Hot, cheesy, and indulgent, pizza is pretty much the perfect food — except for when it comes to nourishing your body. And while we won't stop you from eating it — most things are fine when enjoyed in moderation — for those looking for a healthier (but still enjoyable) option, there are some easy swaps to be made.
Registered dietitian nutritionists Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Meredith Price, MS, CDN of Priceless Nutrition & Wellness, shared their insights on this topic with INSIDER.
Skip the pepperoni, sausage, and other processed meats.
"The unhealthiest part of pizza is the sausage, pepperoni, or ham that is used," said Valdez. "These are high in saturated fat and sodium."
Price echoes Valdez's sentiments and points to current research that supports limiting the consumption of processed meats as they increase a person's risk for certain types of cancer.
And hold (or lighten up on) the cheese, please.
Price considers cheese to be the unhealthiest ingredient in pizza because of its high saturated fat and sodium content.
"Avoiding extra cheese and/or stuffed crust is a good idea," said Price. "That being said, I love pizza and eat it on a regular basis. You just need to watch how often and how much of it you eat."
Load up your pizza with vegetables instead.
Topping pizza with some extra vegetables has multiple benefits.
"Adding vegetables to pizza is a great idea because you can still enjoy the taste while also getting beneficial nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals," said Price. "Additionally, vegetables will help fill you up so you'll be less likely to grab extra slices."
Plus, adding veggies to pizza can be a sneaky (and delicious) way to get in your vegetables for the day.
"Most people don't eat the recommended amount of five servings of fruits and vegetables," said Valdez, who recommends adding spinach, mushroom, garlic, bell peppers, onions, and olives to pizza. "By swapping [unhealthier toppings] for more vegetables or fruit (like pineapple), you will have the benefits of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B-complexes, manganese, selenium, iron, potassium, copper, and other antioxidants."
Swap a white flour crust with one made using whole wheat.
"[Using] whole wheat crust instead of white flour crust adds beneficial nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and magnesium," said Price.
Plus, you reap the benefits of whole grains — which haven't been stripped of their filling fiber and other nutrients.
Try a cauliflower crust for a gluten-free, low-carb option.
For those watching their carbohydrate intake, Valdez points to cauliflower crust as an alternative that has been increasingly popular.
"Different brands make their crust differently, so you would have to look at the nutrition label, but in general [cauliflower crusts] are less in carbohydrates, fat, and calories and higher in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous," said Valdez.
Check out other low-carb pizza crust alternatives here.