Pizza is the famed Italian crusty delight that’s garnered international reach for a few obvious reasons: the taste of a luxurious sauce against a baked base, wholesome toppings and a cheesy coating that can stretch beyond your imagination.
Alas - despite all that there is to love about pizza, the Mediterranean dish from Naples has developed a very unhealthy reputation.
Many varieties of pizza available today are a far cry from the traditional form, as fast food outlets and supermarkets sell pizzas that are highly processed, offering little nutritional value.
One slice of pizza from a fast food outlet can range from 130 calories for a margherita to 220 calories for pepperoni and cheese, (calories vary according to the brand). Consumption is then dependent on how small the pizza company makes the slices and how many slices you eat in one sitting.
“What we are left with is a pizza base made from a very refined grain that has gone through a lot of processing.”
Selin Aydan, Accredited Practising Dietitian and nutritionist, explains that pizzas from fast food outlets usually have a high glycemic load and are highly refined.
“The pizza bases used by a lot of fast food companies are highly processed and made with a very refined grain,” Aydan tells SBS.
Fast food and frozen supermarket pizzas may also contain additives, colourings and preservatives; feature a lot of highly saturated fats in the meat as toppings; don’t include many high-quality vegetables and have thick bases, which increase the calorie load further.
“The nutritional value of fast food pizzas is not great as they may be really high in saturated fat as well as processed ingredients. A diet that's high in saturated fat and highly processed meals has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes," says Aydan.
A 2018 report by Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre ranked Australia’s fast food restaurant chains based on the steps they have taken to promote healthy eating. Each restaurant chain was given a score out of 100. Domino’s Pizza came last on the list scoring only three points. It was classified as the chain doing the least to reduce obesity in Australia.
Pizza hope for the health-conscious
These are sad facts, especially for the many who have been raised to enjoy the celebratory slice of pizza with family and mates. So what hope is there for pizza lovers across Australia who want to continue to feed their pizza desires in a healthy way?
Aydan offers a ray of doughy delight that rests on a firm factual foundation – not all pizzas are nutritionally equal.
Firstly, thin-crust always fares better than thick crust for nutritional value as there’s less of it and therefore fewer calories.
She adds pizzas bought from traditional Italian pizzerias may be better for your health than those from a fast-food chain. But if you want to play it safe, health-wise, make your own pizza (including the base) at home. Aydan recommends using wholewheat flour in the dough or opting for a sourdough-style pizza base.
“When someone makes pizza from scratch, they will make their own pizza dough. [Although the flour used is refined, they are making the base themselves rather than using one that is highly processed].
'In making the base, they leave the dough to rest and ferment. It’s this process that gives traditional, hand-made pizza bases a beautiful component, which can reduce the pizza base’s glycemic index. Fermented pizza dough may also contain live cultures that feed your gut bacteria.”
Aydan explains that a handmade wholewheat or sourdough pizza base, which is of high quality, may also fill you up a lot faster than the fast-food variety. “You are less likely to eat a whole pizza made with a wholewheat or sourdough base yourself because of the high quality of the dough.
“The amount of cheese on a traditional pizza shouldn’t be as overwhelming as the fast-food varieties either. Handmade pizzas bought from a traditional pizzeria may also not have as many toppings on them. Sauces may be homemade.”
“You are less likely to eat a whole wood-fired pizza yourself because of the high quality of the dough.”
You can't go wrong with home-made
Once you've made the base yourself, the pizza is ready to top.
“Spread your thin doughy base with passata or tomato paste rather than a ready-made processed pasta sauce, which may contain low quality vegetable oils. Top your pizza with vegetables whenever you can. Finish the dish with a light serving of cheese.”
Aydan adds that if you make your own pizza in a healthy way, you can afford to enjoy a few slices more often without guilt.
"Home-made pizza is a healthy option. In fact, it's part of this dietitian's own diet as well. I love pizza, especially homemade, authentic Italian pizza.
"As long as around 90 per cent of your pizza is made using whole foods, you can be confident that it's not highly processed. It may take time to make pizza at home but it will be better for your health."
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