Healthy pizza is as easy as pie
Tweak your pizzas to make them healthier
Written by Katie Jessop, RD
A healthy lifestyle in a hectic world can sometimes seem inconvenient and time-consuming. Yet, despite perception, Canadians say time and time again they want to be healthier. And with good reason; a healthy diet provides energy and can help prevent many chronic diseases.
Healthy choices are not always that easy to identify and nutrition information can be difficult to decipher.
Pizza is one of the most popular choices for Canadians seeking fast, delicious and convenient food. But today’s consumers are more conscious of the importance of healthy eating. They want to know that when they are eating out, they are eating well. But they need help. Providing nutrition information as well as a healthy eating symbol helps consumers navigate quickly to find the healthy choice. After all, eating out shouldn’t be synonymous with eating poorly.
Health Check is the food information program of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The Health Check symbol beside a healthier menu item tells consumers that it is a healthier choice. The program, which was introduced on grocery shelves in 1999 and in restaurants in 2006, has grown to include menu items in more than 1,900 restaurant outlets across Canada. Recent changes make the search for nutritional information even easier for the Canadian consumer. As of February, Health Check items at restaurants are accompanied by select nutrition information right on the menu or menu board. This means that Canadians will have even more information up front to help them make a well-informed decision.
A primer on ingredients
Fat and sodium are two nutrients that Canadians should consume less of. Fats provide energy (calories) and help our bodies absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, but it is important to differentiate between types of fat. The healthy fats, called monounsaturated fats, are found in olives and olive oil, canola and peanut oils, avocados, non-hydrogenated margarines, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats, also in the healthy category, include the popular omega-3 fats that are found in fatty fish, soy bean oils, flax seed, eggs, walnuts and pine nuts.
Unhealthy fats – saturated and trans – are found in many prepared foods, and should be limited. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated oils and shortening. These types of fat increase bad cholesterol levels in the blood, while decreasing the good type of cholesterol. Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, lard, and shortening, among others. Try to reduce these fats as much as possible. Fortunately, these fats can be easily replaced in the cooking process with healthier options.
Sodium too has been on the tip of many tongues. Although a certain amount of sodium is necessary for retaining a healthy water balance and blood pressure, Canadians are generally getting too much, which can contribute to high blood pressure. Pizza can be a prime source, due to the rich sodium content of the dough, sauce and meats. Adding them all up results in a significant sodium impact in each slice. Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, yet most Canadians are consuming an average of 3,400 milligrams.
There are also many nutrients that Canadians need to consume more of. Fibre is one such nutrient. A diet rich in fibre can help decrease the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, among other health challenges. And, as simply as sodium can be removed from restaurant meals, fibre can be added. Some great sources of fibre are vegetables, fruit, and whole-grain doughs and pastas. With some creativity and determination, these nutrients can be easily added into existing meals.
And what better canvas for all of these adaptations than pizza? It is a food that can easily be made healthy for those who like to eat out. And that’s a lot of Canadians!
Tips for the perfect healthy pizza
Use these simple tips to build a healthier pizza for your customers!
- Increase the fibre in your pizza by using whole-wheat pizza crust. Aim for a minimum of two grams of fibre per serving.
- Request a lower sodium crust from your supplier. Aim for no more than 500 milligrams per serving.
- Request a lower sodium sauce from your supplier or reduce the salt in your own sauce.
- Be sure to include plenty of vegetables and/or fruit. This increases the fibre, vitamins and minerals of the dish, while adding complex flavour, colour and texture.
- Be wary of deli meats that are often high in sodium. Instead, go for grilled chicken breast.
- Use low-fat mozzarella cheese (20 per cent MF or less) sparingly.
- Let consumers know the healthier choices for crust (multigrain, thin crust), toppings, cheese and sauce. Encourage veggie choices. Your customers are likely to make a better choice if you lead the way.
Katie Jessop is a registered dietitian at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.