Pizza can arguably be one of the most popular foods from all over the world. Although it is not normally recognized as being healthy, there are many ways pizza can be turned into a healthy alternative. This also happens to be pizza’s top characteristic. It is versatile and can be customized according to what is needed. There can be thousands of different pizza combinations, but even the most traditional pizzas can be modified to become healthier alternatives. The most important fact to take from this is that there is no need to eliminate pizza from diets altogether. They only need to be adapted.
Everyone knows that the famous pizza hails from Italy. The modern pizza, as it is now known, comes from Naples, with the original pizza being the Neopolitan kind. A pizza can be described simply as a flatbread that is topped with a tomato-based sauce and cheese before being baked in an oven. More specifically, the original Neopolitan toppings consist of a basic tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese. The additions of fresh basil and olive oil came a little later as other variations started sprouting in other regions of Italy and eventually, from around the world.
It’s easy to imagine how much the concept of pizza has changed throughout the years. One of the most obvious changes is how much it has become commercialized in the last few decades. Commercialization of pizza has affected its quality and its flight from the traditional Italian pizza. Also, pizzas have now become a quest for creativity as the most lucrative and oddest toppings somehow make it onto every slice. Some of the strangest toppings that have been incorporated into pizza throughout the world include peas, mackerel, canned tuna, coconut, and even kangaroo. This is important to take into consideration as the toppings on the pizza can very well determine how healthy a pie can be. Here are some ways on how pizza can be modified to be a healthier alternative.
Start with the Crust
Most pizzas start out with refined, white flour. Pizzas can be made out of unbleached flour or even other types of flour that are healthier as well. Almond, whole wheat, buckwheat, rye, and graham flours are specialty types that are much healthier than their refined alternatives. There are also other food items that can substitute for the crust. Pitas are generally lighter alternatives and make great crusts for pizzas. If looking to just lighten the crust, going thin is the best way. Crusts that are thicker will generally have more carbohydrate and caloric content in general. Thinner crusts mean fewer calories altogether. It’ll also be good to watch the amount of salt being added to the crust when flavoring. If possible, eliminate salt on the crust entirely since the toppings can be a good source of flavor already.
Sauce or No Sauce
Some people prefer red sauces, while other prefer no sauces at all. Just because there is no sauce on a pizza does not mean that it is automatically healthier. White pizzas generally have more cheese content to begin with, so that can negate the elimination of pizza sauce in general. However, canned tomato sauce happens to have tons of preservatives and unnecessary ingredients. Sometimes it is better to just go fresh. Although it might take extra work, it might be good to use homemade tomato sauce made out of fresh ingredients. That way, there can be total control of how much of whatever ingredients go into the sauce itself. Also, use the sauce sparingly. Too much sauce can make the pizza soggy anyway. Plus, too much sauce also means too many calories. A little sauce will go a long way.
For some, this might be the best part about pizza. Cheese adds that warmth that most people associate with eating pizza. Fresh mozzarella is the traditional ingredient of pizza. However, other cheeses may be used to inspire different flavors. Ricotta cheese is typically used in white pizzas. Cheddar cheese is also used to add richness. Parmesan is typically used as a topping to finish off a bit with some tang and acidity. Regardless of what kind of cheese is used, if any, it is important to use it in moderation as well. Low fat cheeses or 2% cheeses are better alternative to whole milk ones. Also, it is possible to have pizza without cheese, especially for the lactose-intolerant population.
Toppings Upon Toppings
Perhaps the best way to control how healthy a pizza can be is by controlling the toppings that go on it. Toppings make up mostly what the pizza is all about. A simple pizza with just tomatoes and cheese will have a lot less calories than a meat pizza filled with pepperoni, sausages, bacon, ham, and any other types of meat imaginable. Also, vegetable pizzas are generally better alternatives as long as there is no compensation with the addition of extra cheeses. Vegetable pizzas can be delicious and just as satisfying. While the typical vegetable toppings consist of tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers, there can be creative alternatives as well. Artichoke and spinach pizzas are very good.
All that matters when it comes to pizza is how healthy you make it to be. The best thing about pizza is that absolutely anything can go on it as a topping. The only challenge is choosing toppings that are ultimately healthier options, but pizza can definitely be healthy for anyone. Also, it’s important to remember that regardless of how great a pie is, make sure to only eat a portion because it is possible to eat an entire pie. We all must have seen it happen at least once somewhere. Pizza can be just as good as eating a salad. It all depends on what is on it.
- Braimbridge, S., Glynn, J. (2005). Food of Italy. Sydney: Murdoch Books.
- Helstosky, C. (2008). Pizza: A Global History. London: Reaktion.
- Owens, M.J. (2003). Make Great Pizza at Home. New York: Taste of America Press.