This staple delivery food gets a bad rap, but pizza doesn't need to be an unhealthy choice.
Pizza is one of the most universally popular foods, with one USDA report estimating that 13 percent of the U.S. population eats it on any given day. And we totally get it—it's fast, easy, and ridiculously delicious. These three factors alone must mean it's pretty bad for you, right? Wrong. Pizza can actually be healthy. (Case in point, these 10 healthy pizza recipes.)
Before you devour an entire pie all on your own, keep in mind that what you order (or make at home) can turn a relatively healthy meal into a simple-carb-fueled calorie bomb. First, it's important to recognize that not all pies are created equal. "Americanized versions of pizza are typically the extra cheesy, all-meat, or super-thick-crust options, which are what usually makes it such an unhealthy choice," says Marci Clow, M.S., R.D.N., at Rainbow Light.
When it comes to your pizza options, Clow says to order as the Italians do. Opt for a traditional thin crust with veggie toppings like peppers, spinach, mushrooms, or roasted broccoli. "Realistically, you're not getting a huge nutritional boost from the amount of veggies in a slice or two of pizza, but every bit counts," she says. And at the very least, you'll be consuming fewer calories than if that pie had pepperoni, extra cheese, or sausage piled on top. If you don't consider it pizza unless it has meat, Clow says turkey pepperoni, chicken sausage, or Canadian bacon are all healthier choices than traditional greasy pepperoni and will still satisfy your craving.
There Really Are Some Health Benefits of Pizza
If you are a pizza purist, you can totally reap some health benefits of your basic plain sauce and cheese slice. Clow says a regular slice of pizza provides close to 20 percent of the suggested daily protein intake and about 20 percent of the recommended daily calcium too. "Tomato sauce provides a great boost of vitamin C and also delivers a good source of lycopene," says Clow. Lycopene is known to fight cancer and has also been studied for its potential role in prostate health.
Make Your Own Pizza at Home
But if you're watching your sodium levels, you might want to try making your own healthy pizza. Maybe even try some vegan recipe options, as store-bought pizza sauce is loaded with sodium (or go for a white pie, sans sauce). Regardless, it's pretty easy to make your own pizza—you can even grill it! Clow shares this winning formula for healthy homemade pizza: Start with a whole-grain thin crust and add low-sodium tomato-based sauce with low-fat cheese and use a heavy hand with the veggies. When you order out, make sure to specify thin crust to cut down on the carbs and calories in those deep-dish crust options.