On the Shelf
By Alyssa Schwartz
When it comes to family dinners, who doesn’t love pizza? It is tasty and convenient, and can be an easy way to satisfy a variety of tastes. A hot slice fresh from the oven, with cheese and other toppings, might sound tempting. But with many frozen and delivery options clocking in with high fat and sodium levels, is it a healthy choice for people with diabetes?
“Depending on what [toppings and crust you use], pizza can be a nutritious choice that can be enjoyed by everyone,” says Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and education coordinator with the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). But before you place your order, you should know that making your own pizza is the best option.
“It’s hard to control what is on a ready-made pizza compared to when you make it yourself,” Boutette says. “Ready-made pizzas may be loaded with cheese, and not have much in the way of vegetables per slice. When you make your own, you get to have control. You can pick the crust and its thickness, the amount of vegetables, as well as the type and amount of cheese and meat.”
But you do not need to make everything from scratch. International cuisines offer lots of options if you want an easy, ready-made pizza base, from Middle Eastern pitas and Turkish pide, to naan and tortillas (see “Flatbread Finder”
(below ) for some ideas). “The different types of crusts offer variety in terms of your base, but some may be better options than others,” Boutette says. She recommends reading the product’s Nutrition Facts table and ingredients list (look for whole grains as the first ingredient) when considering different types of international breads for your base, and checking the serving size.
“There’s no reason you need to limit how often you have homemade pizza, but you also don’t want to eat the entire pizza. Have a slice or two with a side salad or raw vegetables to make it a more nutritious meal.” – Stephanie Boutette registered dietitian and education coordinator, Canadian Diabetes Association
A pizza crust by any other name is just as delicious. Try these international flatbreads as the base for your pie:
Arepa Colombia; Venezuela
Pita: Mediterranean and Middle East
Roti: Central and South Asia; Caribbean
Tortilla: Mexico; Central and South America Venezuela
Barbari bred: Iran
Naan: Central and South Asia
“Making the crust whole grain, adding lots of vegetables, and limiting high-fat, high-calorie meats are all good adjustments if you’re making pizza at home.” – Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and education coordinator, Canadian Diabetes Association
The tops in toppings
Whether you are using an Armenian lavash or Italian focaccia, what you put over top also makes a big difference. “Depending on the toppings, pizza can be packed with foods from all four food groups,” Boutette says. (The food groups are fruits and vegetables, meat and alternatives, grain products, and milk and alternatives.) Vegetables or fruits such as pineapple, which is popular on Hawaiian-style pizzas, get the green light, while Boutette advises proceeding with caution when it comes to cheeses and meats.
“For a meat lover, I would recommend sliced chicken or lean ground meat over salty, fatty choices such as bacon, pepperoni, and sausage,” she says. “And although cheese is a great source of calcium, it adds calories and fat. Mozzarella, which is most commonly used in pizza, has less fat than cheddar or Swiss, making it a better choice. Feta and goat cheese contain similar amounts of fat as mozzarella, but feta can be higher in sodium—one option would be to mix it with mozzarella.” Fish lovers might even want to try adding tuna or shrimp—though, again, keep an eye on sodium, particularly if you like cured fish such as smoked salmon.
Sauces can also add sodium and fat—but that does not mean you should forgo them, as the right choice can increase the health benefits of your pizza. “Tomato-based sauce contains antioxidants, such as lycopene and other nutrients,” Boutette says. But some store-bought varieties contain a fair bit of salt, so she recommends homemade tomato sauce or using crushed fresh tomatoes with no salt added. Alternative sauces, such as pesto, Alfredo and barbecue varieties, or even butter chicken sauce, may contain unwanted salt or fats—choose less often or add sparingly.
“Making pizza can be a great way to have fun with your dinner, and with the right fixings, it can be nutritious, too,” Boutette says. “People with diabetes shouldn’t feel limited in what they can or can’t eat. By making small changes, they often are able to enjoy all the same foods as someone without diabetes—and pizza can be one of those. Be aware that pizza may affect people’s blood sugar levels differently. You can talk to your health-care professional for individual recommendations.”
“Try sprinkling the cheese on top of your other pizza toppings rather than as the first layer—you tend to use less that way.” – Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and education coordinator, Canadian Diabetes Association
Chicken Fiesta Pizza
With its Tex-Mex flair and just a little bit of heat, this pizza delivers fun for family movie night or a kids’ sleepover. This pizza has a lot of toppings, so it takes longer to cook. Adapted from Fan Fare! Best of Bridge Cookbook by The Best of Bridge © 2011 www.bestofbridge.com. Reprinted with permission. Available where books are sold.
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp (2 mL) ground cumin
½ tsp 2 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper
2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil, divided
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ large red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) frozen corn kernels (no need to thaw)
1–2 tbsp (15–25 mL) cold water (if needed)
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, about 250 g (8 oz.), thinly sliced
1 pizza crust, tortilla or other flatbread base, 12–14 inch/30–35 cm
½ cup (125 mL) salsa
½ cup (125 mL) drained sliced pickled
jalapeño peppers (optional)
1 cup (250 mL) shredded part-skim mozzarella
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Lightly oil a 12- or 14-inch (30 or 35 cm) pizza pan. In a small bowl, combine garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Set aside. In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil over medium heat. Add red pepper, red onion, and corn; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are softened and lightly browned. If vegetables start to stick, add cold water as needed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Add remaining oil to skillet and heat over medium heat. Sauté chicken for about 5 minutes or until browned on all sides and no longer pink inside. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until chicken is coated and fragrant. Stir chicken into bowl with vegetables. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Place pizza crust on prepared pan. Spread salsa evenly over crust. Top with chicken mixture. Sprinkle with jalapeños, if using. Top with mozzarella. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until crust is browned and slightly puffed and cheese is bubbly.
Makes 8 servings
Did You Know?
Reduce fat without sacrificing flavour by using smaller amounts of stronger cheese instead of more of a milder option. Read more from “Top 10 Tips for Tasty & Healthy Meals.”