America loves its pizza – nearly one in eight Americans chow down on the Italian fan-favorite every day. So is there a way to reduce the damage while still showing the gooey treat some love?

Jamie Vespa MS, RD
August 07, 2017

As a country, we love our pizza. In fact, in 2014 the USDA reported about one in eight Americans eats pizza on any given day. But our love of pizza typically comes at a saturated fat and sodium-filled cost. Studies show that pizza ranks as one of the top three contributors of sodium to the American diet. Most popular pizza joints allow you to customize nearly every inch of your pie, from the amount of cheese to the ingredients themselves. Alas, you can enjoy your favorite Netflix accompaniment without taking in half the day’s saturated fat in one slice.

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

5 Ways to Build a Better Slice

Ask for light cheese: The main role of cheese on a pizza is to act as the glue, helping to bind your toppings to the dough. When the cheese starts to resemble a thick layer of fresh cement, you’ve gone too far. If you choose your toppings right (see next bullet), a thin layer of gooey fun is all you need.

Pile high with veggies: Take advantage of what’s in season to add freshness and nutritional heft to your pizza. Mushrooms are an excellent stand in for cured meat toppers, adding meaty, umami-rich flavor while shaving off sodium and saturated fat. Bell peppers, spinach, and eggplant are also great choices to boost the fiber count.

Order thin crust: Hand-tossed, deep dish, or stuffed-crust pizza can pack a ton of calories into the dense dough. Thin crust can save you anywhere from 50 to 80 calories per slice, while allowing the toppings (the most important part) to really shine.

Choose lean protein: Cured meat toppers such as sausage and pepperoni are some of the top culprits of saturated fat and sodium when it comes to pizza. If you’re craving a hit of quality protein, grilled chicken is available at most chains, which can save you up to 7g fat per slice.

Order a side-salad: Most pizza joints actually have really great salads, which are often overlooked. Ask for a simple garden or Greek salad with the dressing on the side to help fill you up before reaching for another slice.

Photo: Victor Protasio

Avoid These Calorie-Bombs

Stuffed Crust: Is it really necessary to have cheese crammed into every square-inch of a pizza? Let’s follow the less-is-more approach and spend that 10% increase in calories, saturated fat, and sodium somewhere else.

Supreme: This feast of pepperoni, ham, beef, sausage, red onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and black olives clocks in at nearly 1,000mg sodium per slice (43% of your daily recommended limit). And no, the veggies do not make up for the heft of the meat.

Meat Lovers: Basically all the same contenders as the Supreme pizza but add bacon and take away the veggies. If getting the meat sweats while consuming almost half your daily limit of sodium and saturated fat in one slice sounds appealing, then this belt-busting option is available.

Calzones: Why stop at a simple of slice of pizza when you can fold it over in a crescent moon shape and fry it? Clocking in at almost 1,000 calories, 10g sat fat (almost half your daily limit), and 1,200 mg sodium, these meat-and-cheese-stuffed pizzas pack quite the heft.

Pasta: As if there weren’t enough meaty, cheesy pizza options available, some popular chains also offer trays of foot-long lasagna, extra-saucy chicken Alfredo, or beefy pasta Bolognese. I like to call these pizza-pasta hybrids, because often times they’re taking the toppings off a meat lover’s pizza and dropping them onto a bowl of noodles. For 600 calories and 1,200mg sodium per serving, let’s pass on these too.