By Carl Hanson

Poor pizza, it's so often ridiculed as junk food. Fatty sausages and mounds of greasy cheese give it a bad rap. But don't pity pizza too much. It's universally beloved, after all. And, honestly, pizza isn't inherently unhealthy. We'll give you a few tips on how to build a healthier pizza -- so you can have your pie and eat it too.

The Sauce

Provided it's not too sweet or a sodium bomb, tomato sauce is a healthy ingredient, loaded with lycopene (a carotenoid with antioxidant properties) and vitamin C. Make homemade pizza sauce, and you control what's in it. But there are other ways to go besides tomato-based sauces. Pesto is a solid sauce for pizza, with tons of fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. Hummus, salsa, peanut sauce, and bean dip are other healthy sauce ideas.

Homemade Pizza Sauce Made Lighter | Photo by Jennifer Baker

The Toppings

Go big with the fresh veggies, and you can make a pizza that's generous with vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients. There's almost no end to the types of pizza-friendly veggies: bell peppers, fresh tomato slices, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus, eggplant, avocado, squash, fresh spinach, and arugula (added at the end). Cut back on meats that are heavy on the saturated fats or replace them with leaner proteins like chicken breast or even a fried egg. Or skip the meats entirely and pile on healthy vegetables.

The Cheese

Here's the skinny on cheese: "Regular-fat cheese may be as healthy a choice as the low-fat version," according to a study reported on by The New York Times. Use good quality, full-fat cheese and you benefit from a less-is-more scenario: you don't need as much cheese to make your pizza delicious. Fresh mozzarella is always a good choice; it actually has less saturated fat and less sodium than many other cheeses, like Cheddar and shredded cheese blends. Tangy goat cheese, crumbled feta, and creamy ricotta cheese are other relatively lower-fat cheeses that make yummy pizza cheeses. And the creaminess of ricotta mixed with a little olive makes for a great sauce, too.

Fresh Mozzarella | Photo by Meredith

Pizza Pro Tip: Blot it! If your pizza forms little pools of fat on the cheesy top, blot it off with a paper towel. You're peeling away extra fat and calories.

The Crust

Crust is key, of course. If calories are a concern, choose a thin crust. And for a crust with added fiber and nutrients, try whole-wheat pizza crust instead of one made from refined white flour. Or call in cauliflower! The texture of a cauliflower crust isn't identical to traditional pizza crust, true. But it's delicious and nutritious in its own right. Just be sure to squeeze all the moisture out of your cooked cauliflower dough before baking it -- that's the key to a quality cauliflower crust.

Check out Chef John's video on How to Make a Cauliflower Pizza Crust:

OK, now let's take a peek at some of our favorite healthy pizza recipes:

This recipe covers everything -- crust, sauce, toppings. "The sauce is so easy and hearty everyone will think you were in the kitchen all day cooking this up!" says Bird.

Homemade Veggie Pizza | Photo by catherine.drew

A great way to use up leftover chicken breast meat. Chop it up and add it to pizza, along with avocados, cilantro, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, plus a pinch of cayenne for kick. Top it all off with a little Monterey Jack.

Here's a pesto-based pizza with sliced roma tomatoes, garlic, seasoned goat cheese, and a generous handful of arugula added at the end so it retains its fresh bite.

Arugula Tomato Slices and Pesto Sauce | Photo by Meredith

A white pizza sauce with olive oil, fresh ricotta cheese, and a splash of cream. Chef John shows due restraint here, spreading the sauce sparingly over his pizza dough, before topping it with blanched asparagus, a little smoked ham, and a sprinkling of cheese. Delicious!

Brussels sprouts, garlic, fennel seed, and a simple, olive oil base get the healthy going here.

Brussels Sprouts Pizza | Photo by Mixit

"You get sweetness from the chopped dates, garlicky flavor from the hummus, and then the peppery arugula. I used a balsamic glaze, which added a bit a sweetness as well. Just fold the naan in half, and take the perfect bite!" -- Kim's Cooking Now!

Arugula and Hummus Mini Pizzas | Photo by Kim's Cooking Now!

These individual pizzas with thinly sliced, roasted butternut squash, onions, and fresh rosemary make a great fall and winter pizza.

"A light and flavorful pizza featuring feta, tomatoes, and spinach. I like to use a homemade whole wheat crust, rolled thin." -- ESTEPHAN

Greek Pizza | Photo by Meredith

A pita pizza that starts with a simple base of prepared Thai peanut sauce, topped with sliced, sauteed chicken breast, green onions, and provolone.