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Dinner, Remixed: Pizza

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healthier pizza

Who said pizza has to be a guilty pleasure? Functional-medicine nutritionist Maggie Ward offers several delicious ways to makeover the traditional pie.

Great pizza is the sum of great toppings, says Maggie Ward. And when you make it yourself, you can assemble quality ingredients and fine-tune the nutritional profile you desire. “Plus, incorporating fresh veggies and some good-quality protein will add texture and flavor that bring pizza to a new level of nutrition and enjoyment,” she says.

Before

Food photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Lara Miklasevics
  • White-flour crust. “Once a grain is in the form of flour — especially refined white flour — it will rapidly raise blood sugar, which is not good for anyone,” explains Ward. Refined flour is also void of natural vitamins and minerals and full of unwanted ingredients, including preservatives.
  • Processed meats. Pepperoni and sausage may be standard choices, but many widely available processed meats are loaded with preservatives and other unhealthy additives (including nitrates).
  • Cheese bomb. Cheese delivers protein and calcium, but too much can turn this comfort food into discomfort food, particularly if you have trouble digesting lactose.
  • Light on veggies. Unless you load up your veggie-lover’s pie, you’ll get a mere sprinkling of the phytonutrient-rich produce your body needs.

After: Creative Crust

Food photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Lara Miklasevics
  • Ditch the digestive distress and blood-sugar roller coaster by making a crisp, light cauliflower crust instead of using standard dough. (See “Cauliflower-Parmesan Crust With Bacon, Arugula, and Tomato” for a simple recipe.)
  • Pile your pizza ingredients onto thick slices of fiber-boasting eggplant or into mineral-dense portabella mushroom caps.
  • Make pizza boats by cutting a large zucchini in half, scooping out some of the insides, and baking it up loaded with your favorite toppings.
  • Try a whole-grain, gluten-free crust mix for a more traditional texture minus the problems that come with white-flour crusts.

Super Sauce

  • Choose a high-quality tomato sauce that’s rich in the antioxidant superstar lycopene. The heat of the canning process makes lycopene more bioavailable, so the tomatoes in tomato paste or pizza sauce actually deliver higher levels than fresh tomatoes. Buy glass-jar-packed sauces to avoid exposure to the BPA found in many canned products, and choose brands with simple ingredients — and without added sugar.
  • Think beyond red sauce and spread your pizzas with antioxidant-rich basil pesto; tapenade or olive oil loaded with healthy fats and vitamin K; mashed sweet potatoes (a beta-carotene superstar); or even fiber-packed refried beans.

Better Toppings

  • Replace processed meats like pepperoni with grassfed steak or ground bison for an iron boost, or opt for smoked wild salmon or nutrient-rich dark meat from chicken thighs. Crack a few eggs on your pizza about halfway through cooking for a shot of brain-boosting choline. For a vegetarian option, try crumbled fresh tempeh.
  • Opt for quality over quantity when it comes to cheese. “With more flavorful cheeses, you need only a little to have delicious pizza,” says Ward. Select well-aged cheddar, Camembert, fresh mozzarella or ricotta, Gruyére, easily digestible raw sheep’s milk or goat cheese, or even nut cheeses.
  • Crank up the veggie volume with broccoli rabe (high in vitamin K), caramelized onions (with anti-inflammatory flavonoids), radicchio (featuring antioxidant lutein), or fennel (delivering fiber and potassium). Sweeten things up with vitamin C–rich Peppadew peppers, sliced figs, or apples. Once it’s out of the oven, make your pizza sing by adding peppery arugula (rich in anticancer antioxidants), roasted chickpeas (for crunch and fiber), or chopped nuts or diced avocado (for healthy fat).

This originally appeared as “Dinner, Remixed” in the May 2017 print issue of  Experience Life.

, MS, RD, is a Toronto-based health journalist.

Food photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Lara Miklasevics

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