A Dietitian’s 6 Reasons to Keep Pizza in Your Diet
Pizza is one food that holds a special place in many of our hearts. On a Thursday night in February, many of Houston’s health professionals, including registered dietitians, physicians, school nutrition directors and food bloggers, came out to celebrate pizza with celebrity chef Jon Ashton.
Now, to many it may seem strange that a bunch of health professionals would get together to talk about pizza. I think pizza has got a bit of an undeserved bad reputation. When you think about it, pizza isn’t a “bad” food! It’s a delicious opportunity to pack some awesome nutrients – calcium, potassium, vitamin D, complex carbohydrates and natural proteins – into a family-friendly meal. And, in a world where mindful eating is starting to gain more momentum in both research and popular culture, we’re finding how important it is to choose foods that we love. Personally, pizza has a very special place in my heart – especially now as I train for the Boston Marathon. It feels like I’ve had pizza at least once a week, the night before my long runs.
So whether your clients and patients are avid runners or seasoned home cooks, you can confidently promote pizza for many reasons:
- It’s got carbs and protein: When it comes to fueling exercise, especially something like a marathon or other endurance activity, it’s all about the carbohydrates. Pizza’s got it! Remember to opt for whole-grain crust for the healthiest option. Plus, one nutrition fact I find people often forget is that dairy provides 8 grams of high-quality protein per serving!
- It’s everywhere: Whether you’re able to make your own masterpiece at home or you’re traveling for a race, you can always find pizza.
- It can follow MyPlate. Using MyPlate as your guide, top your favorite pizza with lots of veggies and some lean protein for a complete meal.
- It sits well in the stomach: Pizza with a side salad is a filling combo that won’t weigh you down. My go-to cheese is a low-moisture mozzarella, which is also safe for those with lactose intolerance! A true win-win.
- It is easy to portion: Pizza comes cut in slices! Gone are the days where our understanding of carb loading was to eat as much pasta as possible the night before. On the contrary, increasing carbohydrates for several days prior and having a smaller, high-carb meal before your big race tops off glycogen stores without weighing you down. Serving yourself a slice or two and stopping when you’re satisfied is far superior than slurping down a giant pile of pasta.
- It makes great leftovers, too: Whether it’s fuel for a long training run, a marathon race or a long sports tournament, you may not finish all your pizza the night before. That’s almost better! Leftovers make a great way to refuel without having to cook. TIP: Microwave just until the cheese is melted, then crisp up the bottom in a pan for the best leftover pizza!
Aside from why I love recommending pizza, Jon Ashton taught us quite a few good pizza tips.
- Any delicious flavor combo can become a pizza! We tried a more traditional Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza in which Ashton used cheese (not dough) to line the sides of the pan, creating that satisfying crunchy cheesy goodness that we all love so much. We also tried an Asian Shrimp Pizza, with flavor accents from sweet chili sauce and cilantro – two of my favorite ingredients that I’ve never thought of putting on a pizza, and a Houston-Centric BBQ Brisket Pizza on a whole wheat pizza crust – my favorite!
- When you’re cooking at home, you can skip the expensive pizza stone and go for a pizza steel, or (even easier) an overturned cast iron skillet!
Have I convinced you of the goodness of pizza yet? Check out The Science Behind Cooking with Dairy for more dairy tips and tricks!