Can Pizza Be Part of a Healthy Diet?

pepperoni-pizza-sliceI’ll order pizza…

Let’s talk for a minute about probably the most favorite “take out” (except for maybe Chinese)...pizza.  I love pizza…who doesn’t? My daughter. (sad face) It’s the perfect “go to” for impromptu social gatherings, game watching with friends, New Year’s Eve, kids’ birthday parties, high school friends over to watch a movie, quick dinner after work or just about any night you can’t decide what you want for dinner or you just plain don’t feel like cooking.  Have I left anything out? So, can pizza be part of a healthy diet? By the end of this blog , you’re going to have several fresh ideas for America’s favorite food.

⇒ Please click here to read Pizza…Healthy and Homemade for recipes, ideas, tips and suggestions.

Think of pizza as a healthy meal.

red-cherry-tomatoesWhy not…it has tomato sauce and tomatoes, especially cooked ones, are the leading source of cancer fighting lycopene. Lycopene, the red pigment, is a very strong antioxidant. It helps reduce cell damaging oxygen molecules called free-radicals. In fact, lycopene may have twice the cancer fighting power as beta-carotene. Ever considered sun-dried tomatoes? As you will read farther on, tomato sauce isn’t the only choice for your pizza base. The possibilities are almost endless.

But what about the toppings?

To keep your pizza healthy, I’d avoid pepperoni (I know) and sausage. Instead…opt for grilled chicken bites. Or go totally meatless and load up on onions, the heart healthy flavonoids.  Please read my Post, What are the best foods to eat… Part 2 for information on the health benefits of onions. How about broccoli as a topping…it’s right at the top of the list of nutritional superstars with their cancer fighting carotenoids.  Mushrooms make a great addition to pizza…especially Japanese shiitake mushrooms which will help boost your immune system as you’re scarfing down a slice.

Did you know…mushrooms are so popular in Asian countries that they are sold by street cart vendors?

Let’s not forget the garlic…and my favorite, roasted garlic.  Get my recipe for Roasted Garlic under the Menu title “…and more” and roast yourself a few garlic heads.  You’ll be glad you did.  As an absolutely delicious base on your pizza, squeeze out the roasted garlic heads on a small dish, chop and mash with a large knife. Add just enough extra virgin olive oil to make a paste. Then, spread this amazingly delicious garlic paste onto your pizza crust. Any remaining garlic paste can be stored in a small air tight jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Other fresh ideas for toppings include: chicken sausage, tofu, black beans, eggs (yes, eggs…scrambled or poached and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) and peppers.  They come in a rainbow of colors like red, green, yellow and orange. Don’t forget fresh spinach, thinly sliced vegetables or avocado.

Take your pizza to the next level:

⇒Instead of a tomato sauce base, use salsa to spice it up…just drain it well.

⇒Pesto…it’s made with nuts and fresh basil. This sauce adds healthy greens and omega-3s jacking up your pizza’s nutritional value.  Use it as the pizza “sauce” and top with a few dollops of goat cheese and some fresh arugula.

⇒Try ham with pineapple and grilled chicken or pineapple with BBQ sauce or Prosciutto with arugula.

⇒How about grilled peaches paired with caramelized onions and fresh basil? Hmmm…

Say “cheese”

A little cheese is good for you but do yourself a favor and don’t ask for extra. Try fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, feta or ricotta. Click here to check out my recipe for Homemade Ricotta cheese (creamy and low in fat). You’ll never go back to store bought.

Feed your body right and season with abandon.

Add a sprinkle of oregano, a potent antioxidant, red pepper flakes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the top.

Please check out my Post “What are the benefits of extra virgin olive oil?” and you’ll be drizzling it on more than your pizza.

cheese-pizza

 

Craving pizza?

For homemade pizza, you will want to bake it in a 500 degree oven to keep the crust from getting soggy in the middle.  I prefer using a pizza stone.  As the oven is coming up to temperature, let the pizza stone warm in the oven. Then, bake the crust 5-10 minutes before adding any toppings to it and it should come out perfect every time. One major hint…seed your tomatoes. I like to chop my tomatoes and gather them up in my hand leaving all the juice and seeds on the cutting board. This will prevent your crust from becoming soggy.

Dough for dough pizza-dough

Many local pizza shops will sell their fresh homemade dough….take advantage of this major shortcut.  Some healthy alternatives for pizza dough are whole wheat flat bread, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat pita, whole wheat/whole grain English muffins (great for a light lunch or late night snack when you get that pizza craving) or even a large portabella mushroom cap. It’s all good.

 

⇒ Getting back to the pizza stone…the one I use (and love) is extremely affordable and has never let me down.  You can check it out by clicking here on Amazon.com.  There are more expensive pizza stones out there but this one has worked for me for years.  When your pizza is done baking, simply turn the rack it sits in over to elevate the pizza for presentation and slicing.  Pretty cool.  When the last slice is eaten, simply wipe the stone clean with dampened paper towels and apply a thin layer of olive oil to season the stone. I just let it air dry overnight and wipe off any excess oil. This pizza stone is quite affordable on Amazon.com and would make a pretty great gift for any pizza lover.

Make your own from scratch.

Ingredients

  • 2 Packets (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
  • 2 Tbls sugar
  • 1/4 Cup olive oil
  • 2 Tsp Kosher salt
  • 4 Cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat flour)

Directions

  • Pour 1 1/2 cups warm water into a large bowl and sprinkle with the yeast.  Stir and let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the sugar, oil and salt into the water/yeast mixture and whisk.
  • Add the flour and stir until a sticky dough forms. Transfer the dough into a large bowl that you have rubbed with olive oil (so the dough won’t stick).  Brush the sides and top of the dough with olive oil.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
  • Place the dough onto a lightly floured (or corn meal) surface and knead 1 or 2 times before using.

At this point, you can divide the dough in half, or quarters if you wish, and freeze them for up to 3 months.  Just wrap each loaf tightly in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag. Hint…write the date on the baggie.

Go Vegetarian…

Check out my recipe for Homemade Organic Cauliflower Pizza Dough under “Vegetarian” in the drop down menu. I think you’ll like it.

Have an outdoor pizza party this weekend.

Heat up the grill and get the party started. Have a few different pizza doughs available for guests to choose from.  Set a “prep” table next to the grill with a few different sauces for the base and an assortment of toppings and cheeses.  Make sure you provide shaker bottles with crushed red pepper flakes, oregano and grated Parmesan cheese. Oh….and don’t forget a drizzle bottle filled with extra virgin olive oil.

pizza

This cooking method makes perhaps the absolute best pizza because of the intense heat of the grill. While you may prefer a thin crust, for grilling purposes have the dough a little thicker and cook it over direct heat.

  • Heat your grill to 550 – 600 degrees.  Hint…make sure you wear an oven mitt and use long metal tongs.
  • Brush the grill with oil. Stretch out your dough into a circle but don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round.
  • Brush one side with olive oil and place the dough on the hot grill, oil side down.  Brush the top side with olive oil and cook for about 3 minutes.  Use the tongs to lift it up checking the underside for grill marks.
  • As soon as grill marks appear, flip it over and quickly add your choice of toppings.  Don’t go over board with a lot of heavy toppings…you don’t want a soft, soggy center. Cover the grill  with the lid and let your pizza cook for 3-5 minutes or until the edges are crisp and well done and the cheese has melted.
  • Remove carefully with a spatula or “drag” the pizza onto a cutting board with the tongs.  Let it sit for 2-3 minutes…slice and enjoy.

⇒ Every grill is different and you’ll soon get to know the best timing for the perfect pizza. Because the total cooking time on the grill is around 6-8 minutes, while one pizza is cooling…the next one is cooking.

So, grasshopper, what do you say… feel like making an amazing pizza tonight?  Thought so (smiley face). There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a slice or three of America’s favorite food, just try to keep it on the healthy side.

Skål

I hope you enjoyed reading my insight on pizza and maybe picked up an idea or two. I’d love to receive your feedback, suggestions and comments about your own family’s favorite pizza or pizza story.

Any questions or have a request for a specific recipe? I’ll be happy to research it and find an answer for you.

                                                                     

 

 

 

 

 

9 comments to Can Pizza Be Part of a Healthy Diet?

  • Renee Townsend

    I’m with your daughter. I’m not a pizza lover, but I’ll eat it. On the other hand, sometimes I think my husband and son could live off pizza every day.

    My son is a vegetarian, so he goes for the healthier options. We also tend to use thin crust, which I hope is a good choice.

    I notice your post seemed to lean toward making one’s own pizza. Does one ruin the benefits of the healthy options when ordering delivery?

    • Karen

      Hi, Renee…Thanks for reading and commenting on America’s favorite food, haha. I think pizza crust is a personal thing. Some like it thin while others love it thick or deep dish. I love using my pizza stone and the crust always comes out perfect with no soggy bottom.

      With reference to delivery pizza vs making your own, I do both depending on my schedule, however, if I’m making it myself I know how fresh the veggys are. I know I’m using my freshly made pesto sauce and not a store bought pesto containing preservatives. AND I make my own ricotta cheese (which is easy to make). I encourage you to follow my recipe for homemade ricotta and I’ll make a bet with you that you’ll never purchase ricotta at the grocery store again. Trust me. Try my pesto too and let me know if I’ve changed your mind about pizza and healthy eating.

  • Darrien

    I hear it all too often that pizza is “unhealthy”. When it comes down to it, you have a good portion of vegetables, some protein, and carbs. I agree that the cheese can be a big part of the unhealthiness with all of it’s oil. I even read somewhere that ordering extra cheese is just a scam at most pizza joints.

    • Karen

      Hey, Darrien…thanks for your feedback and comments. What a better night to have a blog about pizza!!! Olive oil is good for you…read my blog about it and I totally agree about the “extra cheese”. Have a great New Year’s Eve and a wonderful 2016!

  • Elizabeth

    Another great post! I have a newly found love for pesto! Especially paired with soft cheeses like ricotta or goat cheese. I have heard, as another healthy alternative, you can make pizza crust out of cauliflower. Can you come up with a good recipe for that?

    • Karen

      I’m glad you enjoyed my Pizza blog, Elizabeth.
      Hmmm…while I’m not familiar with dough made from cauliflower…it does sound intriguing. I’ll experiment and see what I can come up with. Perhaps someone will read your comment who knows a delicious recipe for cauliflower pizza dough. If so, please share with us.

      • Karen

        Well, Elizabeth…you asked and I delivered. Please see my recipe for Homemade Organic Cauliflower Pizza Dough under the menu “Vegetarian”.
        Not only is it made with organic cauliflower, it’s vegetarian and gluten free as well. I think you’re going to like this. I look forward to your feedback/comments on how to make it even better.
        Karen

  • Valerie

    I love pizza, but like you I had to find a healthier version. My favorite is to make a shrimp basil pizza. It has a lot of flavor but I get to control how much of each ingredient I put on. It passed the husband test, so it is going to be a keeper. I haven’t tried making my own dough from scratch. Maybe that will be my next challenge. Thanks for the great article.

    • Karen

      Valerie…Thank you for your comments…shrimp basil pizza sounds SO good. I grow my own basil so I can’t wait to try this combo. You’re welcome and thank you for the great idea. For other healthy eating ideas, please check out my posts, both current and archives (click on ‘posts” in the upper right corner for older ones).
      Karen

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