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Joanne Hutson: Tips can make pizza a healthier pick

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Pizza is one of the most popular foods in American. In fact, according to pizza.com, 93 percent of Americans have eaten pizza in the past month, pizza accounts for more than 10 percent of all food service sales, and about 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States.

Although foods similar to pizza date back thousands of years, the flat bread, tomato and cheese dish we know as pizza originated in the 16th century after tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas. It was known as a dish for the poor and was sold on the streets. Over time, the dish diversified by the addition of many toppings. Antica Pizzasia Port’Alba in Naples, Italy, is regarded as the first pizzeria.

Pizza made its first appearance in the United States with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. It was popular in the large Italian communities of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Pizza consumption was limited mainly to Italian immigrants and their families until the early 1940s. That changed when Allied troops, occupying Italy during World War II, were exposed to the dish and returned home. We know about the baby boom, but there was a pizza boom, too.

I often counsel patients about the effect that multiple slices of a thick crust pizza can have on blood glucose, lipids and blood pressure levels. The carbohydrate, fat and sodium content easily can exceed one’s ideal daily allotment, in one sitting. A few basic tips for a healthier pizza include:

  • Thin crust rather than thick.
  • Reduced fat cheeses, such as mozzarella and feta.
  • Ample vegetable toppings.
  • Lean meat toppings, such as Canadian bacon, diced chicken and lean beef.
  • Fresh or dried herbs in place of salt.
  • Limiting portion size and having a side salad also are good strategies.

This Margherita Pizza is a healthy option served in many pizzerias today, and it is quite easy to make. The legend of its origin is interesting as well. In 1989 in Campania, Italy, baker Raffaele Esposito baked three different pizzas for the visiting King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy.

The queen’s favorite was the pizza made with the colors of the Italian flag — green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella cheese) and red (tomatoes) — so the pizza was named in her honor.

Joanne Hutson is a registered dietitian in the diabetes education department at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

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