Hungry mouths often water at the sight of a hot, gooey slice of pepperoni pizza, but you may wonder how that pepperoni affects your health. Americans eat more than 100 acres of pizza each day, and pepperoni is the most popular topping, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. If you’re watching your fat and sodium intake, you can easily build a healthier pizza with a few simple swaps.
One slice of pepperoni pizza with a regular crust contains 313 calories and 13 grams of fat. Six of these fat grams are saturated, the unhealthy fats that can raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults limit their saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of total calories, or less than 22 grams a day for an average 2,000 calorie diet. Since pepperoni is a processed meat, it also contains a lot of sodium. A high-sodium diet increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, and the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day. Two slices of pepperoni pizza contain 1,520 milligrams of sodium, 66 percent of the daily recommended limit.
Cut the sodium and fat in your pizza slice by topping your pie with chopped chicken breast instead of pepperoni. One ounce of pepperoni contains 138 calories, 12 grams of fat and 493 milligrams of sodium. By contrast, a half-cup of roasted chicken breast provides 133 calories but only 5 grams of fat and 60 milligrams of sodium. If you want a different but flavorful pizza topping, look to the sea. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adults eat fish twice a week, because fish provides heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Salmon is one of the best sources of these fats, so make a healthy pizza with strips of smoked salmon, red onion and chopped green peppers.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation notes that only 6 percent of adults consume the daily recommended servings of vegetables, so boost your intake by topping your pizza with this healthy food group. A slice of roasted vegetable pizza -- onion, squash, zucchini and eggplant -- contains 205 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat and 244 milligrams of sodium per slice. Or make a harvest pizza with cooked butternut squash as your pizza sauce. Top your pizza with onions, mushrooms and chopped garlic for added flavor.
Healthy toppings cut the calories in your slice, but you can also make healthier substitutions for the crust and cheese. Choose a whole-grain crust to boost your fiber intake; this important plant carbohydrate maintains the health of your digestive tract and helps control cholesterol levels. Cut saturated fat by using low-fat cheese, or skip the cheese and top your pizza with olive oil and chopped herbs. Olive oil contains unsaturated fats, the heart-healthy fats that might improve blood cholesterol levels. If you need a low-fat, high-fiber protein source, top your pizza with beans. Make a zesty black bean pizza with spinach, tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency: Fun Farming Facts
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Fast Food, Pizza Chain, 14" Pizza, Pepperoni Topping, Regular Crust
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- MayoClinic.com: Healthy Diet -- Do You Follow Dietary Guidelines?
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Pepperoni, Pork, Beef
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Chicken, Broilers or Fryers, Meat Only, Roasted
- USDA: Eat Seafood Twice a Week
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Research -- Fruits & Vegetables
- UCLA: Roasted Vegetable Pizza
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.