Let’s Talk Pizza: Health Benefits and More

The freshness of Italian pizza does not compare to any American fare. Here’s everything you need to know about the pizza in Italy: How it’s made, why it’s healthy, and what you should try while you’re here.

What’s better than a personal pizza?

That’s how they do it here in Italy. When you order one margarita pizza, you’ll get an unsliced pizza pie that’s made just for you.

The difference is, I can’t eat a whole pizza in the states. It’s always way too greasy, piled with cheese (while it’s good, it’s too much) or just tastes like I can already feel the heartburn. In Italy though, I have no problem eating a whole pie by myself.

What’s the difference? More fresh ingredients and less fat, oil and sugar.

Italians take pride in their pizza. There is no such thing as a “cheap” or “fast food” pizza in Italy.

American pizza has become a quick meal to whip up for those ordering a SuperBowl Sunday dinner. Quick preparation usually means less care for quality.

Italian pizza is overall much thinner, but with a thick, puffy crust along the outside of the pizza. The pizza dough is typically healthier in the Mediterranean as well, depending on the type of flour used. There are also no additives and extra oils in the dough mixture, unlike many American pizza recipes. These natural ingredients aid digestion and even tend to have lower levels of gluten across the board.

This is also true with homemade pastas, which goes to show that Italians know what they’re doing when they’re making their doughs – and they know how to stay healthy while doing it.

Burrata-topped pizza
The true secret? It’s in the sauce.

Italians don’t top their pizza with a slow-cooked tomato sauce. They use fresh ingredients for an herby taste, rather than a rich, tangy taste.

Italian cheese pizzas will usually be topped with locally-produced extra virgin olive oil, fresh pressed tomatoes and spices. This sauce doesn’t come out of a can nor a pot that’s been sitting on a stove for hours. It’s all fresh, local and doesn’t contain the same fats and preservatives as American pizza sauces.

Toppings: Freshness is key

How would an Italian feel about pineapple on pizza?

Italians don’t put nearly as many toppings on pizza as Americans do. One or two will suffice, with some special pizzas as an exception.

If you try ordering a Hawaiian pizza anywhere in Italy, they’ll either look at you in horror or not understand what you’re asking for. Other toppings such as chicken won’t be easy to find either – leave the buffalo chicken pizza for home, not here.

Toppings are always fresh and add vitamins and nutrients to the dish.

What toppings should I try?

There are a couple toppings on the menu that may make you think, how good is this, really? I promise you this: no matter how weird it may seem, it’s on the menu for a reason. People like it, and you probably will, too!

So what about potatoes?

Potatoes on pizza? La Contadina from PizzAgnolo is topped with mozzarella cheese, quartered baked potatoes, smoked provolone cheese, bacon, black pepper and basil. Let me tell you, this was my roommate’s favorite kind of pizza. It’s a must try.

Well, what if I want a classic pepperoni pizza? First, they don’t call it the same thing. Don’t try ordering a “pepperoni pizza” or you might get something with bell peppers on it. Instead, try a spicy salami pizza. Italy is known for their cured and smoked meats, and the salami is incredible. It’s so much better quality than a slice of American pepperoni. This is thickly sliced and full of flavor.

Speaking of spicy, try anything with n’duja on it. This is a spicy, spreadable sausage that you’ll also find with bread and cheese as an appetizer. It’s delicious on pizza. A tip: a little goes a long way.

One of my favorite pizzas I ordered while in Florence was a burrata pizza. Burrata is an Italian cow-milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and is one of the softest, creamiest cheeses you’ll ever try.

The best pizza I ordered from PizzAgnolo was topped with arugula, freshly sliced grape tomatoes and a ball of burrata. You’ll definitely need to eat this one with a fork and a knife.

That’s another thing: don’t pick up your pizza with your hands, whether you’ve sliced it up or not. It’s customary to eat pizza with cutlery, as it’s served as a whole pie. While this isn’t a written down rule (the worst you’ll get is a few stares), it’s something to keep in mind. Picking up the pizza with your hands is so American – unless you get a singular slice of pizza from a street vendor or to-go, of course.

The Amatriciana from PizzAgnolo

Health Benefits

While pizza shouldn’t be consumed all the time, because let’s face it, it’s not the best thing to be eating 24/7, it does have a lot of benefits. Pizza, mostly in America, is consistently illustrated in a negative manner, but this isn’t always true.

Completely made with fresh ingredients, Italian pizza has a lot of nutrients. Tomatoes are full of lycopene, an antioxidant that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

The toppings on a pizza also play a part in adding nutrients and long-lasting protein. Skipping the pepperoni and adding freshly sliced prosciutto, vegetables, and lean, buffalo-milk cheese will contribute to the goodness.

Olive oil on a thin, doughy crust has lots of antioxidants and healthy fats. Compared to the layers of grease that line an American pizza, this pizza is so healthy for you.

The consumption of olive oil, among many of the other ingredients previously listed, has also shown to decrease the risk of cancer. Various studies have stated that a slice or two a week (maybe not a day), keeps the doctor away.

Well, how do I fulfill my pizza craving now?

After reading the mouth-watering facts, I just want to order a burrata pizza! Or maybe you’re looking to try this so-called potato pizza that is so popular in Europe. Where’s the best place to go?

If you’re near Florence, you’re in luck on every corner. If you’re in the states, this one will just have to go onto your bucket list.

In the meantime, make a pizza at home! If your dough-making skills aren’t up to par yet, then start with a homemade sauce instead. The grocery store’s pre-made dough will suffice for now. The key to keeping it healthy is keeping it simple, which starts with fresh ingredients and care. Slow down on the cheese (low-fat, skim mozzarella works wonders) and add in more tomatoes or vegetables.

Yours Truly,

Cat Taylor

Inspired to cook but not in the mood for pizza? Check out some of the first recipes I made during my stay in Florence.

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