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Pizza doesn't always deserve junk food rap

January 27, 1998

Pizza doesn't always deserve junk food rap

Pizza often is branded as junk food. In truth, pizza meets all the requirements of a healthy meal. With a wheat crust, tomato sauce base and mozzarella cheese topping, pizza offers a combination of protein, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin A and plenty of vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables.

Two slices of medium cheese pizza provides approximately 20 grams of protein; this is more than one-third of the recommended daily amount for most adults. Cheese pizza also shines in calcium. Two slices contain as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk (around 300 milligrams). Top your cheese pizza with mushrooms, green peppers and onions, and you have a tasty entree that contains 175 to 200 calories per slice. Load it up with pepperoni, sausage, anchovies, olives and extra cheese, however, and you have a high-fat entree with unnecessary calories, fat and sodium.

If good nutrition is your goal, look for pizza that provides less than 450 calories (with no more than 30 percent of calories from fat) and less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving. Add a salad and your meal will be more well-rounded.

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When selecting a crust, thin and crispy generally is lower in calories - but not necessarily lower in the percentage of calories from fat than the thick and chewy versions. Whole wheat crusts provide additional fiber, but are sometimes higher in fat than crusts made from all-purpose white flour. Avoid varieties made with croissant-type doughs. These are highest in fat.

When selecting frozen pizza, read the nutrition facts label so you can select ones with the highest nutritional value.

If sodium is a concern, pizza is probably not your best bet. Most varieties contain at least 400 milligrams per two-piece serving and many contain over 1,000 milligrams. Again, the nutrition facts label can help with the selection.

Some pizzas, particularly frozen, are topped with cheese substitutes. While these are often lower in fat than real cheese, they may also be lower in calcium. Look at the label for the notice, "contains 100 percent real cheese," or check the ingredients list. If something other than real cheese is used, the term "imitation cheese" or "cheese substitute" will appear.

Pizza is a way of life today. It used to be a snack food that only the young enjoyed, however, its popularity has multiplied. Small pizzas are served as delicious appetizers and large pizzas with a variety of toppings are often dinner's main course. By making appropriate choices, pizza can be a part of a nutritious diet.

With pizza as a staple in many families' diets, homemade pizza is a great choice. Homemade pizza contains a variety of ingredients, making it as creative as the imagination will allow.

Pizza crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (substitute whole wheat flour for 1/2 of the all-purpose flour; this will increase the fiber content of the crust)

1 package quick-rise yeast

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (canola, olive are good choices)

In mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast and salt; mix well. Add very warm water (120 to 130 degrees) and oil. Mix by hand until almost smooth. By hand, gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a firm dough. Cover; let rest 15 minutes before shaping.

Divide dough into two parts. With greased fingers or well-floured rolling pin, prepare dough to fit pizza pan. Top with sauce, toppings and cheese. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until edge is crisp and light brown and cheese is melted. Serve immediately. Makes enough for 2 12-inch pizzas.

Pizza sauce

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt (can omit)

1 10 3/4-ounce can tomato puree

Mix all ingredients together. Makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas. One teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion can be substituted for the oregano, basil, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.

Top sauce with chopped green peppers, sliced mushrooms, chopped onions, cheese of all kinds, ground turkey, chicken or beef and vegetables of your choice.

Enjoy!

Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences for University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

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