Why do so many of my patients avoid pizza if they are trying to lose weight and eat healthfully? Pizza gets a bad rap. Instead of looking at pizza as a high-calorie, fat-loaded diet disaster, let's think of it as a nutrient opportunity--one that's rich in fiber, calcium, and protein. Of course, not every pizza is made to be a nutritious, so to reap these benefits, choose your slice wisely:
Crust. If it's an option, go for a whole-wheat, thin crust. At all costs, avoid crusts that are cheese-filled or deep-dish.
Toppings. Any veggie is a good call. Try tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, and peppers. If you choose eggplant, make sure it's not breaded and fried. Do yourself a big favor and skip the pepperoni, meatballs and sausage, as these are often the culprits for extra fat and calories. If you really want meat on your pizza, ask for chicken.
Cheese. Say no to extra cheese, and even ask for less of it, considering that cheese is another source of fat and calories. Or order your pizza without any cheese, and then sprinkle a tablespoon of Parmesan on top. If the idea of cheese-skimpy pizza seems blasphemous, order your pie with ricotta instead of mozzarella to halve your calories.
Blotting. To blot or not to blot--that is the question. And it's an elusive question at that; I have never been able to find any scientific research to confirm the number of calories you save from blotting your slice with a napkin. However, if your pizza looks very oily, it wouldn't hurt to try.
Portion. This is the big issue. A typical slice is about 300 calories--definitely within range for the average person's lunch--but it's that second or third slice that can spoil your diet. As we mentioned before, load that piece of pizza with fiber-rich veggies, which will fill you up and hopefully keep you from reaching for extra helpings. A side salad, too, may help you manage those second-slice cravings. Favor the 6-inch personal pies over individual slices? Beware: A single personal pie does not equal a single serving--more like two.
Beverage. Beer and soda may be the go-to drinks to pair with pizza, but if you're trying to watch your weight and eat healthfully, you might want to rethink the norm. Water, hands down, is the best way to go.
Homemade. As with many other dishes, making your own pizza can be the healthiest choice. You can easily control how much cheese to add, as well as the cheese variety. And if you crave the pepperoni and sausage, try a meatless soy-based brand. Instead of buying dough or pre-made crusts, try a 100 percent whole-wheat pita, English muffin, or tortilla. These bread options are ideal for portion control and roughly reflect individual servings.
Bottom line. If all you want is a regular slice of pizza, then go for it. Three hundred calories is not a big deal as long as you can stick to one slice. So, do yourself a favor and stop thinking of pizza as a forbidden food, but rather one with lots of possibilities.
Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.