Pizza is a favorite meal for young and old alike. Whether it’s a birthday party or the end of a long workday, almost everyone gets excited about pizza. If you or someone you love is living with diabetes, you may worry that pizza can’t be a go-to meal. Eating pizza if you have diabetes can be challenging because pizza is high in:
Alluding to the Mediterranean diet, one DiabetesTeam member joked, “Well, isn’t pizza Mediterranean food invented in Italy? Why isn’t it healthy for you?”
The good news is that with a few switches and swaps, you don’t have to say goodbye to this Mediterranean favorite. Keep reading to learn five tips that can help people with diabetes enjoy pizza while taking care of their health.
Takeout pizza or frozen pizza is convenient but may exceed recommended amounts of carbohydrates, saturated fat, and more. One slice of a 14-inch cheese pizza from a fast-food restaurant contains 309 calories, 12.5 grams of saturated fat, and 36.7 grams of carbohydrates. For reference, when it comes to blood sugar control, the American Diabetes Association recommends limiting your carbohydrate intake to 45 to 60 grams per meal. One slice also provides 650 milligrams of sodium, 43 percent of the American Diabetes and American Heart Association’s recommended daily sodium intake for a person with diabetes and high blood pressure.
When you have diabetes, “your home can feel like a safe zone for your blood sugar,” observed a DiabetesTeam member. When you prepare your own meals, you know exactly what ingredients you put in — especially the ones that matter to people with diabetes, such as the number of grams of carbs, saturated fat, and sodium.
Making your own pizza is popular with some DiabetesTeam members. One member likes to grill homemade pizzas on the barbeque to add a “smokey, wood-fired pizza oven taste.”
Additional perks of making pizza yourself are that “it helps a lot to bring your food bill down and the nutritional value up,” said another DIY pizza advocate.
When it comes to your pizza crust, you have many more options today than people with type 2 diabetes did even five or 10 years ago. Your crust choice can help make your pizza more diabetes-friendly by lowering its glycemic index. High-glycemic foods raise your blood sugar more quickly than lower-glycemic index foods. White flour, which is used to make most pizza crusts, is generally a high-glycemic food.
The crust options below can be better choices for people with diabetes, for many reasons, such as having a lower glycemic index or containing fewer carbs.
One pizza-loving DiabetesTeam member only “eats pizza once a week, always thin crust, small pieces, and a maximum of two slices.”
Eating fewer slices and choosing thin-crust over thick-crust, deep-dish, or stuffed-crust pizza will make it easier to keep your blood sugar levels in healthier ranges. Deep-dish and thicker-crusted pizzas have more bread and can hold more toppings, so they may contain higher amounts of carbs and saturated fat.
Pizza dough usually contains all-purpose white flour, a processed, low-fiber grain. Choosing a higher-fiber, whole-grain crust for your pizza will reduce its glycemic index. Whole-wheat flour has a lower glycemic index and slightly more protein than white flour. Eating carbs with protein and fiber slows down how quickly your blood sugar rises.
Adding “riced” veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini to pizza dough is an excellent idea for people looking for a more diabetes-friendly way to eat pizza. You can even buy some cauliflower crust pizzas in the grocery freezer aisle, but make sure to read the ingredient list to look for what type of flour is mixed with the vegetable. Sometimes, rice flour is used, but be careful — it can drive your carb count up.
Using flour made from ground almonds in your pizza dough lowers your pizza’s glycemic index and adds fiber, healthy fats, and protein. Nuts are healthy for people with diabetes because they have more beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, and fiber and are lower in carbohydrates. This means better blood sugar numbers for you and feeling fuller, faster, and for longer. Just keep in mind that although healthy, nuts are rich in calories. Eat them in moderation if your goal is to lose weight.
Adding fiber-rich toppings like vegetables can help lower the overall glycemic index and saturated fat content of your pizza. The best options for diabetic-friendly veggies for pizza toppings are nonstarchy vegetables such as:
You can balance out the carb-heavy nature of your pizza meal by using the “plate method” advocated by health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fill one-half of your plate with salad greens and fiber-rich vegetables to help fill you up.
Some pizza gourmets also love adding crisp microgreens or arugula, which can provide a nutrient-packed, refreshing garnish and a pop of bright green to your veggie-forward pizza options.
Pepperoni, bacon, ham, and sausage contain high levels of saturated fat and sodium, which need to be limited on a heart-healthy diet for individuals managing diabetes. When meal planning, people living with diabetes should try to get enough lean protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a lean protein as one with less than 10 grams of total fat (4.5 grams or less from saturated fat) and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3.5-ounce serving.
Following these guidelines, leaner sources of savory and filling proteins for your pizza are:
Cheese can be a high-fat and high-sodium pizza topping. If you’re shopping for pizza ingredients at the grocery store, you can check the nutritional information to look for lower-fat and lower-sodium varieties of cheese.
If you’re ordering pizza from a restaurant, the following tips can help limit fat and salt:
Taking a short walk after a meal can lower your blood sugar and reduce your risk for heart disease. Researchers have found that walking within 60 to 90 minutes after eating can help slow the rise in glucose levels caused by a carb-heavy pizza dinner. A post-eating walk can also help digestion — a bonus for those struggling with constipation or heartburn. Ideally, you should walk for at least 20 minutes at medium intensity for the best results.
With the spike in blood sugar levels caused by pizza, moving your muscles will help your body improve its circulation (blood flow) as it works to deliver energy (glucose from the pizza carbs) to your working muscles. As your muscles use the carbs, you can avoid dangerous or unhealthy spikes in blood sugar.
DiabetesTeam members often ask how they can cook healthy meals every day. With these healthy pizza-eating tips, you can easily make your DIY pizza prep simpler and more delicious. Finding ways to have your pizza and eat it too will help you feel better in the long run — emotionally and physically. Making healthier choices, rather than cutting pizza out of your diet altogether, will help you be more successful in living your best life with diabetes.
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