9 times out of 10, if you ask someone what their favorite food is, they’re going to say: pizza. And why not, pizza is probably one of Mankind’s most delicious and important inventions, rivaling the Pyramids or the International Space Station in magnitude.
But is pizza healthy? Well, if you’re eating a slice right now, the answer is oh my god who cares, and some people might even argue that it’s a pretty complete meal all around (you have all the major food groups in one pie). Of course, buzzkill doctors will probably say that pizza is one of the unhealthiest things you can ever put in your body, like plastic straws or arsenic (but, like, a delicious kind of arsenic).
And why wouldn’t you believe doctors? Well, it turns out, they’re wrong. Or rather, they’re only half-right: to answer the question “is pizza healthy?” researchers went out and tested a whole bunch of pizzas and found that some pizzas are actually good for you, while some actually are garbage (delicious garbage, though).
To settle the matter, let’s take a closer look at our favorite food, pizza:
Just like people, every type of pizza is unique, and each type of pizza carries with it its own nutritional content, some of which can be quite surprising, especially if you’ve lived your life believing all pizza was bad for you. Turns out, certain pizzas can actually be healthy, while certain pizzas really are like guns in a bun.
Fast Food Pizza
There’s a reason fast food pizza is frowned upon by doctors: it’s severely unhealthy. Every time you hear someone ask “is pizza healthy” and they answer “no”, it’s because they’re basing their answer on fast food pizza.
And it makes sense: out of all the types of pizzas out there, fast food pizzas have the worst nutrional content, with typical fast food pizza containing really high levels of Trans fats, artificial preservatives, and most of all sodium. In fact, a typical fast food pizza would normally have:
- Sodium: 900 mg (which is a whopping 38% of a person’s recommended daily intake, or RDI)
- Sugar: 1 gram
- Fat: 26 grams
- Carbs: 37 grams
- Calories: 460
Fast food chains will also often use high fructose corn syrup, Monosodium Glutamate (or MSG), and a ton of salt. Fast food places use high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, because it’s cheaper and holds up better to heat. Fast food places also use much more salt than home cooks and local pizzerias because it gives their food a more uniform taste. Many fast food places also use MSG, which, despite getting a bad rap, might not actually be that bad for you.
Let me make one thing clear: frozen pizzas belong at the bottom tier of the pizza quality pyramid. That being said, it’s still pizza and thus a superior food choice compared to, well, everything else. Frozen pizzas, despite their inferior taste, are a staple for busy families and college students, who simply don’t have the time to make a delicious, mouth-watering ‘za.
Unfortunately, frozen pizzas are also one of the unhealthiest kinds of pizza out there, laden with Trans fats, refined sugars, and a whole lot of highly processed and artificial flavors and preservatives. Here’s the nutritional breakdown for 1 serving of a typical grocery store frozen pizza:
- Sodium: 810 mg (to note, this is 34% of a person’s RDI)
- Sugar: 8 grams
- Fat: 18 grams
- Carbs: 39 grams
- Calories: 380
Getting a frozen pizza with extra toppings like pepperoni or sausage will obviously bump up the calories and the fat, and while they do add flavor, it’s nothing compared to the real stuff.
Freshly Made Pizzeria Pizza
By far the superior choice in terms of pizza, your local pizzeria will always be healthier than fast food or frozen pizza. Of course, each pizzeria will have its own ingredients, preparation, ovens, and even slicing, methods that will determine its nutrional information (ok, maybe not the slicing but, you get what I mean).
Because pizzerias will almost always use fresh ingredients, it will almost always be healthier, with less sugars, Trans fats, sodium, and artificial flavors. Pizzerias will also probably never use preservatives, as their pies are meant to be eaten on the same day (although cold next-day pizza is still pretty bomb).
Most pizzerias (at least, the good ones) will make their dough from scratch, with purists relying solely on flour, water, salt, and good quality olive oil to make their crust. They’ll also probably use San Marzano tomatoes which, as well all know, is the superior choice of tomato for the sauce. Mozzarella cheese is obviously necessary, and depending on the pizzeria, they’ll probably use good, high-quality mozzarella that has less sodium and less Trans fats.
Of course, if you pile on the cheese, pepperoni, or sausages, it’s going to be a little unhealthy, so just try to practice restraint.
So Is Pizza Healthy?
Yes and no. Fast food and grocery store frozen pizzas are definitely not healthy. However, freshly made pizzeria pizza, or even homemade pizza, could be healthy, depending on what you put into it.
Make Your Pizzas Healthier
There’s no reason to stray away from the world’s best food just because some lab coat found Pizza Hut to be unhealthy! There are plenty of ways to enjoy a pizza without having to worry about your heart stopping, or diabetes.
That being said, if you eat, like, 5 entire pizzas in one sitting, then obviously you’re not going to live past next week. As with most things, practice restraint and try not to eat a month’s worth of your caloric intake in one meal.
Here are some easy ways to make pizza healthier:
Don’t Be Shy with the Veggies
Be they raw, blanched, boiled, steamed, or roasted, vegetables can elevate a pizza from great to sublime. Toss in a handful of fresh greens on your next homemade pizza to give yourself a much needed vitamins and minerals boost. Bonus: some vegetables, like ginger, have antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which are just super great for your body.
Skip the Processed Stuff
As much as possible, make your pizza with whole foods; that is, food that is processed as little as possible. Yes, bacon and pepperoni make for a classic pizza, but grilled chicken breasts or even slices of sautéed pork make excellent toppings too.
Whole Grain All the Way
If you’re making homemade pizza, swap out white flour with something wholegrain as these types of flour usually have more fiber, more minerals, more good things that your body needs, as compared to regular, all-purpose flour. Other alternatives include cauliflower and pita bread. Healthy alternatives exist, and if you encounter it, take it.
San Marzano or Bust
If you’re using jarred pizza sauce, try to go for one that’s made with real San Marzano tomatoes. This is because San Marzano tomatoes have just the right amount of natural sweetness and tartness that make it unnecessary for you to add extra sugar, keeping your glucose levels stable.
Control Your Portions
More often than not, people eat with their eyes first, which is why an entire slice of a New York Style Pizza might look a tiny portion, when in fact, half of that would be enough to get you full. Try to cut smaller or thinner slices as a form of portion control.