lower blood lipids and blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The cheese on pizza is high in protein and fat, which are vital macronutrients. In addition, cheese has plenty of calcium as a dairy product, contributing to strong bones.
At its most basic, pizza consists of three main components: crust, sauce, and cheese.
Below, I’ll break down the nutritional information in the ingredients of these components.
The crust is a wheat dough consisting of flour, yeast, water, olive oil, and a dash of sugar and salt.
This provides a simple, whole-ingredient, carbohydrate-rich foundation for the cheese, sauce, and toppings.
As pizza continues to evolve, there are many iterations of crusts to suit gluten-free or carb-free diets.
There are also whole-grain crusts with complex carbohydrates. Cauliflower crust, consisting of ground cauliflower bound with cheese and egg, is a keto-friendly fad.
The cheese used on pizza ranges from mozzarella and cheddar to ricotta and feta cheese.
Cheese is high in fat, protein, lactose, and calcium. However, cheese has a high-calorie content due to high levels of fat.
Certain cheeses have higher fat content than others. Some cheeses undergo a filtration process that reduces fat and increases protein.
Hard cheese and brined cheese, like feta, have high amounts of sodium.
All cheese is rich in calcium, which is an important nutrient for bone health.
The sauce consists of whole-cooked tomatoes, seasonings, fresh herbs, olive oil, and garlic.
All these ingredients offer a wealth of vitamins and minerals beneficial to our health.
For example, tomatoes help lower blood pressure through their lycopene and fiber content.
Fresh herbs and garlic offer antioxidants, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, and many more vital nutrients for heart, brain, and immune system health.
While classic pizza sauce is a red sauce, there are other types of pizza sauce you can use as well – some healthier than others!
Melted cheese produces high saturated fat and cholesterol, which isn’t the best for your health.
However, pizza crust and sauce contain heart-healthy, cholesterol-free olive oil with healthy fatty acids like omega 3 and 6 and antioxidants, countering cholesterol from cheese.
Why Pizza is Unhealthy
Pizza’s bad rap as junk food isn’t entirely unfounded, especially if it’s processed frozen food or from a fast food restaurant.
Processed foods use artificial preservatives and colorings to extend their shelf life.
Processed cheese and hydrogenated oils contain excessive amounts of saturated fats, trans fats, and other harmful chemicals.
Frozen pizzas or fast food pizzas that use mass-produced, processed cheeses and meats are fundamentally unhealthy.
The ingredients are high in calories, cholesterol, saturated fats, preservatives, and colorings. This increases the risks of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
As a result, these processed meats clog arteries and increase the risks of colon cancer and high blood pressure.
What Pizza Should You Eat?
If your goal is to eat healthy pizza, you’ve got plenty of options, whether you want a frozen pizza, a homemade pizza, or a freshly baked pizza from your local pizzeria.
Below, I’ll cover the types of pizza you should eat as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Homemade pizza is often the healthiest option, since you know exactly what ingredients are going into the pizza.
You can even make your own pizza dough so that you know every ingredient used!
Add whatever toppings you like. You can make a healthier veggie pizza or add meat toppings if you prefer.
A homemade pizza will usually be made with fresher ingredients and is less greasy.
Frozen pizza comes in numerous varieties, with many catering to healthy lifestyles.
There are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, veggie-packed, and even cauliflower crust frozen pizzas.
You can check the calorie and ingredients on the frozen pizza label to ensure it’s a healthy choice.
Freshly Made Pizzeria Pizza
Pizzerias range from humble slice shops to authentic Neapolitan bistros.
They all use scratch-made dough, sauce, and fresh cheese and toppings.
Freshly made pizza is healthy pizza because it isn’t as processed.
Calories and nutritional content vary depending on the toppings you choose.
Fast-Food pizza is the most common pizza variety, encompassing chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, along with counter-service slice shops.
These locales use processed ingredients to cut costs, making their pizzas higher in calories, unhealthy fats, and preservatives.
That said, certain pizza chains like Magic Mushroom offer healthier options and even vegan pizzas for plant-based diets, posting the nutritional information of each pie on the menu.
Tips for Healthy Pizza
Pizza lovers and health enthusiasts don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The following tips for healthy pizza are easy to employ, whether your pizza night is at home or in a restaurant.
Read on to discover a list of guidelines to make pizza a healthier, more balanced meal.
Choose Whole Ingredients
Whole ingredients like whole wheat crusts, fresh veggies, unprocessed cheese, and scratch-made sauces are vital for healthy eating.
Whole ingredients are easier to digest and, thus easier to extract the nutrients we need to thrive.
A Lot of Vegetables
The more vegetables you load on a pizza, the better it is for your health.
There are a lot of different kinds of vegetables that can be added to pizza.
Bell peppers, onions, eggplant, and broccoli are just a few examples.
Thus, adding vegetables significantly increases pizza’s nutritional value.
Avoid Processed Meat
Pepperoni is everyone’s favorite meat topping, but it’s also one of the most processed meats.
However, you can avoid processed meats and opt for leaner meats like grilled chicken or turkey meatballs.
Thin crust pizza means a smaller ratio of crust to cheese, sauce, and toppings.
It also means fewer carbohydrates and calories.
Dense crusts and stuffed crusts more than double the calories, fat, and carbohydrates due to excessive flour, oils, and extra cheese.
Check out our favorite flatbread pizza recipes to cut down on carbs!
Pair it with a Salad
If you’d rather not load vegetables on your pizza, you can always pair it with a salad to make a more balanced meal.
Raw vegetables may provide more nutrients than cooked vegetables in any case.
Just ensure you use a healthy dressing like vinaigrette and avoid croutons.
Pairing salad with pizza also reduces the number of slices you consume, as the fibrous veggies help fill you up.
Sauce Without Added Sugar
Tomato sauce may seem harmless, but many bottled sauces have added sugar or tomato paste, which concentrates tomatoes’ natural sugars.
You can check sauce bottles for sugar content or make your own sauce using whole tomatoes or canned-stewed tomatoes.
Cheese may be the unhealthiest component of pizza, accounting for the bulk of your calorie intake due to high levels of fat.
Using low-fat cheese like skim mozzarella, or a dollop of Greek yogurt instead of ricotta will reduce calories and lower cholesterol.
Cut the Number of Slices
Pizza is so delicious that it’s easy to eat a whole one by yourself.
However, the key to a healthy diet is to consume everything in moderation.
You can enjoy a delicious slice of pizza guilt-free, but anything over three slices is excessive.
Research the Restaurants you Go To
Most restaurants have websites with online menus, lists of ingredients, and options for healthy diets.
In addition, you can research where they source their food if their sauces and doughs are house-made, and if they have dairy-free, plant-based, or keto-friendly options.