Nutrition Column – What Does Pizza Deliver?

Whether you eat it out, order it in, make it from scratch or heat it up from the freezer, pizza is a popular answer to, "What’s to eat?" Pizza can be an acceptable answer nutritionally, too, depending on your choice in pizzas. With a wheat crust, tomato sauce base and mozzarella cheese topping, pizza offers a flavorful combination of protein, calcium, vitamin A and carbohydrates along with the opportunity to pile on plenty of vitamin- and mineral-rich veggies. Pizza also offers the opportunity to pile on plenty of high-fat cheese, sausage and pepperoni.

How does all this opportunity pan out? According to a recent study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest on the nutritional value of 15 popular varieties of pizzeria chain pizzas, calories and fat grams per slice vary widely. For example, a single slice of pizza (as cut by the chain) provides anywhere from 170 calories for Pizza Hut’s Thin n’ Crispy Veggie Lover’s pizza to 570 calories for their Big New Yorker Sausage pizza. The calories in one slice of Little Caesar’s Round pizza vary from 190 for their Veggie pizza to 230 for their Supreme. At Papa John’s, the calories in a slice of their Original Crust pizza range from 280 for the Garden Special to 390 if you order All the Meats.

Fat grams also vary widely, ranging from a low of 5 grams per slice for Pizza Hut’s Hand Tossed Veggie Lover’s pizza and 7 grams per slice for Domino’s Hand Tossed Cheese pizza to a whopping 33 grams per slice for Pizza Hut’s Big New Yorker Sausage pizza.

Sodium values per slice of pizza tend to start high and go up from there. According to study results, even the veggie-type pizzas contained around 500 milligrams of sodium per slice. Adding pepperoni, sausage, bacon, extra cheese or a cheese-stuffed crust boosted the sodium

content per slice upwards to 1,000 or even 1,500 milligrams, depending on how much of which ingredients were added.

Here are some tips for getting the best nutritional value when ordering pizza.

  • Choose the right toppings. Vegetables are lowest in calories and richest in nutrients. Chicken and ham are second-best, with meat toppings tending to be highest in fat and saturated fat.
  • Ask for "half the cheese." For many, cheese makes the pizza. And while cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, it’s also high in fat, saturated fat and calories. By ordering less cheese, you still get the flavor you want from the cheese topping but less calories and fat per slice.
  • Steer clear of multi-meat pizzas. Watch out for names like Meat Lover’s, Meatzza, All the Meats, and Super Supreme, especially if you’re concerned about clogging your arteries.
  • Skip the "stuffed" crust. Stuffed crusts may taste great but they can add as much as 10 grams of fat and 145 calories per slice of pizza.
  • You’ll fare much better nutritionally if you order a smaller pizza and a side salad, which assumes that you don’t load your salad with heavy amounts of salad dressing or cheese.
  • Decline the sides. Once you get beyond salad, the sides available at most pizzerias are pretty high in fat and calories and not what you need to round out a pizza meal. Buffalo wings weigh in at 50 calories a pop and bread sticks range from 100 to 140 calories apiece, depending on how much cheese or sugar topping is added.

Finally, it pays to consider the size of the slice and the number of slices you consume. If you always eat the same number of slices, regardless of the size, a good way to cut down on fat and calories is to choose smaller slices or cut slices in half.

With one in six restaurants being a pizzeria, pizza has become a way of life for Americans. By making appropriate choices, it can also be part of a nutritious diet.