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PIZZA HAS BEEN CALLED AN “INDULGENT” FOOD AND EVEN “JUNK” FOOD, BUT DEPENDING ON HOW YOU SLICE IT, PIZZA CAN BE HEALTHY AND TASTY.

I love pizza. And you probably love pizza. That’s because almost everyone loves pizza: There are more than 61,000 pizzerias in the U.S., and each year we consume 46 slices per capita in 3 billion pizzas sold every year. Data varies on whether pizza or hamburgers and fries are the most popular dish in America, but clearly, it’s among the most popular foods here and elsewhere in the world.

There’s good and bad news in this. Pizza is generally considered an indulgent food, and yet, it can be healthy too. If you are trying to get fit, perhaps in response to an unwanted hair loss condition, you can continue to eat pizza. It’s just a matter of how you slice it.

Pizza: Good, bad or a little of both?

According to the American Diabetes Association “Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating” (2nd edition), pizza offers several nutritional advantages over other quick-order foods. A pizza typically holds a lot of vegetables, including lycopene-rich tomato sauce. But the ADA warns about a tendency to overindulge when eating pizza, how three slices easily becomes four, then five, then six or more. Certain toppings – cheese, pepperoni and sausage in particular – are higher in fat and sodium than others.  Overdo it on the ingredients, portions and accompanying beverages (beer, wine or soda) and one can easily hit or exceed the recommended daily caloric intake levels in a single meal.

I’ve addressed this equation myself, because I’m as ravenous as anyone else when a box of tasty steaming pizza arrives at my door. But when I decided to lose about 5-10 pounds a few years ago, I realized this is one area where I needed to cut back.

Still, I consider pizza one of the great pleasures in life – really, in the top ten – so I decided one pizza per week is a tradition to cherish. I studied the whole scenario of where, when, how and what I ate on what we can call “pizza occasions,” and came up with three ways to enjoy this wonderful food:

Three different ways to eat and enjoy pizza

Eat and repent – This occasion generally happens in a social situation, when other people control the menu choices. Maybe it’s friends watching sports together, or you’re at a charity bowling night, or you just helped someone move furniture. You’re having a good time, no one is counting slices and if you asked for a salad you would get ridiculed in response.

This is when you make tomorrow a better day. Eat grapefruit, brothy soups and lots of vegetables. It can balance out over a day or two.

Go at it by half – If an unfettered pizza meal adds 2000 calories to your day, you come out miles ahead if you take in only 1000 calories. The purists might sniff at even a 1000-calorie meal, but everyone agrees less is more in the equation. Some techniques to make that happen:

  • When ordering in, remove half the pizza from the box, wrap it in foil, and put it in the freezer for later.
  • Prepare or order a salad. For every slice you eat, eat twice that by volume in salad (or other vegetables) before you eat the next slice.
  • Savor every bite. This means eat it slow and enjoy the indulgence. Allow every ingredient, every drop of delicious sauce, to roll around your mouth and be appreciated by your taste buds. (Are you salivating just thinking about it?)
  • Watch the beverages: Lite beers are around 90 calories; rich dark beers can be three times that. A glass of wine is about 150 calories. Just sayin’.

Make or order a healthier pizza – You want a pizza that allows you to respect yourself in the morning. Every medium-sized city now has its gourmet, pineapple-and-sprouts pizzerias. Not the same thing? Sure, but you should try it once. Alternatively, whole-grain frozen pizzas, crusts and dough mixes are available in healthier grocery stores (see the Whole Grains Council list of available products), which would allow you to whip up your own version of a healthier pizza.

The following recipe comes with permission from Holly Clegg, author of the Trim & Terrific  cookbook series. She substitutes Brie for mozzarella (each has about the same fat content), uses bacon and apples – illustrating that we can migrate our cravings for one food toward others, and probably live a richer life as a result.

Healthy and tasty pizza recipe

Apple, Brie, and Bacon Pizza
1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust
4 ounces Brie, rind removed and thinly sliced
1 large baking apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
6 slices Baby Bubba’s apple cinnamon  bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spread pizza crust onto a baking pan.
2. Top pizza crust with Brie and apple slices. Sprinkle with bacon
3. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top.
4. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until cheese is melted and apples are tender.
Slice and serve. Makes 16 slices