Think you can’t eat pizza and lose weight? Well, you better start believing. All it takes is making sure you do it the right way. One Italian pizza chef did, which helped him shed pounds and significantly improve his health. Pasquale Cozzolino, a native of Naples, Italy, is executive chef and co-owner of Ribalta pizzerias in Manhattan and Atlanta. He knew he had to lose a lot of weight but realized he could not abandon his daily pizza habit. So he figured out how to lose weight by eating pizza.
“I’ve tried typical dieting strategies before with no luck,” says Cozzolino. “I was hungry all the time. The list of acceptable foods was depressingly limited, especially to a chef who loves flavor.”
Cozzolino decided to figure out how to lose weight and still eat pizza every day. He experimented with ways to make pizza healthier and lower in calories, using techniques from back home in Naples, including using a fermented dough that was higher fiber. He would eat one small pizza for lunch every day. The rest of his meals were based on the Mediterranean diet.
“I focused my meals on fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains and using healthy fats like olive oil and avocado instead of saturated fats,” says Cozzolino. “That’s the way I used to eat in Italy before I came to New York and started eating fast-food and sugary processed foods.”
It worked. In 9 months, the chef lost 114 pounds without giving up his favorite food—pizza. Cozzolino documents his miraculous health transformation in his book The Pizza Diet. In it you’ll find 50 of the chef’s recipes for more pizzas with innovative, healthful toppings.
In addition to following the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet, Cozzolino found simple hacks to help him lose weight while still eating pizza, including smart ways to cut calories from pies that you, too, can use for both takeout and homemade pizza. Here are some of his tricks, and for more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Water that is. “Often, people mistake thirst for hunger and reach for a fork instead of a glass of ice water,” says Cozzolino. “Have a glass of water before eating; it’ll keep you from overeating pizza.”
Here’s How Much Water You Need to Drink for Weight Loss.
You can lower any pizza’s glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise in response to a certain food, by adding fiber- and protein-rich toppings. For example, while a simple cheese pizza scores an 80 out of 100 on the GI scale, a veggie pie clocks in at 49. Raw veggies and lean meats like chicken breast make for the best GI-lowering toppers. Tip: avoid toppings of veggies that have been cooked in a bath of oil. And try one of these 17 Underrated Pizza Toppings.
Choose pizzas with tomato sauce over white pizzas. The redder the better because the tomato sauce is rich in lycopene, which studies show may be cardioprotective and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Give it a try yourself with one of these 29+ Best Healthy Pizza Recipes for Weight Loss.
Ordering (or making) your pizza with “half cheese” is an easy way to cut the saturated fat (and calories) on plain- or vegetable-topped pies by 50%.
When you see a pool of oil floating on top of your cheese pizza, take a napkin and mop up the excess. You’ll save about 50 calories, and maybe keep the grease off your shirt.
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When most people eat pizza, they pair it with soda, sweet tea, beer, or wine. Switch to water or unsweetened iced tea to delete the added calories.
“I completely cut out the liquid calories,” says Cozzolino, who had a three-can-a-day soda habit. “You don’t realize all the calories you’re consuming. When I stopped, I felt the difference.”
Here are 40 Side Effects of Drinking Too Much Soda.
Most of the evils of pizza lay in the empty calorie, yet highly caloric crust, typically made from refined white flour.
“It spikes your insulin levels, causing you to crave more,” says Cozzolino. “I use a more nutritious flour called type 1 stone-ground flour and allow my dough to ferment for at least 36 hours.”
Most pizzerias don’t use that expensive dough, so Cozzolino advises ordering thin-crust pizza, to reduce the carbohydrate impact on your blood sugar.
You can trick yourself into eating less and boost your calorie-burning metabolism by adding a little spice to your pizza pie. A study by Canadian researchers found that men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories than those who skipped the hot sauce. Top your pizza with a few grinds of fresh black pepper, red chile flakes, or if you’re really brave, jalapeno slices.
A series of well-cited Yale University studies suggest eating a salad appetizer can reduce total calorie intake over the course of a meal by up to 20%. So, start your pizza dinner with a big garden salad. Top your greens with a scant tablespoon of vinaigrette. Research suggests vinegar may aid weight loss by keeping your blood sugar steady. One study among prediabetics found that the addition of vinegar to a high-carb meal (like pizza) reduced the subsequent rise in blood sugar by 34%.
In case you’re curious, This Is the Best Slice of Pizza in Every State.