Most people probably think of pizza as a splurge rather than a healthy meal, but as a nutritionist I say it's all about what's in the pie.
In Italy pizza isn't piled high with extra helpings of gooey cheese and fatty meats. It's made with fresh, nutritious ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes and herbs. At Eataly Italian market in New York City I had the opportunity to take a closer look at traditional Napoletana style pizza, and I liked what I saw.
One of the key ingredients is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), made from the first pressing of the olives, which captures not only the highest flavor and quality, but also the natural disease-fighting antioxidants. EVOO is one of the best sources of monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs, which have been shown to protect your heart by boosting "good" HDL cholesterol and lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Another staple is tomatoes, which are bursting with vitamin C and an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been shown to fight heart disease, as well as breast and prostate cancers. The healthy fats in olive oil help you absorb more lycopene from these ruby red gems.
Next up the herbs, including garlic, which contains natural substances that keep blood pressure in check, and basil, which is rich in antioxidants and immune boosting vitamin A. Finally a small portion of fresh mozzarella adds some lean protein and calcium, and less fat than hard cheeses.
But you can even go without - in Italy it's not uncommon to eat pizza without cheese. So the next time you're craving pizza forget frozen or delivery – take a lesson from old world Italian and make your own. When made with these simple, nutritious ingredients it's practically health food!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD is an ABC News contributor and Good Morning America Health's Food Coach. Through her New York City-based private practice Cynthia specializes in weight management and sports nutrition. She is the nutritionist for the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays, and worked with the Philadelphia Phillies from 2007-2009. She's also the Weight Loss Coach columnist for Shape magazine and a New York Times best-selling author. Her newest book Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches will be released by Harper Collins Dec. 28, 2010.