When we say pizza is a staple in American culture, we’re not exaggerating! Did you know it’s so popular that Americans eat around 350 slices of it per second?! It’s a popular food, but it doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to your health and is often avoided by those attempting to stick to a low-carb diet.
And for people who have trouble regulating glucose, there are some specific concerns about how pizza may impact blood glucose levels. It can be challenging to enjoy eating pizza regularly without affecting your health, especially considering all the crusts and toppings.
But while it may be an indulgent food, it is possible to prepare or order that slice of pizza in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels.
But What Is Pizza, Really?
By definition, pizza is a “dish of Italian origin consisting of a flattened disk of bread dough topped with some combination of olive oil, oregano, tomato, olives, mozzarella or other cheese, and many other ingredients, baked quickly—usually, in a commercial setting, using a wood-fired oven heated to a very high temperature—and served hot.”
Italy itself has many different variations of pizza. There is the Naples-style pizza, the Roman pizza, and the Ligurian pizza. The food soon began to find popularity in the United States in New York City, as Italian immigrants began to open pizzerias in the city at the turn of the 20th century.
Since its introduction to the United States, it has become a staple in the American diet and spawned several variations like the Chicago deep-dish and the California-style pizza. And it’s now so popular worldwide that the list of variations and ingredients is almost impossible to narrow down!
Why Does Blood Glucose Matter?
Blood glucose, or blood sugar, is the sugar found in your bloodstream that comes from the food you eat. Your body breaks down that food into sugar to create energy for your cells and tissues. Blood sugar mainly comes from carbohydrates.
Everyone reacts to foods differently, and some are more prone to postprandial blood sugar spikes than others. Too much glucose in your bloodstream can cause long-term health problems. So, people who have consistently high blood sugar levels have to pay attention to the foods that affect them to avoid spikes. People who have diabetes are often most affected by this. Many try to avoid foods with high carbohydrate content (like pizza!), opting for low-carb diets. However, since there’s no one-size-fits-all, it’s a good idea to work with a professional to ensure you’re not cutting essential nutrients out of your diet.
Understanding what foods and ingredients affect your blood sugar is important for everyone. And it’s especially important for those with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia, or hyperglycemia.
Wondering how to tell if you have a blood sugar imbalance? Apart from using a tool like a continuous glucose monitor to track and monitor your levels, watch out for a range of symptoms, including fatigue, confusion, weight loss, and carbohydrate cravings.
As you can see, there are many different symptoms of blood sugar imbalance, all of which can significantly impact your life and overall wellbeing. The foods you eat matter and understanding what you put into your body can help prevent imbalances.
Remember that it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional about your diet if you have pre-existing conditions.
So, How Does Pizza Affect Blood Glucose?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to how food as diverse as pizza affects your blood sugar levels. But what we can do is explore the effects of traditional pizzas on your health. There are some ways to substitute ingredients, avoid certain types (like some frozen pizzas) or make a pizza to control and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Here’s some dietitian-approved tips!
Traditional Cheese Pizza [Margherita Style Pizza]
Traditional pizza contains carbohydrates in its crust and cheese. And some pizzas also contain sugar in the sauce! While the crust is a carbohydrate that will directly break down into sugar that will enter your bloodstream, the cheese will balance that by providing fats and proteins.
Fats and proteins can help slow and absorb the amount of sugar entering your bloodstream. Of course, too much of anything well results in excess fat and spiked blood sugar levels. So, something to remember here is that moderation is vital.
Did you know that America’s favorite pizza topping is pepperoni? Of course, a pepperoni pizza and cheese pizza may not be the healthiest dinner option. But while you may think toppings like pepperoni and extra cheese will only increase the calorie count and make it more unhealthy, that is not always the case.
By adding extra meats to your pizza, you’re adding more protein to help your body slow the absorption of those carbohydrates from the crust. Toppings like arugula or other vegetables can add fiber to your meal which can also help slow the uptake of sugars broken down from the carbs in your pizza. Since pizza is more calorically dense than nutrient-dense, vegetables can also add essential nutrients, so load up on them!
The crust is where you will find most of the carbohydrates in pizza. When ordering or choosing your pizza, consider the type of crust you choose. Choosing a thin crust pizza will cut back on calories and the number of refined carbohydrates in each slice. If possible, try a whole grain pizza crust to add some fiber to help your body handle all the extra carbohydrates.
While it will change some of the taste and texture, pizza crust alternatives are worth looking into. Cauliflower crust is a widespread substitution for traditional pizza crust that is lower in carbohydrates and will maintain a crisp texture.
There are also substitutions like kale crust, broccoli crust, whole wheat pizza crust, and gluten-free crusts—they’re pretty tasty too. And if you want to hop on to a pretty unique, low-carb trend—try using cloud bread! If the substitution is something you’re not familiar with, make sure that you read the nutrition label before you make the decision. Sometimes, you may find yourself looking at an option that has equal carbs as a traditional pizza, so you might as well enjoy the option that is tastiest for you!
Consider Your Sides
Pizza is most famous as a one-dish meal, but adding sides may help you balance the carbs that will break down into blood glucose. Adding protein and fiber to meals is one of the best ways to balance a carbohydrate-heavy meal.
Consider making a side salad or some dry rub chicken wings to accompany your pizza. Not only will the fiber and protein from those veggies help low sugar absorption, but eating a side salad or a protein before eating pizza will fill you up too! Adding protein and fiber-filled sides can help control portion sizes when you finally get to the pizza. They’re also a great way to make it a diabetes-friendly meal for some.
Add Pizza Night to Your Calendar
Food should never be the enemy, so if you can tolerate it, there’s no reason to cut all pizza out of your life forever. The key to a healthy diet and controlling your blood sugar is to eat everything (that your body can handle) in moderation.
It can be helpful to speak with a nutritionist or a registered dietitian to understand how to balance your glycemic index. It's also an excellent way to work on diabetes management and make healthy food choices while enjoying the foods you love.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.