July 16, 2019

Guest column

Rethinking pizza as a healthy food choice

Aug. 18, 2011

By Dianne Lamb

Who doesn’t love pizza? What’s commonly considered fast food for college kids, and an integral part of their diet, can be a healthful meal for children and adults of all ages. How good it is for you depends on the choices you make.

You can purchase ready-made pizza from the local pizza shop or buy frozen pizza at the supermarket to pop in the oven for a quick meal. Or, you can look for pizza shells in the frozen food, bakery or bread section and just add pizza sauce and toppings.

Read the nutrition facts label on the pizza, however, before you purchase. Pay attention to the amount and type of fat. Remember that cheese and meat toppings can add a lot of fat.

Also, check serving size. It’s probably one slice. How many slices of that particular pizza do you usually eat? If your favorite pizza has 15 grams of fat per serving, a serving is one slice and you eat three slices, you have just consumed 45 grams of fat.

Ask pizzerias and fast food restaurants for nutrition information, so you can check the calories and fat (and other nutrients). Many chain restaurants list the nutritional value of their foods on their web sites.

A healthier alternative is to make your own pizza from scratch. It’s easy to do and a great way to get children and teenagers involved in food preparation. When it comes to flavor combinations for toppings, sauces and crusts, you are only limited by your imagination.

A crust made from refined, enriched flour provides vitamin B, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and iron. Choose a whole-wheat crust, and you add a chewy taste to your pizza and increased dietary fiber.

It’s what goes on the crust that can tip the scales. When you add sauce and toppings, you increase both calories and nutrients. Making sauces with a limited amount of oil is a good start. Although cheese is a good source of protein, vitamin A, riboflavin and calcium, it’s high in calories and fat. As a result, keep high-fat cheese to a minimum or sprinkle the crust lightly with part-skim mozzarella or low-fat soy cheese instead.

Standard meat toppings — including pepperoni, sausage, ground beef and ham — add calories and fat along with protein and nutrients. Consider alternatives, such as lean poultry, shellfish or beans. Adding fresh vegetables to your pizza provides color and texture as well as fiber. Try cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, roasted bell pepper strips, onions or mushrooms.

Give pizza a Tuscan taste by topping it with diced, cooked white-meat chicken, finely chopped green onions and roasted red peppers. Sprinkle on a small amount of grated Parmesan or part-skim mozzarella cheeses. For a Mexican pizza, spread the crust with a spicy tomato sauce or chunky salsa and top with kidney, black or pinto beans, grated low-fat Monterrey Jack cheese and chopped oregano or cilantro.

Remember, pizza can be healthy and low fat. It’s the type and the amount of high fat toppings that you add that makes the difference.

 

Dianne Lamb is a retired nutrition and food specialist for University of Vermont Exension.

 

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