Pizza isn't exactly a health food. Two slices of a meat- and cheese-laden pizza can cost you 600-plus calories, half your daily saturated-fat allotment and an entire day's worth of sodium.
If you're in search of a pizza that won't unravel a healthy diet, however, are you better off with delivery or a frozen one? I decided to find out.
Turns out, it's possible to save calories and fat with either option. What's nearly impossible to do, however, is avoid sky-high sodium.
To keep things as fair as possible, I looked at calories, total fat, saturated fat and sodium for two slices of a small delivery pizza (one-third of a 10-inch pizza) and one-third of a 10-inch frozen pizza. I stuck with two popular choices: 1) pepperoni on traditional crust, and 2) chicken and vegetables on thin crust.
Pizza Pizza and Domino's – two popular, nationwide chains – were pitted against four national grocery-store brands (McCain's, Delissio, Dr. Oetker and President's Choice) for calories, saturated fat and sodium.
For pepperoni pizza, both delivery and frozen had similar nutrition numbers. The worst: Delissio Vintage Pizzeria at 440 calories, 18 grams of fat (seven of them saturated) and 1,100 milligrams of sodium per one-third of a pizza.
To put those numbers in perspective, the average adult needs about 2,000 calories, no more than 65 grams of fat and 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Over all, McCain's Traditional Crust Pepperoni Pizza was the lowest in fat and sodium at 350 calories, 10 grams of fat (four grams of saturated fat) and 720 mg of sodium for one-third.
If you want lean chicken and vegetables on a thin crust, Domino's does a decent job: Two slices have a modest 300 calories, 13 grams fat (six grams of saturated fat) and 578 mg of sodium. (Pizza Pizza doesn't have a thin-crust offering.) Only two frozen brands did better: Dr. Oetker Ristorante Pollo and President's Choice Blue Menu Thin & Crispy Chicken Bruschetta. Both have less than 500 mg sodium per one-third of a pizza.
The worst: Delissio's Thin & Crispy Grilled Chicken with Tomato and Spinach at 420 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and 920 mg of sodium.
If you're looking for veggies only, two all-round healthy finds include McCain's Ultra Thin Roasted Mushroom and Garlic, and President's Choice Blue Menu Thin & Crispy Spinach, Roasted Vegetable and Goat's Cheese.
Pizza Pizza's menu boasts four pizzas approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation's "Health Check," even one with half a day's worth of cholesterol-raising saturated fat and sodium in two medium slices. Pretty generous criteria for a heart-healthy check mark.
Of course, your best bet is to make your own pizza so you can control the ingredients. If you don't have time to roll out pizza dough on a busy weeknight, use whole-grain-flour tortillas for a thin crust, add tomato sauce, part-skim cheese and plenty of vegetables.
BUILDING A BETTER PIZZA:
Use the following tips to save calories, saturated fat and sodium on your next pizza, be it frozen, delivery or homemade.
Choose thin crust
You'll save calories and sodium, about 80 calories and 230 mg of sodium for every two slices. To boost fibre – as much as three grams per slice (medium pizza) – opt for a whole-grain crust.
Order a large instead of a small pizza and you'll consume 15-per-cent more pizza per slice.
Scale back the cheese
Order half cheese; at home, use part-skim mozzarella. Or, skip the mozzarella in favour of feta or goat cheese. Both have less fat and more flavour than full-fat mozzarella.
Blot excess oil
If you're so inclined, blotting excess oil with a napkin can whisk away as much as a teaspoon worth of fat per two or three slices of a meaty, cheesy pizza.
Dial down the deli meats
A meat lover's pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and bacon can pile on as much as 1,750 mg of sodium per two slices. Choose chicken, seafood or simply vegetables.
Add your own veggies
Even if you choose a veggie-only pizza, you might not get a food-guide serving (1/2 cup) worth. Fortify a frozen pizza with sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets or sliced bell peppers. Or, top cooked pizza with baby arugula or spinach.
Include green salad
Doing so will help you fill up before you're tempted to reach for that third slice. Another bonus: Vinegar in salad dressing helps prevent the spike in blood sugar that occurs after eating a high-carb meal.
Skip the dip
No one needs to dip pizza in a fatty, salty dip. Pizza Pizza's creamy garlic dip, for instance, adds 360 calories, 39 g of fat and 310 mg of sodium per serving. Take a pass
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com.