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Eating pizza with peace of mind

Despite pizza’s popularity, many people eat it with guilt, thinking that it’s an unhealthy pleasure. But if you choose wisely among the many choices available today, you can eat it without feeling naughty.
A low-carb pizza made by Donatos Pizza in Columbus, Ohio, is one of many pizza choices available to health-conscious consumers. Some, however, are healthier than others.Gary Gardiner / AP file

Despite pizza’s popularity, many people eat it with guilt, thinking that it’s an unhealthy pleasure. But if you choose wisely among the many choices available today, you can eat it without feeling naughty.

If you worry about the number of calories in pizza, keep in mind that thin-crust pizzas have fewer calories than regular-crust versions, and deep-dish pizzas have the most.

Within these categories, however, brands of pizza differ considerably. A piece equal to one-eighth of a 12-inch, thin-crust cheese pizza at one chain weighs less than two ounces and supplies about 140 calories, while another brand’s slice weighs 25 to 30 percent more and supplies 200 calories. Ask for nutrition brochures at restaurants or check nutrition information at any chain’s Web site to check what you’ll be eating.

Too much saturated fat?
The other major concern about pizza is the cholesterol-raising saturated fat. But a slice of regular cheese pizza averages only about two to three grams of saturated fat. A total of four to six grams of saturated fat in two slices of this kind of pizza is actually not much considering the recommended limits for saturated fat are 18 to 22 grams a day, or 12 to 17 grams for those with high blood cholesterol.

On the other hand, if you choose a special pizza with pepperoni, sausage, or ground beef, two slices of pizza will have an extra six grams of saturated fat. With this pizza choice, you will likely exceed the day’s recommended limits. By controlling the number of slices you eat and avoiding super-rich choices like deep-dish pizzas or ones loaded with high-fat meat or extra cheese, it’s easy to enjoy pizza and stay within recommended fat limits.

Ordering half-cheese pizza is another way to restrict fat and calories. In two slices you will get only two to three grams of saturated fat. That’s only 9 to 20 percent of the recommended daily maximum. Asking for less cheese can be a great idea if your meals during the rest of the day are higher in fat. But reducing the cheese means that the amount of protein will be reduced to a total of seven to nine grams in two slices. This amount is much less than one-third of your daily protein needs. To meet your needs and satisfy your hunger for longer periods, you should have another source of protein with the pizza, like a bean salad.

Healthier options hit the market
Other health-oriented options are appearing. One national chain offers a new thin-crust pizza that has 30 percent less fat than their standard thin-crust pizza. Each slice of these 12-inch pizzas contains just 150 to 170 calories instead of 200.

Other new offerings are less healthy. Another national chain now has a thin-crust pizza with lower “net carbs” due to higher fiber content. That pizza contains roughly the same amount of carbohydrates and calories as the chain’s regular thin-crust pizza, but it is higher in saturated fat.

The most significant choice you make about pizza, however, is how many slices you eat. Each slice of thin-crust pizza has the same amount of carbohydrates as a slice of bread. Each slice of regular-crust pizza is comparable to one-and-a-half or two slices of bread. Thus, eating four pizza slices is as excessive as having four to eight slices of bread with a meal.

Skip the breadsticks
When you limit your number of pizza slices, don’t make the mistake of filling up on wings or bread sticks. Each bread stick contains 90 to 150 calories and 2.5 to 6 grams of fat.

Instead, increase the vegetables in your meal. If you’re eating out, order pizza with extra veggies, or fill up first with a veggie-loaded salad. If you want a take-out pizza, purchase it at the grocery store, along with a bag of ready-to-eat salad or baby carrots and celery sticks.

Here’s one last obvious tip to limit the amount of pizza you eat: Order a pizza size that supplies only what you need. A medium or 12-inch pizza will supply four people with two slices each. When there’s more pizza, the odds are you’ll keep eating.