Yes, Pizza Can Be a Part of Your Healthy Diet

Late night slices, birthday pizza parties, delivery during the big game, pulling out the frozen pie on days when you have no time to cook—there's no denying that pizza is one of the most beloved foods in the world. With a standard slice of plain potentially setting you back around 400 calories, though, it's important to be smart with your pizza consumption if you're looking to live healthy.

Before you panic about having to swear it off, know that you can build a lighter version that can be part of your healthy eating plan. It's all about your ingredients and the quantities of those ingredients. Even if you are craving a slice when you're on the go, follow these tips to order a better-for-you slice or create your own healthy pizza pie right at home.

The Crust

You can choose to make your own crust, or if you're pressed for time buy a health-conscious option at the grocery. If you choose to make your own dough, choose a recipe that uses either 100 percent whole-wheat flour usually combined with all-purpose flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour with all-purpose flour. Both options will increase the fiber in your pizza. You can opt to make your dough in advance and freeze it if you're someone who regularly craves a slice, which can save you time on a busy weeknight.

If you're not into making your own dough (which is totally okay!), you can purchase many better-for-you pre-made varieties. Check the frozen or refrigerated sections of your market for pre-made whole-wheat dough. You can also hit up your local pizzeria for pre-made dough, but be sure to look for places that serve whole-wheat dough before you make the drive. Allow refrigerated dough to sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, then sprinkle flour on the surface to make it easier to roll out. Aim for one-inch thick pizza dough before adding your sauce, cheese, and toppings.

Don't want to deal with rolling out the dough? There are numerous pre-baked crust options at the market. Your mission is to find a whole-wheat thin crust. You can also get creative with the bread and use whole-grain pita bread, whole-wheat English muffin or naan bread, all of which are great for creating personal pies or serving a smaller crowd.

The Sauce

If you are inclined to make your own sauce, go for it! Homemade tomato sauces tend to be healthy and made primarily with canned tomatoes, herbs and spices, but be sure to watch for recipes that require a lot of oil. Your goal should be to stick with only a few tablespoons of oil in your sauce. Tomato sauce is also a good recipe to make in large batches and freeze for later. If DIY tomato sauce isn't your style, you can pick up jarred varieties at the market. Read the nutrition facts panel for hidden sources of added sugar and sodium. If you're not sure, compare labels and opt for the one lowest added sugars and sodium numbers.

You can also switch things up by using pesto sauce, but keep in mind that because it is made with lots of olive oil it can significantly raise the calories. To cut the calories in pesto, make a 50:50 mix of pesto with non-fat plain Greek yogurt. The yogurt will pick up the flavor of the pesto and you won't be able to taste the difference. You can also opt to go without sauce and focus on cheese and toppings, instead.

The Cheese

The go-to pizza option is shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese. If you use it often enough, purchase it in bulk from a club warehouse, divide them into re-sealable plastic bags at home and store in the freezer. You can also save money by purchasing a block of cheese and shredding it yourself. Other delicious cheese options perfect for topping a pizza include Parmesan, cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Asiago. To add flavor without too many extra calories, use more part-skim mozzarella and combine with a small amount of a full-fat cheese—1/4 cup of shredded part-skim mozzarella mixed with two tablespoons of shredded full-fat cheese per serving is ideal.

The Toppings

You can sabotage even the healthiest pizza by adding too many toppings. The bulk of your toppings should be lower-calorie herbs, vegetables and/or fruit (think pineapple!). For vegetables, choose from broccoli, onions, pepper, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant or spinach. You can also use leftovers in your fridge, which is a good way to minimize food waste. With about 25 calories per cup of veggies, you really don't need to watch portions.

Fruits can add sweetness to savory options like Canadian bacon and pineapple. You can also opt for a fruit pizza such as ricotta top with strawberries and kiwi, which makes for a great dessert!

Although meat is a fan favorite, it's important to watch processed meats like sausage and pepperoni, which are high in artery-clogging saturated fat and sodium. Instead, opt for grilled chicken or homemade meatballs made with ground chicken, turkey or lean beef.

Ordering Out?

If you're ordering pizza to go or to be delivered, here are a few tips to keep things on the healthy side of life:
  • Opt for whole-grain pizza crust, like whole wheat
  • Opt for the thinnest crust they offer
  • Top it with lots of veggies—the sky is the limit!
  • Skip the extra cheese and sauce
  • Skip the garlic knots or other bread-based sides and starters
  • Blot off extra oil. At 120 calories per tablespoon of any oil, this can save quite a few calories.
  • Serve with a tossed green salad on the side
While pizza is often considered an indulgent food, it's easy to take matters into your own hands and create a well-balanced meal that can include up to four food groups. Pizza doesn't have to be a once-in-a-blue-moon treat if you understand how to keep an eye on portions and choose your bread, cheese, sauce and toppings wisely, no matter if you're ordering out or creating your own masterpiece right at home. Long live the pizza pie!