Pizza night. Pizza parties. Late night ‘za.
America loves its pizza, but it also boasts one of the highest obesity rates in the world, with 34.9 percent of the adult population (or 78.6 million people) registering as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pizza isn’t solely to blame, of course, but it certainly isn’t helping.
“There’s not much nutrition to it,” Miriam Jacobson, a nutritionist for Food Coach, told LifeZette.
Sarah Krieger, president of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said pizza can be OK — though not healthy necessarily — in moderation. “Love the sausage and pepperoni pizza?” Krieger said. “Stick with one slice and a salad loaded with vegetables, and it’s a balanced meal.”
LifeZette asked some of the leading nutritionists in the country for ways to enjoy the delicious pizza flavors without all the sugar, fat, and calories. Here are some ideas, from crust to toppings, to make a healthier — and even tastier — pizza.
If a grain-based crust is important to you, Krieger suggested aiming to use “50 percent whole grain for a denser and more nutritious crust. White flour crusts are very low fiber, which means it is easier to eat more.”
Integrative nutritionist Nikki Ostrower, founder of NAO Nutrition in New York City, suggested using a cauliflower crust.
Take chopped or shredded sun-dried tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil for a “sauce” that packs more flavor.
Before baking, Ostrower said to “grind a head of cauliflower and add almond flour, eggs, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.”
Ostrower also suggested using roasted eggplant slices in place of a crust, which can be topped with marinara sauce and organic cheese.Do the same with zucchini slices to make bite-sized pizza appetizers.
The sauce on a pizza is probably considered healthiest of all its components by most of us. Yet we’re wrong. It’s a nutritional minefield because of the amount of sugar it contains. Jacobson said some sauces have a Snickers bar’s worth of sugar in one cup of sauce. Consider how many cups of sauce you use for a pizza.
“I’d rather have chocolate,” Jacobson said.
Luckily, the alternatives she suggested are even more delicious. Take chopped or shredded sun-dried tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil for a “sauce” that packs more flavor. Or simply go the pesto route.
If it’s not pizza for you without traditional sauce, Jacobson suggested either making your own — buy tomatoes in a glass jar, not a can because the metal can rub off — or using one of the Amy’s Kitchen sauces.
We love cheese so much, a normal topping is “extra cheese.” Sadly, it not only packs on fat and calories, but cow’s milk often comes from cattle that are fed antibiotics and hormones.
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“Instead of your body absorbing an array of nutrients, it (encourages) inflammation, which leads to disease,” Ostrower said.
If you choose cow’s milk, Ostrower suggested using one of Organic Valley’s many varieties.
Of course, other options abound. Jacobson mentioned goat cheese, which is less likely to have antibiotics or hormones and is generally a little more delicious. Not to mention, “They tend to be less bloating,” she said.
Stick to the herbs and veggies, and the more the better. Not only will veggies like zucchini, squash, spinach, and artichokes cut down on calories while being more filling, the sheer variety offers a cornucopia of new flavors.
If meat is non-negotiable, Ostrower said, “go for white meat chicken.” And be sure to load up on the herbs. Krieger said they’ll increase flavor, “so a person is satisfied with fewer slices.”
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All of this probably seems pretty straightforward, and that’s because it is. A few small substitutions, and you can enjoy those pizza flavors regularly, with half the guilt.