Pizza is a favorite food for many around the world.
The addicting combination of delicious crust, sweet tomato sauce and salty mozzarella cheese will surely please even the pickiest of eaters.
However, it’s commonly labeled unhealthy, as it can be high in calories, sodium and carbs.
This article reviews the nutrition of the most popular types of pizza and provides tips on making it healthier.
Nutritional breakdown of pizza
The nutrition and ingredients of pizza can vary widely depending on the type.
However, some varieties can be loaded with unhealthy ingredients.
Often a diet staple of college students and busy families, frozen pizzas are popular meal choices for many people.
While exceptions exist, most are high in calories, sugar and sodium.
They’re typically highly processed and contain artificial preservatives, added sugar and unhealthy fats.
For example, one serving (1/4 pizza) of Red Baron Classic Crust Pepperoni frozen pizza contains:
- Calories: 380
- Fat: 18 grams
- Carbs: 39 grams
- Sugar: 8 grams
- Sodium: 810 mg — 34% of the daily value
Choosing toppings like sausage, extra cheese and other high-calorie items can add to the calorie content, while French bread style and stuffed crust varieties can pile on even more.
Freshly made pizzeria pizza
Like frozen pizzas, pizzeria-made pizza can vary in ingredients and preparation methods.
Though the nutrition content of pizzeria pizza is not always listed, some pizzeria chains do make nutrition information available to consumers.
Freshly made pizzas often contain healthier ingredients than the more processed ones sold in convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.
Most pizzerias make their dough from scratch using simple ingredients like olive oil and wheat flour.
Depending on the restaurant, some use homemade sauces with no added sugar, fresh cheeses and other healthy toppings.
However, whether you choose frozen or fresh pizza, piling on extra toppings can make it unhealthy, so be mindful of your selection when eating out.
Pizza sold in fast-food restaurants and convenience stores is among the unhealthiest choices.
It tends to be the highest in calories, unhealthy fats, carbs and sodium.
One large slice (167 grams) of Pizza Hut Pepperoni Lovers Pizza provides:
- Calories: 460
- Fat: 26 grams
- Carbs: 37 grams
- Sugar: 1 gram
- Sodium: 900 mg — 38% of the daily value
Plus, fast-food pizzas usually contain more ingredients than freshly made ones, including monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colorings and high-fructose corn syrup — all of which may negatively impact your health.
They’re also often packed with sodium, making them a poor choice for salt-sensitive people.
Summary: Many types of pizza, particularly frozen and fast-food varieties, tend to be high in calories, fat and sodium. More processed varieties may contain unhealthy ingredients, such as colorings, added sugar and preservatives.
Is pizza a healthy choice?
Although certain types of pizza are unhealthy, other less processed types can be nutritious.
Pizza can contain unhealthy ingredients
Like all foods, more processed types of pizza are often higher in unhealthy ingredients than those made from scratch.
Frozen and fast-food pizzas can contain ingredients like preservatives, colorings and unhealthy fats.
However, all pizzas are typically made using refined wheat flour, no matter how they’re prepared.
This type of flour is low in fiber and, therefore, less filling than whole-grain flours.
Eating refined grain products — such as ready-made pizza — has been linked to weight gain.
Suggested read: Ramen noodles: Good or bad for you?
A study in 1,352 people found that people who consumed over 70 grams of ready-made products like pizza daily were more likely to have more belly fat than those who consumed under 70 grams daily.
Some types of pizza are high in calories, carbs, sodium and sugar
Most pizzas are high in calories and sodium, usually topped with cheese, salty meats and other high-calorie toppings.
Plus, some pizzas contain added sugar in the crust, certain toppings and sauces.
Regular consumption of refined foods rich in added sugar has been shown to increase your risk of chronic conditions like obesity and heart disease.
What’s more, choosing stuffed crust or deep-dish pizzas will increase your slice’s carb and overall calorie content.
Though occasionally enjoying a slice of fast-food or frozen pizza most likely won’t impact your weight, eating these items regularly can lead to weight gain and may increase your risk of chronic health conditions.
Some recipes can be healthy
While many types of pizza are high in calories, fat and sodium, those made with fresh, whole ingredients can be a good choice.
Traditional-style pizza is a relatively simple food made with flour, yeast, water, salt, oil, tomato sauce and fresh cheese.
Pizza made from scratch using these limited ingredients can be quite healthy.
When making homemade pizza, the nutrient content can be boosted by adding nutrient-dense toppings like vegetables or healthy protein sources like grilled chicken.
Many pizza chains offer whole-wheat and gluten-free crusts and healthy topping choices, such as fresh vegetables or herbs.
Summary: Though many types of pizza are high in calories, sodium and carbs, those prepared at home or in a pizzeria can be made healthier by adding nutrient-dense toppings or choosing whole-grain crusts.
Enjoying your favorite food now and then is a key component of any sound eating plan.
Suggested read: Is pizza vegan? Can vegans still enjoy pizza?
While it’s okay to eat a piece of frozen, fast-food or pizzeria-style pizza occasionally, it’s best to limit consumption to no more than a few times per month.
However, for true pizza lovers who want to enjoy this food more frequently, there are ways to make this cheesy dish much healthier.
Make your own pizza
When purchasing a frozen pizza or one from a fast-food establishment, you have no control over what’s put into the recipe.
Making your own allows you to decide what goes into — and stays out of — your meal.
Making your own crust with wholesome ingredients like whole-grain or gluten-free flour can boost fiber content.
You can even make a grain-free crust using cauliflower or nut flour.
Top your pie with unsweetened sauce, high-quality cheese and healthy toppings like peppers, sundried tomatoes, broccoli, arugula, chicken, garlic or mushrooms.
Choose whole ingredients
When making homemade pizza or purchasing a pizza, choose products that contain whole ingredients.
Look at product ingredient lists and make a point only to buy items containing whole-food ingredients.
Pass on crust mixes or pre-made pizzas that include artificial colors, high-fructose corn syrup, added sugar, processed meats or artificial preservatives.
Instead of buying a crust mix or pre-made pies, prepare your own pizza with homemade crust and nutritious toppings.
Practice portion control
Overeating any food — whether a healthy choice or not — can contribute to weight gain.
That’s why practicing portion control is critical for overall health.
It’s especially important when enjoying foods that can be easily overeaten, such as ice cream, bread, cake and pizza.
Whether consuming a freshly made pizza or a pre-made slice, practicing portion control is an excellent way to prevent excess calorie intake.
When ordering takeout pizza, serve yourself a portion and make a point to eat from a plate, not out of the box.
Try filling up on a fiber-rich green salad before enjoying a slice of your favorite pizza for a more balanced meal.
Other healthy tips
Here are some other easy ways to make pizza healthier:
- Pile on veggies: Top homemade or takeout pizza with cooked or fresh vegetables to boost your meal’s fiber, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content.
- Avoid processed meats: Swap processed meats like pepperoni and bacon for a healthier source of protein like grilled chicken.
- Go for whole-grain: Opt for whole-grain crusts to increase fiber content.
- Choose sauce with no added sugar: Choose brands that contain no added sugar to keep sugar content to a minimum.
- Avoid higher-calorie options: Order thin crust over deep-dish or stuffed crust options to control your overall calorie and carb intake.
- Cut smaller slices: When cutting yourself a slice of pizza, consider portion control and avoid super-sized servings.
- Try different recipes: Try veggie and grain-based recipes that use ingredients like portabella mushrooms, cauliflower and quinoa to create nutritious crusts.
Summary: There are many ways to boost the nutrition content of your pizza. Choosing whole-grain crust, adding vegetables and practicing portion control are just a few ways to make it healthier.
Pizza is not only delicious but can also be a healthy meal choice when thought is put into its preparation.
Suggested read: 30 foods high in sodium and what to eat instead
Though many frozen and fast-food varieties tend to be high in calories, fat, sodium and other unhealthy ingredients, pizza can be made healthier.
Some options for health-conscious pizza lovers are practicing portion control, choosing products with limited ingredients, adding healthy toppings, and preparing it homemade.
A whole-food diet is best for overall health, but it’s okay to enjoy your favorite food occasionally — even if it’s not the most nutritious choice.