The savory melt-in-your-mouth cheese; the sweet sauce; the fluffy yet crispy crust. When joined together on a pizza pan, the combination of flavors and textures is one that few of us can say "no" to. In fact, in an Eat This, Not That! survey of more than 10,000 readers, approximately 40 percent of respondents said that of all the guilty food pleasures on the planet, pizza is the one thing they could never, ever give up. Which we can't say was all too shocking to learn. Every day about 40 million people across America sit down to enjoy a slice. And while there are tons of reasons why our nation has such a high obesity rate, we can't help but wonder how large of a role all that pepperoni and cheese-stuffed crust are playing.
But, of course, there are two sides to every coin. Just as you can easily walk into a Dominos and order a large "Meatzza" (which clocks in at 370 calories, 17 grams of fat per slice, by the way), you can get a better-for-you 'za for a fraction of the calories. And according to the USDA, when your pizza contains the right mix of food groups, a pie can provide you with 37 percent of your bone-building calcium, 30 percent of the day's fiber, 35 percent of the day's protein, and over 50 percent of your recommended intake of lycopene (a cancer-attacking antioxidant found in tomatoes). The tricky part is identifying a pie that falls within these parameters. But that's where we come in!
With help from Chef Pasquale Cozzolino, author of the forthcoming book The Pizza Diet, Eat This, Not That! sliced into the nutrition information for each component of your favorite Italian-inspired treat to discover the best—and easiest—ways to cut calories, fat, and carbs without sacrificing that addictive right out of the oven flavor. (Frozen pies more your thing? Don't miss our report The 25 Best and Worst Frozen Pizzas). Read on to get in the know!
Order Thin Crust
Most of the evils of pizza lie in the crust. Aside from being stacked with calories, they're basically void of any nutrients. And that's because most pies are made from refined white flour which will spike your insulin levels causing you to crave more and more. The bottom line: The less crust you indulge in, the better, so opt for thin-crust over regular, deep dish, or stuffed crust.
Request a "Double Cut" Pie
While most pies are sliced into eight pieces, a double cut pie will come with 16. Start with one slice and only grab another if you're genuinely still hungry. If you pair your pizza with something fibrous and filling like a house salad with chicken, you likely won't need to go back for more. Bonus: This hack will help you stretch your dollar further, too.
Say “No” To Individual Pies
Serving sizes for "individual" pizzas have reached a new level of caloric callousness. Chuck E. Cheese's Cali Alfredo Individual Pizza, for example, carries a whopping 702 calories and 36 grams of artery-clogging fat! (No wonder it's one of these 25 Worst New Restaurant Dishes in America.) Though not all pies are quite this bad, you've almost always better off going with a single slice—even if it's fully loaded with toppings.
When you see a pool of oil floating on top of your cheese, take a napkin and mop up the excess. You'll save about 50 calories—and maybe keep the grease off your shirt. It's a win-win! Looking for more easy ways to nix extra calories? Don't miss these 25 Ways to Cut 250 Calories.
Avoid Salty Meats & Add Lean Proteins
Adding protein to your pie will help fill you up which means you'll be less tempted to go back for another slice. But not any source of the muscle-building nutrient will do. Pizza classic like pepperoni, bacon, and sausage are packed with unhealthy saturated fats and tons of salt. Skip 'em and opt for grilled chicken, sliced ham, or anchovies (a potent source of healthy fats), instead.
Have Mediterranean Night—Not Pizza Night
You can still refer to it as pizza night when you're talking to the kids, but you should think of it as Mediterranean night. Instead of getting a single pie, order various veggie and protein dishes like grilled veggies, a salad topped with grilled chicken or shrimp, and an appetizer-sized order of meatballs. Then ask for just a few slices of pie to share among the group. This way everyone can pick and taste all the different flavors on the table without filling up on too many empty calories.
Don't Eat Out of the Box
Ordering in? Whatever you do, eat off a plate—not out of the box! Research shows that people consume more when their food is served on a larger plate. In fact, one Georgia Institute of Technology study discovered that those eating off a 12-inch plate consumed 22 percent more calories than those dining on 10-inches! We can only imagine what those stats would look like is a giant pizza box was thrown into the mix. Not only does eating off a smaller plate trick your brain into thinking you've eaten more, keeping the other slices out of reach will make you think twice before going back for more.
Cooking at Home? Make Your Own Sauce
Canned sauces can be a major sugar mine. While some are better than others, the safest bet is to make your own. Here's a really simple way to throw one together: Empty one 14-ounce can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes into a bowl, add two generous pinches of sea salt, then crush by hand into a chunky pulp, suggests The Pizza Diet Chef Cozzolino. If you really prefer to use something pre-made, give our report The 40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces a read before heading to the store.
You can lower a pizza's glycemic index—a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels rise in response to a certain food—by adding fiber- and protein-rich toppings. For example, while a simple cheese pizza scores an 80 out of 100 on the index, a veggie supreme pie clocks in at 49. Raw veggies and lean meats make for the best toppers. This will help you feel fuller, longer, so you won't crave seconds or thirds.
Beware of Eggplant
We know we just told you to add veggies to your pizza, but not all veggies are fair game. Eggplant, for example, is often breaded and fried before finding it's way to your pie, which means it will do more harm than good. Ask how the veggies are prepared before having the kitchen toss them onto your pie.
Skip Cheese-Filled or Deep-Dish Crusts
There's already cheese on top of the pie, so really there's no need to have it stuffed inside the crust. Another unnecessary pizza twist: deep dish. More surface area always means more calories—and typically, no improvement on the flavor, so it's really not worth it.
Get Slices— Not Pies
If portion control is your main issue, order slices, not a pie. If you have to ask someone for it, you'll be less asp to nibble on something you're not actually hungry for. For even more simple ways to eat less and lose weight, don't miss these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
Making a Pie? Replace White Flour With Coconut Flour
Are you all about making things from scratch? Rebecca Lewis, RD suggests swapping white flour for coconut flour. Not only does it have fewer carbs, it has 11 times as much fiber, she tells us. For tips on how to pull of a pie with the gluten-free flour, click here.
Or Go Totally Flourless
Despite what chains like Domino's and Pizza Hut would lead you to believe, you don't need blood-sugar-spiking refined flour—or any flour at all, really—to make a delicious pie. Everything from portobello caps to sweet potatoes can be turned into a crust. To learn how to pull off creative spins on your favorite indulgence, check out these 12 Flourless Ways to make Pizza.
Turn Up The Heat
Want to boost your metabolism and trick yourself into eating less? Who wouldn't!? To make it happen, add some spice to your pie. A study by Canadian researchers found that men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories than those that skipped out on the hurt-so-good burn. Top your pie with a few grinds of fresh black pepper, red chili flakes, or if you're really brave—stingers—to reap the benefits.
Look For Whole Grains
If your favorite pizza joint offers slow-digesting whole grain crust, order it. If they offer whole grain thin crust, even better. Spring for that!
Cut the Cheese
Ordering your pizza with "half cheese" is an easy way to cut the saturated fat on a plain- or veggie-topped pie by 50 percent! Even if you decide to boost the cheese factor on your slimmed-down pie with an additional tablespoon of pungent parmesan (only 22 calories), you'll still save mega calories.
The biggest health benefits from pizza come from lycopene-rich tomato sauce, which recent studies have found may help protect against the development of prostate cancer. White pizzas sacrifice the biggest health benefit of a traditional pie, so don't make those your go-to.