Can pizza be part of a healthy meal plan?

We all have our favorite foods that we love to eat. Some more than others. I know that is the case with me and pizza. I have always enjoyed pizza with its variety in crust, toppings and sizes.

Unfortunately, pizza has gotten a bad rap with enormous amounts of cheese, toppings and other add-ons. In my private practice in San Francisco, I often tell my clients that I enjoy pizza. This is usually met with a puzzled, surprised look and ends with the question ‘You eat pizza?’ I always respond with ‘Yes, of course I do. I eat it a few times a month.’

As a registered dietitian, my love affair with food has led me to find new ways to make pizza easy, quick, bursting with flavor and nutritious enough to get rid of the guilt of eating it. If you look at the ingredients in pizza, you can tweak it in a few places to make it nutritious and flavorful. There are four components of a pizza. In each one, you can select ingredients that work in a synergistic way to help build the taste of a great, flavorful pizza, while still giving you the nutrients you need.

Crust: There are many different kinds of pizza crusts out there ranging from thick to thin crust. I have played around in the kitchen quite a bit, making different kinds of pizza crusts from quinoa, to polenta, to even cauliflower crusts. I have also purchased premade crusts made from the standard flour and water recipe to thin crust options. One of my latest discoveries is Flatout Thin Crust Flatbread which is a good source of protein and fiber. This crust is easy to use and quick to cook, making cooking time far less of a hassle.

Tomato sauce: The sauce, made from tomatoes, is one of the most important, and nutritious, ingredients in pizza. Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, but it's not just the raw tomatoes that will give you the lycopene benefits; it's the cooked tomatoes that ensure adequate lycopene absorption. Using canned tomatoes with your pizza can help with higher lycopene amounts since the tomatoes are cooked in the canning process. Actually, it has been shown that canned tomatoes have three times more lycopene than fresh tomatoes and are packed with potassium, which is good for your blood pressure. Research also shows that they can help fight the damaging effects of oxidative stress as well as help cool down inflammation, the root of chronic disease.

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Cheese: In moderation, cheese can be a wondrous item. Cheese contains many different nutrients that can be added to any healthy diet. Cheeses, like mozzarella, is an excellent source of calcium, providing up to 20% of your daily value. Calcium is an important nutrient to have since 9 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men fall short of their requirement. Cheese also offers protein, vitamin D and vitamin B-12.

Toppings: This is the part were a person’s creativity really comes into play. The perfect chance for you to include vegetables into your diet. There is no set rules for toppings so you can add anything you like, but still stay within moderate amounts for each ingredient. I personally love adding fresh cracked eggs to my pizza. It adds a certain texture and flavor that is delicious. That is why I created this recipe for Flatbread Veggie Pizza with Cracked Eggs.

Flatbread veggie pizza with cracked eggs

Canola oil spray
2 Flatout thin crust flatbreads
¼ cup canned pizza sauce
¼ cup canned tomato chunks
2 tablespoons dried oregano
3 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ red onion, sliced
½ cup arugula
½ yellow bell pepper, sliced
½ red bell pepper, sliced
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray pizza stone or baking sheet with oil spray and place flatbreads on top.
2. Add two tablespoons of both tomato sauce and chunks on each of the flatbreads. Sprinkle oregano on each, as much as you prefer.
3. Evenly distribute cheese, onion, arugula and bell peppers.
4. On each flatbread, move around the vegetables to make two ‘beds’ to place the eggs. This will act as a placeholder for the egg itself. Crack the eggs, two on each flatbread, and move directly into the oven.
5. Baked for about 15 minutes or until golden brown and eggs are at about medium temperature.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.