What does pizza deliver?

November 06, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

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.

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 between 170 and 570 calories.

Fat grams also vary widely, ranging from a low of 5 grams per slice to a whopping 33 grams per slice.


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 each ingredient was added.

The best pizza choices

Here are some tips for getting the best nutritional value when selecting pizza for your family's next meal.

  • 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, 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, assuming 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 most of us. By making appropriate choices, it can also be part of our nutritious diet.

Lynn F. Little is the family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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