Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. It is an essential component for many functions, including hormone production and building cell membranes. However, elevated cholesterol levels, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol, are a major risk factor for heart disease.
Pizza is a beloved food for many, but its perceived reputation of being high in cholesterol makes some question if it should be avoided, especially by those with high cholesterol levels. This article will analyze the relationship between pizza and cholesterol through a holistic lens.
Is Pizza High in Cholesterol?
Pizza can be high in cholesterol depending on the ingredients used, such as cheese and meat toppings. The cholesterol content in pizza varies based on factors like the type of pizza, brand, ingredients, and serving size. For example, a slice of stuffed-crust pizza can contain up to 35 mg of cholesterol. However, a cheese pizza has almost no contribution to cholesterol levels. To make pizza healthier for individuals with high cholesterol, options include choosing plant-based or leaner toppings, reducing cheese and meat quantities, and opting for whole grain crusts. Homemade pizzas offer more control over ingredients and portion sizes compared to store-bought or restaurant pizzas. Ultimately, with mindful ingredient selection and moderation, pizza can be enjoyed while maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Comparison with other foods
While pizza can be high in cholesterol depending on toppings, it is not extremely high compared to other foods:
- 3 oz beef steak: 80 mg
- Single large egg: 185 mg
- 3 oz cheddar cheese: 105 mg
Pizza’s cholesterol levels are very dependent on ingredient choices.
The Role of Saturated Fats in Pizza
Impact of saturated fats on health
- Like cholesterol, high intake of saturated fat is linked to increased heart disease risk.
- Saturated fats raise LDL “bad” cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol itself.
- Pizza can be high in saturated fat depending on:
- Type of cheese
- Meat toppings
- Thickness and style of crust
Saturated fats vs. dietary cholesterol
- While related, saturated fats have a bigger influence on cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol from foods.
- Current dietary guidelines focus more on limiting saturated fats.
- Still, minimizing dietary cholesterol can provide heart health benefits.
Deep Dive into Dietary Cholesterol
Does Dietary Cholesterol Matter?
Dietary cholesterol was previously assumed to significantly influence blood cholesterol levels. But newer research suggests saturated and trans fats actually have a larger effect.
Still, dietary cholesterol may contribute to heart disease risk, especially for those with already high LDL cholesterol. Current guidelines no longer limit cholesterol, but keeping intake under 300 mg daily is suggested.
For most healthy individuals, moderate pizza intake likely has minimal impact on cholesterol levels. But those with high cholesterol may need to exercise caution and limit intake of meat, cheese, and butter-laden crusts.
Current research on dietary cholesterol
- Dietary cholesterol has a smaller impact than previously thought.
- Saturated and trans fats affect blood cholesterol more.
- But dietary cholesterol may still contribute, especially for those with high baseline LDL cholesterol or obesity.
- Current guidelines no longer have a cholesterol limit, but limiting to <300 mg/day is still suggested.
Understanding the Different Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol comes in different forms that have varying health impacts.
- LDL cholesterol – “Bad” cholesterol. Can build up on artery walls.
- HDL cholesterol – “Good” cholesterol. Removes LDL cholesterol.
- Triglycerides – Fat molecules that also contribute to heart disease at high levels.
LDL vs. HDL cholesterol and pizza’s impact
- Pizza ingredients like meat and cheese can raise LDL levels.
- However, pizza nutrients like monounsaturated fats may boost HDL.
- Overall, pizza’s ultimate impact depends on specific nutrition profile.
Pizza Ingredients and Cholesterol Content
How Much Cholesterol is in Pizza?
The amount of cholesterol in pizza depends on the type and serving size:
|1 slice (107g)
|1 slice (120g)
|Meat Lovers Pizza
|1 slice (148g)
|1 slice (140g)
How Much Cholesterol is in Pizza Toppings?
Toppings greatly influence the cholesterol content:
Do People with High Cholesterol Need to Avoid Pizza?
For most, moderate pizza intake will not significantly affect cholesterol levels. But some precautions are advised:
- Those already diagnosed with high cholesterol may need to limit intake.
- Individuals with heart disease, diabetes, or obesity are also at greater risk from dietary cholesterol.
- Consult your doctor for personalized advice based on your health profile.
Guidelines and expert opinions:
- “For healthy individuals, eating 1-2 slices of pizza per week does not need to be avoided” – Dr. Lisa Young, Nutritionist
- “People with high cholesterol should select vegetable toppings and lighter cheese options” – American Heart Association
Including Pizza in a Balanced Diet
Strategies for healthy incorporation:
- Pair pizza with a salad to increase fiber intake.
- Swap refined grains in crust for whole grains.
- Load up on veggie toppings like mushrooms, onions, and peppers.
- Limit higher-fat meats like pepperoni and sausage.
- Choose thinner, crispier crusts instead of thick, buttery ones.
- Have pizza alongside other healthy meals through the week.
Portion Size and Its Impact on Cholesterol
- A single slice of pizza is a standard serving size.
- Limiting portions is key for cholesterol as well as calories.
- Wider or deeper dish pizzas mean thicker, larger slices.
- Opt for personal sized pizzas or healthy crusts for portion control.
Making Healthier Pizza Choices
Tips for Making a Healthier Pizza Everyone Can Enjoy
Little tweaks can make pizza a more cholesterol-friendly food:
- Crust: Pick thin, whole grain crusts. Cauliflower or zucchini crusts are very low-carb.
- Sauce: Opt for tomato-based over cream-based sauces.
- Cheese: Use reduced-fat mozzarella or small amounts of strongly flavored cheese.
- Toppings: Load up on veggies, lean meats like chicken or shrimp, and plant-based proteins.
- Cooking Method: Bake instead of deep fry.
Comparing Store-Bought vs. Homemade Pizza
|Often higher in sodium and cholesterol
|Full control over ingredients
|Pre-portioned for calorie control
|Easy to overeat
|Takes effort to prepare
|Varying crust and topping quality
|Consistent taste and texture
Healthier ordering tips:
- Opt for thin crust instead of deep dish/pan pizzas
- Choose veggie toppings over fatty meats
- Request light cheese or a salad instead of cheesy bread side
- Share one pizza between multiple people
Reading Nutrition Labels for Frozen and Pre-made Pizzas
- Check serving sizes – ranges from 1/6 to 1/3 of a pizza
- Look for options under 800 mg sodium per serving
- Seek <10 g saturated fat per serving
- Remember that lower %DV is better for nutrients like cholesterol
Broader Dietary Considerations
The Importance of Accompanying Foods
- Pairing pizza with a leafy green salad provides fiber and nutrients.
- Adding sides like fruits and vegetables can balance the meal.
- Choose water or milk instead of sugary drinks.
Alternatives to Traditional Pizza for Those with High Cholesterol
There are many ways to get the flavors of pizza while reducing cholesterol:
- Cauliflower pizza crust – Replace dough with riced cauliflower.
- Eggplant pizza – Use baked eggplant slices instead of crust.
- Pizza stuffed peppers – Fill bell peppers with pizza toppings and marinara.
- Pizza quinoa bowls – Combine quinoa, marinara, veggies and meat substitutes.
In summary, pizza can rol levels may need to exercise more caution, for most people, enjoying 1-2 slices of vegetable-topped thin crust pizza per week poses little risk and can be worked into an overall diet focused on produce, lean proteins, fiber-rich grains, and healthy fats. With the right dietary lifestyle that keeps cholesterol levels in check, an occasional slice of pizza can be enjoyed without guilt or worry. What are your favorite tips for making pizza more nutritious? Share your thoughts and recipes in the comments!
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.