Pizza could very well be the country’s favorite food. It’s so delicious! And believe it or not, it can also be one of the healthiest foods out there for endurance athletes. Just make sure you choose the healthiest pizza toppings available.

preparing veggie pizza

Your typical Meat Lovers Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut definitely is not what I’m talking about.

While you might not find something like this in your typical pizza joint, a fresh, whole-wheat (or gluten-free) crust with a lot of sauce and a little cheese and a lot of fresh veggies is great for your health.

If you start off with a not-too-greasy hand-tossed or thin crust with a nice layer of fresh tomato sauce and a thin covering of mozzarella, you can build a great meal. A typical white crust isn’t exactly healthy, but it will supply you with much-needed carbs (if you were just out riding for a few hours, that is). The tomato sauce is full of lycopene and the cheese provides protein and calcium. Put as much tomato sauce on there as possible! Just order your pizza with “lite cheese,” which means about half the normal amount. Your taste buds won’t notice, but your heart and arteries will!

Then move on to the toppings, where you want to avoid greasy, processed red meat. (Consider avoiding all meat toppings unless you’re at a gourmet restaurant with high-quality meats.) Instead, choose some of these toppings listed below.

The Healthiest Toppings for Pizza

There really are many heart-healthy options out there! Here’s a list of nutritious pizza toppings and why they are good for you:

Onions

Onions offer a rich, strong flavor, so they add taste and health benefits to your pizza. The health benefits include lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of colon cancer thanks to the chromium, vitamin C, and fiber.

Black Olives

Olives are full of healthy unsaturated fats that fight heart disease and lower cholesterol. You’ll also be getting some good things known as polyphenols and flavanoids. The fat will also help you absorb the nutrients from your other toppings.

Red Peppers

These are similar to green peppers, but with a stronger, sweeter flavor. These are a bit harder to find, but worth looking for since they are chock full of Vitamin C, A, and B6, along with antioxidants like beta-carotene. Whether your peppers are red, yellow, orange, or green, be sure they’re on your pizza!

Garlic

I don’t see many pizza places offering chopped or crushed garlic as a topping, but there’s no harm in asking. If you’re cooking your own pizza, I recommend making a paste out of mashed garlic and olive oil. You can spread that on the crust before you load it down with everything else. Lots of health benefits from garlic – it’s good for your heart and your immune system – plus the heart-healthy fats you get from olives.

Spinach

Spinach is Popeye’s topping of choice for a reason. Not only is it loaded with antioxidants, but it’s full of iron, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The iron will build your blood (no EPO necessary) and the lutein and zeaxanthin will protect your eyes from macular degeneration.

Pineapple

One of the few fruits that works on pizza. It contains Vitamin C and an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain will aid digestion, a good thing if you eat as much pizza as I do, and it even acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, easing your aching muscles. If you were just out hammering for 5 hours, pour on the pineapple!

Mushrooms

While being neither fruit nor vegetable (mushrooms are actually a fungus), they add great flavor and great nutrients. They’re high in protein. They are packed with selenium and riboflavin (and other B vitamins), along with other nutrients that could ward off cancer.

Tomatoes

Sliced tomatoes make great toppings, especially on a white or pesto pizza. Even if you already have tomato sauce on there, adding tomatoes just increases the healthiness.

Extra sauce is also a great idea. (Best of all, sometimes extra sauce is a free topping!)

Broccoli

Another green vegetable that you can get on your pizza. This one is full of Vitamins C, A, and K, along with quite a bit of folate and dietary fiber. Broccoli offers significant anti-cancer effects, and when paired with tomatoes or tomato sauce, the veggies can boost each other’s effects for even better cancer fighting.

Even if you don’t normally like steamed broccoli, you might like the crisp texture of broccoli baked on a pizza.

Chicken

For all you meat lovers that can’t resist, get some white meat chicken on your pie. It’s full of protein, but not full of saturated fat and sodium like pepperoni. Chicken also has some good stuff like zinc and selenium (to boost your immune system) and essential B vitamins. My personal preference is to find a barbecue chicken pizza, but you can also get chicken as a general topping or find a Hawaiian Chicken Pizza.

There you have it, a lot of good pizza toppings to keep your pie healthy.

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[This article was originally published on October 17, 2007. It was revised and updated on April 25, 2018 to further explore ways to make pizza into a perfectly healthy choice.]

Photo credit: Kitay

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Levi Bloom is an experienced endurance athlete who has been training and competing for over 17 years. A former Cat 1 road and mountain bike racer (professional class on the regional circuit), he is now a cycling coach (USA Cycling Level 3 Certified) and sports nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified).

11 Comments
  1. nice! i make vegan pizzas all the time (sans-cheese) and they’re delicious. to avoid the white-bread base i usually use a whole-wheat pita bread.

    however, if you’re doing the veg-only thing, i recommend visiting ‘flavor country’ by using sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, capers, etc. to spice up the base, try a spread of basil-paste (not pesto) with or without the tomato paste. if you can’t buy it, it’s easy to make! no idea about the health implications of these ingredients, though 🙂

  2. Sounds great Troy! I’ve never had artichokes or capers on pizza (that I can remember), so I’ll have to try it out sometime.

    I love basil pesto. I bet I’d like basil paste too.

  3. thanks i needed this for homework

  4. hey the spinach is good my favourite pizza is pesto aswell as tomato sause a little motzarella
    spinach and chicken its really nice try it

    but im anti pinapple on pizza pineapple on pizza is just wrong!!!

    • @CK

      Spinach and chicken makes a good combo indeed. Pesto pizza is sooooooo good too!

      I always thought pineapple on pizza was strange, but I really got to liking it. Now I eat Hawaiian pizzas all the time! (I like ham, pineapple, red pepper, onion, and bacon – sort of Hawaiian variation.)

  5. What if I really really want red meats tho?

    • @Brandon

      Bacon and ham.

      In general, ham is your best bet aside from chicken. And toss some crispy strips of turkey bacon on there.

  6. I LIKE TO PUT BACON AND SAUSAGE ON MY WHOPPER.

    🙁

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