Solving The Pizza Puzzle

Did you know that the USDA publishes a website called the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference which lists foods and their caloric and nutritional value? It’s very cool.  Except for right now. During the US government shutdown if you click to this wildly useful website, here’s what you’ll see:

USDA Site Shutdown


Really people?

You took down a USDA WEBSITE because of the shutdown?


To me, that the Government decided to take down this particular website is incomprehensible. It’s not like this site is chock-full of up-to-the-minute, breaking-news type of information. Calories and Fat Content do not change day-to-day, people! You could have left it up and running. Why the government wonks didn’t just furlough the webmaster and leave the site live is, frankly, inexplicable. But take it down they did.


So here I sit, jonesing to do some in-depth pizza research but without a rock-solid source. Luckily, I had some key pizza facts gleaned from this site tucked away from earlier research I did for an article.

So even though the USDA site is down, I can still proceed as planned with a post about how to enjoy pizza while going lo-co.

AKA solving the pizza puzzle.

Which is not solving, really. Because I was dismayed to find that pizza is not a great lo-co choice.

Before the government took down the nifty USDA nutritional site, I learned that one single solitary slice of regular crust, cheese pizza packs 285 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 18 grams of cholesterol. That’s ONE slice, no toppings.

And who has one slice?

Well, OK, I do. Sometimes. But I’m weird that way.

Most normal people would have 2 slices.  So you need to double those fat calories and cholesterol for a typical pizza meal.

And while I like plain pizza, most folks add a topping.  For example, what if you’re like my friend the hysterical, talented cartoonist Chris Juneau, and want bacon on your pizza? Well, I planned to write a whole bit about bacon (because Chris believes bacon goes on anything) but I can’t because the government took down….

OK, enough about that.

What I can do is tell you about the nutritional value (anti-value?) of a slice of pizza with the the ever-popular pepperoni topping.  A single slice of pepperoni pizza wallops with 313 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 28 grams of cholesterol.

Which means if you lunch on 2 slices of pepperoni pizza, you’ll hit 50% of your total recommended fat consumption and more than 25% of your cholesterol – before the day is half over.

What’s a person to do? Well, there are ways you can solve the pizza puzzle and still fit it into a lo-co lifestyle.

You just have to be smart about what you order – and/or make it at home.

Since I can’t seem to cook at home since my son left for college, I can’t really lecture about home-made pizza (though we used to make that a lot – it’s easy and delicious and healthy). So here are some things to mull as you place your local pizza parlor order:

  • Ditch thick, order thin. Thick crust pizza has more fat than thin crust. (And crust stuffed with cheese? Come on, you weren’t really thinking that, were you?)
  • Choose Less Cheese.  This seems obvious, lo-co-wise.  That’s because it is.  If the rest of your dining companions want regular cheese, that’s fine – just fork some off your slice and leave it on the plate. I do it all the time. And yes, I get weird comments, but if they’re good friends they’ll be said jokingly and with love. And if they’re you’re family, well, they’re stuck with you. So leave some cheese on the plate.
  • Pile on the sauce and veggies. If you can get your pizza-mates to order a pie with less cheese (or, heavens, cheese-less), make up for it with extra sauce – it has lycopene! And pile on any veggies you want – though try to choose the veggies that aren’t breaded and fried – I love eggplant, but it’s not the best veggie topping. Broccoli and/or spinach sauteed in garlic are fabulous pizza toppings. Or go wild and hawaiian. Load up on veggies and you won’t miss the cheese. Truly.
  • If you must have a meat topping, choose ham or canadian bacon, not pepperoni.  (Chris Juneau, this one’s for you!) I wish I could give you the exact nutritional details, but did you know the US Government shut down the USDA site… oh, sorry. The truth is that ham and canadian bacon – or diced chicken or shrimp – are leaner, more lo-co choices than pepperoni, sausage or beef. Maybe your pizza place even has turkey bacon or turkey sausage? Not highly likely, but worth asking!

You can stick with pizza for lunch or dinner (or, hey, breakfast) – and it can be part of a lo-co lifestyle if you choose wisely. And I bet you can find out more once the government shutdown…


But it is, really, a cool site.  Check it out in a few days…weeks…  Hopefully soon.


A Promise of Lo-Co Pizza?

A frozen pizza that’s lo-co and nutritionally balanced? Really?

On their Facebook page, Cuisinart linked to a Discovery Channel article entitled “Scientist Creates Healthy Pizza You Can Eat for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.” I had to find out more.  Immediately.

The bad news: it’s not yet being sold. Worse, it’s being developed and will be first introduced in Scotland.  So it’ll probably be a long time before it’s available in the US.

But still, this is such an interesting idea – such a great way to solve the “ARGH – I have nothing planned for dinner dilemma” that I had to delve further. The Discovery Channel’s online article quotes nutritionist and co-creator Mike Lean (I kid you not) stating the secret ingredient is seaweed:

“Co-creator Mike Lean of Galsgow University explains: I researched the market and found that seaweed was an interesting new ingredient being used in artisan bread.

So we used that as a way of reducing the salt level. The sodium content of seaweed is about 3.5% compared to 40% in salt. There’s iodine in there, vitamin B12, all sorts of things. And the flavour is excellent as well.”

Very interesting… but will it be lo-co?  The answer, according to the founding company’s press release, is yes:

“The new pizzas, invented by a new company called Eat Balanced, contain the correct proportions of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, salts, sugar, fibre, vitamins and minerals that humans need for a balanced meal. Each individual pizza has been designed to provide about 30 per cent of the guideline daily amounts for each of the main nutrients that we need.”

They also claim the pizzas will taste great. That said, the planned pizza variants are rather, um, British in flavor – besides the typical Cheese & Tomato, they are planning to offer Ham and Pineapple along with Spicy Chicken. But maybe they’ll find a way to do pepperoni and mushroom for the US market?

My fingers are crossed.



A Trio of Pizza Recipes

Superbowl Sunday appetizers are notoriously unhealthy, and this year, I wasn’t going to have much control – or ability to experiment – as we were visiting my sister and her family in North Carolina.

Luckily for me, she pulled out all the stops and served up a mixture of finger foods that her 4 kids (and mine) would like… alongside healthier options for the nutritional-conscious adults. I’d never had her Tomato-and-Corn Pizza but it was both delicious and easy to make — though a quick heads-up for pizza purists: this is a pesto, not a red sauce pizza.

We made a few recipe modifications. Kathy bought a whole wheat Boboli thin crust pizza for a healthier base, and we used part-skim mozzarella. Wanting to gloat about our amazing lo-co meal (OK, wanting to feel better about eating this pizza after many pigs-in-a-blanket), I was disappointed to find that this ‘Southern Living’ recipe does not list nutritional info.


But we gloated anyway because the ingredient list is all quite healthy.

Back home in Connecticut, I searched for recipes that would fit both my lo-co needs and that my son would also like (let’s just say he much preferred the pigs in a blanket to the tomato-and-corn pizza…but hey, he tried it!)

On Cooking Light’s website I discovered Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pizza. It was a big hit – my husband, son and I all loved it. And at only 311 calories, 7.3 grams of fat and 21 mg of cholesterol per slice, it is definitely lo-co. A side salad and a slice (or 2) was a perfect meal for me; 2 slices with some steamed broccoli on the side (hate that lettuce allergy) was just right for my teenager. And he had the leftovers the next day – big bonus.

I made several changes to this recipe. First and foremost, I used Trader Joe’s Ciabatta Flatbread because I am too lazy to roll out dough. As I despise bell peppers I left them out (tried to substitute broccolini as that is DELICIOUS on pizza but TJ’s was out that day). Last but not least, I accidentally bought sweet Italian chicken sausage rather than hot – so I added red pepper flakes as I cooked the sausage.  Also, I sliced the sausage into disks rather than crumbled because, well, because it wouldn’t crumble!

The only problem I had with this recipe was slicing onions. Never have I suffered from onion-tears, but this time as I mandoline’d away I cried like crazy. Like, dangerous-slice-your-finger-what-is-happening tears! Apparently, this is a common issue after LASIK…who knew contacts protect your eyes from onion fumes? (Yes, it’s true, I looked it up.) To remedy, I now wear swim goggles while slicing onions. No, I’m not joking.  Yes, it works. And no, there will be no pictures posted.

Not wanting to don swim goggles again, I looked for a no-onion option, and found yet another quite good ‘pizza’ recipe – Cuban Chicken Pizza. The reason I put pizza in quotes is that I’m not sure how a recipe with not a hint of sauce – no pesto, no red, no sauce of any kind – can be called a pizza.  But that said, this was really quite tasty.

This ‘pizza’ is served on tortillas that you pre-bake in the oven.  There’s a nice video on the recipe site – I know because I looked to see what I did wrong, as mine came out more like matzoh and couldn’t be “flattened.” But still, the flavors that you put atop the tortilla are very very good, and it’s a snap to make.

Next time I prepare Cuban Chicken Pizza (and there will be a next time) I’ll skip the tortilla base and either make it on an actual pizza crust – like a Boboli or the TJ’s Ciabatti Flatbread.  Or I’ll just use a tortilla and panini it.

In fact, I highly recommend the panini route – as I had some of the black bean/chicken/ corn mixture left over, for lunch the next day I rolled some into a tortilla, added some avocado, then panini’d it to perfection.

So next time you need some finger foods for a party – or want to try a different kind of pizza for a weeknight dinner – you can’t go wrong with any of these 3 lo-co pizza options.