Crusty Craving

You know that pizza craving you get sometimes? Almost all of us get it. Some of us every week and some only a couple times a year. I don't even get it very often at all, but when it hits me, it hits me hard. So what was I to do when it hit me right after we decided to "go healthy" for a while. Pizza often has trans fat but always has saturated fat, a ton of sodium and empty carbs. Let's just say, there are no diets that really sanction pizza, the "healthy fast food."

So what to do? Without losing all the goodness of pizza. Shouldn't we be able to make pizza that is pretty healthy at home that still has the character of pizza? I mean, truly healthy pizza would be a revelation for many. I may not have quite gotten there yet, but we got pretty creative to quell my pizza craving last week, so I thought I could at least share a few hints toward getting there.

THE CRUST. Well you could make your own, but I am not going to tell you to do that, since it's not exactly the simplest thing. Still, the fresher and more natural your dough is, the better it's going to taste and the healthier it's going to be. No additives, minimal oil and salt, and no hidden trans fat. What I will tell you to do is to buy fresh dough at the grocery store if they have it (Trader Joe's has excellent fresh dough available). Here, you can get a dough that is not processed, has less unhealthy ingredients. Plus, they have a whole wheat option as well, for added fiber and less refined carbs. Then, you can just roll them out at home, pre-bake or grill for a couple minutes, top, and finish in the oven or on the grill until brown. Of course, the thinner the crust, the way fewer the calories per slice, so keep that in mind.

THE SAUCE. I am a big proponent of putting plain tomatoes on a pizza rather than sauce, but don't be fooled into thinking that's the healthier option. I have read (and even heard on Oprah) that tomato sauce (or other cooked tomato) has over 60 times the nutrients of raw tomatoes. This is antioxidants and cancer-reducing lycopine. Good things. Cooking the tomatoes just concentrates them, so go for sauce. It's the healthiest part of the pizza! Just don't use sauce with oil or too much salt -- they are really unnecessary in a good sauce and will detract from the healthiness of your sauce.

THE CHEESE. The key is not having too much cheese. A two inch layer of cheese will send a pizza to hundreds of calories and tens of fat grams per slice, whereas a thin layer of cheese will be much more health friendly. Pretty straight forward? Yes, but sparsely sprinkling mozzarella would look weird on a pizza and be weird, you're asking me. Yes, that's why I say to use fresh mozzarella! It has a really nice, soft flavor when melted on pizza and naturally thins out when it melts. Also, it has a lot less salt and often less fat than its processed and shredded counterpart. Also, if you've ever had an authentic Italian pizza with fresh mozz, it is often a little sparse even and does not take away from the experience of the pie. So it's easiest to do a nice thin, possibly sparse layer of cheese and still have it add all the punch necessary from cheese on a pizza, with fresh mozzarela.

THE TOPPINGS. Here is where you can get creative, but also where you can lose that pizza's healthy pedigree pronto. If you're going to add meat, it is a must to use lean, fresh meat that you've prepared yourself. Try shredded white chicken or even grilled shrimp. Anything processed is going to be heavily salted and extremely fattening. But the vegetables are the keys. Fill your pie, your eyes and your stomach with lots of good low-cal veggies and it will make the pizza go a lot further, a lot healthier. Bell peppers, kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes, basil are nice simple ingredients that will add zing but not overbear your pizza. My favorite? Add a huge amount of fresh arugula over the top of the pizza when it is done. It adds a ton of volume to the entire pizza and such great flavor, temperature and texture contrast too. It is amazing and SO good for you. It is a great way to add vegetables and avoid too much fat, calories or salt on your pizza.

With your thin, whole-wheat-crusted fresh Trader Joe's dough pie with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes, basil and a whole heap of arugula, you'll be in heaven. I know I was last week. It not only quelled my pizza craving, but I didn't even feel bad doing it. Plus I was full after a couple pieces, even though at that calorie level, I probably could have eaten twice as much and still not have felt bad. I highly recommend thinking outside the unhealthy pizza box next time you want pizza and try a few of my healthy pizza tips.

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