When we think of healthy foods, pizza is rarely at the top of the list. Instead, we usually imagine greasy slices piled high with toppings and cheese. But what about the original pizza – Neapolitan? Is Neapolitan pizza healthy?
Neapolitan pizza is one of the healthiest pizzas currently available when made traditionally. It’s constructed of high-quality ingredients without fillers or preservatives. As a result, it works out to a relatively average calorie count for a meal at lunch or dinner.
Here’s what makes up the Neapolitan pizza and decides whether it’s a healthy dish to eat.
The parts of a Neapolitan pizza
In answering this question, let us break the dish down into its four main components: dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings.
As dough goes, Neapolitan pizza dough is one of the simplest, with only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast.
This dough consists of 00 bread flour or incredibly fine flour with relatively high gluten content. The dough is fermented over a long period to give it a richer flavor and better texture.
This pizza dough is considered a “light” dough because of its relatively low-calorie count at only about 130-230 calories per serving, depending on the recipe used. It has little if any fat (usually no more than one gram) but is relatively high in sodium (sometimes as high as a gram).
This dough is rich in protein at around five grams per servicing. Additionally, it has a decent amount of potassium, iron, calcium, and a little dietary fiber. It contains no sugars or cholesterol.
Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are topped with a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. The certified version of these tomatoes is grown in Italy between Naples and Salerno. However, the plant variety can be grown in other parts of the world.
These tomatoes are a type of plum tomato – long and thin, with a balanced flavor halfway between sweet and acidic.
San Marzano tomatoes come in at about 50 calories per serving, with a relatively high carbohydrate count (10 grams) and sodium level (179 milligrams or about 8% daily value).
They shine in their protein content (about 2 grams) and high vitamin and mineral content. They are rich in vitamin A (30% of your daily value), vitamin C (again, 30% of your daily value), iron (16% daily value), and calcium (8% daily value).
Traditional Neapolitan pizza comes topped with buffalo mozzarella cheese. Buffalo mozzarella comes from water buffalo.
These animals produce less milk than dairy cows and are less often kept for dairies, making their milk and cheese rarer and more expensive. Still, they create a fattier, whiter cheese with a much richer, sweeter flavor.
In terms of nutrition, buffalo mozzarella is about 85 calories per serving. It contains about 6 grams of fat per serving and 6 grams of protein. It includes a relatively small amount of sodium and very little in the way of carbohydrates.
Most importantly, though, buffalo mozzarella is full of potassium (about 22% of your daily recommended intake), calcium (about 11% of your daily recommended intake), and some vitamin A and iron.
Neapolitan pizza’s only regular topping is either fresh basil or fresh spinach, added right before serving at the very end of the cooking process.
Basil adds no calories, fat, sodium, or cholesterol to the pizza. It does, however, add a minor amount of potassium and protein.
Spinach is also a good option, as it comes in at a measly two calories per leaf, so maybe ten calories total to top the pizza. In addition, it contains no fat or sodium and no cholesterol at all.
It also contains a minor amount of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Is Neapolitan pizza healthy?
When considering all components together, a traditional Neapolitan pizza comes in at about 265 to 367 calories per serving (of about one mid-sized slice).
It has, on average, around 800 milligrams of sodium, or 33% of your daily recommended intake.
In addition, it contains roughly 13 grams of protein, which is 20-60% of your daily recommended intake, depending on your body.
It also contains a significant amount of calcium (at least 20% daily value), potassium (around 23% to 25% daily value), vitamin A, and vitamin C. It may contain small amounts of iron as well.
According to classical dietary guidelines, the average lunch and dinner should be about 500 to 700 calories each. So having about two slices of authentic Neapolitan pizza would make for a relatively healthy dinner.
However, we tend to overindulge in pizza because of its fantastic taste. As with anything, eating a large quantity of Neapolitan pizza is not healthy.
Additionally, any mass-produced “Neapolitan” pizza does not follow traditional and authentic recipes and will likely contain more fillers, oils, and preservatives.
They will likely not use the right ingredients and substitute them for lower-quality but cheaper alternatives, which will not offer the same nutritional value.
So, a reasonable serving of homemade and authentic Neapolitan pizza is relatively healthy. On the other hand, Neapolitan-style pizza from most large chain pizza restaurants and pre-made grocery store pizzas are not healthy.
How to make Neapolitan pizzas healthier
If you intend to make Neapolitan pizza at home, there are a couple of more minor tricks you can use to make your pie healthier.
Follow a traditional, minimalistic recipe for your dough and sauce, adding as little in the way of extras (sugar, primarily) as possible.
If possible, use a woodfire oven to make your pizza. The faster cooling time means you lose fewer nutrients in the cooking process.
Use whole wheat flour for your dough, or you might choose to use an alternative such as cauliflower or tortillas.
Keep in mind that your pizza is technically not an authentic Neapolitan pizza if you go for these alternatives.
There’s a reason Neapolitan pizza started as food for the lower class’s midweek meals. It’s hearty and filling, and the base ingredients keep when stored correctly for quite some time.
It’s relatively easy to make and delicious to eat, so the fact that Neapolitan pizza is relatively healthy is a bonus.
It must have had some nutritional value to keep hardworking people moving throughout the week. That value has translated into the modern dish. Today, authentic Neapolitan pizza can be a healthy and viable option for midweek meals and special events; it’s nutritionally and culturally rich.
As with all other foods, moderation is key.
Having pizza for dinner once in a while will not significantly impact your health if your regular diet is balanced and combined with a routine of exercise and appropriate healthcare.
However, suppose you’d like to indulge while keeping your meal as healthy as possible. In that case, Neapolitan pizza is a great-tasting, simple, and nutrient-rich dish.