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If you’re looking for the healthiest pizza chain, you’re deluding yourself—or gamely attempting to make the least bad choice, nutritionally speaking. It’s OK to acknowledge that chain pizza is definitely not good for you. And sometimes it doesn’t even taste good. But occasionally you just crave a greasy guilty pleasure that only the likes of Domino’s can provide. Don’t worry, we won’t judge.
fast food pizza, we decided to do a little research by taking a look at the nutritional content of a classic, medium-sized cheese pie at each of these four popular chains: Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, and, of course, our beloved Domino’s.When it comes to the quality and ingredients in
While none of the quantitative information surprised us (pizza is high in carbs and sodium, duh!), we were surprised by the way in which these chains conveyed this information. Some relied on vague health claims, marketing spin, and the ever-present lure of vine-ripened tomatoes. Others opted for a subtler “no comment” approach. No matter how you slice it, the nutritional hype, or lack thereof, speaks volumes to each brand’s identity. We break it down below.
Note: Nutritional information is displayed per slice.
As we’ll see, the nutritional breakdown of the four major pizza players in the United States are fairly comparable. Papa John’s is just as much a carb-y, salt bomb as the rest of its competitors. In fact, Papa John’s takes the cake (err pie?) for having the highest sodium count for a basic cheese pizza, though not by much so don’t let that sway your decision. All these slices are on equal footing.
However of all the chains, it makes some of the boldest claims about the quality of its ingredients. According to their website, their pizza is always made with dough that’s fresh, not frozen; vine-ripened tomatoes (wait, don’t all tomatoes grow on vines?!); and high quality, part-skim, mozzarella cheese. Their website also uses the adjective “real” to describe the cheese, which surely is a relief. (We wouldn’t want any of that fake dairy tainting our pie.) Reading a website this extra is exhausting.
Papa John’s also goes a step further and offers up “Papa’s Quality Guarantee,” because if there’s one thing I want my pizza to be graced with, it’s the blessing of a faceless, imaginary entity named after controversial blowhard and default corporate mascot, former CEO Papa John Schnatter (no longer with the company, but his name lives on). On the off chance you don’t enjoy your order, be sure to save the receipt as proof of purchase for a replacement pizza. But chances are if you’re ordering from Papa John’s, your standards aren’t that high to begin with.
As far as chain pizzerias go, Domino’s has its fair share of loyalists. Even Momofuku founder and culinary contrarian David Chang has vouched for the brand, at least in terms of its nostalgia value. As the biggest pizza brand and seventh-largest fast food brand in the world, they’ve clearly earned a lot of goodwill and, as a result of their size and half-century long history, Domino’s website and promotional materials are a lot less flashy than Papa John’s. They simply don’t need to scream about real cheese or tomatoes from vines, with the desperation of a brand that got dropped by the NFL.
Instead, Domino’s nutritional information opts for subtlety. You can read the ingredient breakdown for any ingredient. It’s completely devoid of context or meaningless descriptors, which after scrolling through endless pages of Papa John’s hype is indeed a sweet relief.
Domino’s does offer one useful nutrition tool, however: the uncharacteristically and goofily named Cal-O-Meter, which one must imagine is a holdover from the ’90s pre-Atkins world when everything was extreme and to the max. Since Domino’s boasts over 34 million different combinations of offerings, the Cal-O-Meter allows you to discover the nutritional information for a customized order. You can input a variation of pizza sizes, crusts, and toppings, and figure out what works best for your dietary needs. It’s actually quite useful for something with such a dumb name.
Sugar less than 1g
Pizza Hut also has a customizable nutrition tool, though it lacks a dumb name. Fortunately there is still plenty to mock on their website, for instance: Their doth-protest-too-much insistence on the fact that they “are a restaurant at heart.” Was anyone mistaking them for something else? Then there’s the “Hut Life Blog” and the existence of a newer menu item (basically calzones) dubbed the P’ZONE. Presumably, they are not actually pronounced “pee zone” but they are baked with toasted parmesan on top, which might be enough to tempt anyone into ordering them for their next weekend Netflix binge.
Little Caesar’s ties with Pizza Hut for calorie count, with slightly less fat and sodium but a little more sugar. It’s a toss-up, really.
But in terms of marketing hype, Little Caesar’s at least focuses (for now) on their community involvement and contactless delivery options rather than trying to feed us rejected GOOP articles. And nutritionally, they just lay out the facts; they know that you simply want a quick slice, and aren’t under the impression you’re ordering health food.
After all, when we order from any chain pizza place, we aren’t expecting artisanal masterpieces. If only corporate America would stop trying to tap into aspirational lifestyle lingo and sell their product for what it really is—a greasy pie that hits the spot in a pinch.
Jessica Gentile wrote the original version of this story in 2018. It has been updated with current information.
Header image courtesy of Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels