What to Eat at Papa John’s: Healthy Menu Choices and Nutrition Facts

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Since the founder created Papa John's first pizza in a simple broom closet in Jeffersonville, Indiana more than 30 years ago, the organization has exploded in popularity across the globe. Today, you'll find more than 5,000 brick-and-mortar Papa John's locations in 45 countries and territories. Living up to its motto, "It’s Pizza, It Has To Be Fun," Papa John's uses fresh, quality ingredients to create three types of crusts and several customizable specialty pies, all designed to meet patrons' ever-changing flavor and texture preferences.

For gluten-free pizza eaters, Papa John's offers a gluten-free crust, which is also lower in sodium and saturated fat than other crust options. You can also choose a thin crust option as well.

Patrons can select their own toppings for a create-your-own pizza; you can load up with several fiber-filled vegetables and low-fat meat toppings for a heart-healthy pie.

What Experts Say

"Papa John’s serves a variety of pizza, including gluten-free and vegetarian options. To save on calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium, it’s best to choose a thin crust slice. Add vegetables for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals."

—Barbie Cervoni, RD, CDE

Navigating the Menu

Papa John’s offers three types of crusts: gluten-free, thin, and original. You can choose from a number of pizza toppings, such as pepperoni, sausage, and a range of vegetables.

For sandwich eaters, the establishment has flatbread "papadias" (a sandwich substitute) made from the original crust dough; each comes with a specific type of dipping sauce.

You'll also find appetizers ranging from wings and jalapeno poppers to carb-rich options such as breadsticks, cheese sticks, and garlic knots.

For those with a sweet tooth, Papa John's has three desserts on the menu served family-style.

Most Nutritious Option
  • Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza, 1 Slice
    (Pizza)

  • Anchovies, 1 Slice (Additional Toppings Meats)

  • Banana Peppers, Fresh Spinach, Green Peppers, Onions, Roma Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Jalapenos (Additional Toppings)

  • Grilled BBQ Chicken & Bacon (Papadia)

  • Jalapeno Poppers, 1 Roll (Sides)

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie, 1 slice with 8 Slices Per Order (Desserts)

  • 1 Packet Crushed Red Pepper (Extras)

  • Diet Pepsi, 2 Liter (Beverages)

Least Nutritious Option
  • Original Crust Cheese Pizza, XL
    Slice (Pizza)

  • Philly Steak, 1 XL Slice (Additional Toppings Meats)

  • 3-Cheese Blend XL Slice (Additional Toppings)

  • Italian (Papadia)

  • Garlic Parmesan Wings, 16 Pieces
    (Sides)

  • Cinnamon Pull-Aparts, 1 Tray
    (Desserts)

  • 1 Cup Blue Cheese Sauce (Extras)

  • Mountain Dew, 2 Liter (Beverages)

One of the most nutritious options on the Papa John’s menu is a slice of gluten-free, cheese pizza with the following toppings: banana peppers, fresh spinach, green peppers, onions, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, and jalapenos.

Papa John’s doesn’t serve the standard healthy sides, such as salads, that you find at other pizzerias. If you are craving an offering other than pizza, jalapeno poppers are the next best choice, as the appetizer adds some nutritional value of vitamins A and C and potassium.

Pizza

You can order specialty pizzas or build-your-own pies on your choice of crust. Toppings include anything from your standard vegetables and meats to more inventive toppings, such as Philly cheesesteak, tomato alfredo, and buffalo chicken.

Papa John's crust types are the following:

  • Gluten-free: The dough uses sorghum flour and modified rice starch instead of wheat flour.
  • Thin: This dough uses unbleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Original: The fresh dough contains unbleached enriched wheat flour, yeast, sugar water, salt, and soybean oil.

Most Nutritious Option
One slice of Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza provides 150 calories, 6g fat, 3g saturated fat, 18g carbohydrates, 5g protein, and 310mg sodium. 

Least Nutritious Option

The Original Crust Cheese Pizza, XL Slice, has 490 calories, 16g fat, 8g saturated fat, 67g carbohydrates, 18g protein, and 1,210mg sodium.

Additional Toppings: Meats

The menu at Papa John's has 11 different types of meats, ranging from your standard pepperoni and sausage to the more unusual Philly steak and bacon. Anchovies are the healthiest; however, if you're among the many who aren't the biggest fan of them, but want meat on your pizza, chicken is the next best option. It contains only 15 to 20 calories per slice, depending on the size.

Most Nutritious Option

Choosing anchovies as your meat provides 10 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g carbohydrates, 1g protein, and 210mg sodium.

Least Nutritious Option

You'll consume 50 calories, 3g fat, 1g saturated fat, 1g carbohydrates, 5g protein, and 200mg sodium when ordering the Philly steak topping on 1 XL Slice.

Additional Toppings

If you stick to a vegetarian pizza, the calories are primarily limited to the crust, cheese, and pizza sauce, as the number of calories present from the vegetables is very low. Papa John's offers seven vegetable toppings that don't add many calories, sodium, and fat.

Most Nutritious Option
Toppings such as banana peppers, fresh spinach, green peppers, onions, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, and jalapenos are nutrient-dense veggie additions that add vitamins and minerals with minimal calories, fat, and sodium.

Least Nutritious Option
A 3-Cheese Blend XL Slice of pizza has 25 calories, 2g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g carbohydrates, 2g protein, and 55mg sodium.

Papadia

An alternative to pizza, this new pizza “sandwich” is made with flatbread and dough from the original pizza crust. Papa John's designed the papadia as a portable pizza—an inventive substitute to the sandwich you eat for lunch. Each type comes with dipping sauces on the side.

Papadia options include the following:

  • Grilled Buffalo Chicken with ranch dipping sauce
  • Italian with pizza dipping sauce
  • BBQ Chicken Bacon with BBQ dipping sauce
  • Philly Cheesesteak with garlic dipping sauce

Most Nutritious Option
Of the four choices, the Grilled BBQ Chicken & Bacon papadia is the most nutritious choice with 840 calories, 28g fat, 13g saturated fat, 160g carbohydrates, 60g protein, and 2,410mg sodium.

Least Nutritious Option

The Italian has 940 calories, 53g fat, 21g saturated fat, 76g carbohydrates, 38g protein, and 2,670mg sodium.

Sides

In addition to pizza, Papa John's offers starters ranging from wings and breadsticks to spicy poppers. Rather than add extra calories to your meal, ordering wings alone and skipping the pizza will provide a heavy dose of protein. The healthiest wing option is the eight-piece "unsauced" option which has 920 calories and 17 grams of saturated fat. If you prefer breadsticks, eating one original contains 150 calories.

Most Nutritious Option
One roll of jalapeno poppers contains 60 calories, 2g fat, 1g saturated fat, 9g carbohydrates, 2g protein, and 140mg sodium.

Least Nutritious Option

A 16-piece order of garlic parmesan wings comes with 2,230 calories, 177g fat, 44g saturated fat, 12g carbohydrates, 49g protein, and 4,970mg sodium.

Desserts

For those who prefer to end a meal on a sweet note, Papa John’s offers three desserts: brownies, cookies, and cinnamon rolls. The desserts are served family-style and cut into pieces.

Most Nutritious Option
One slice of the chocolate chip cookie has 190 calories, 9g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 26g carbohydrates, 2g protein, and 105mg sodium. 

Least Nutritious Option

One tray of the Cinnamon Pull-Aparts contains 1,960 calories, 94g fat, 36g saturated fat, 264g carbohydrates, 19g protein, and 1,660mg sodium.

Extras

You can add the following dipping sauces to your order:

  • BBQ
  • Blue Cheese
  • Buffalo
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Honey Mustard
  • Pizza
  • Ranch

These range in calories from 45 to 160, but none contain any saturated fat. More nutritious extra toppings include red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese.

Most Nutritious Option

One packet (1g) of crushed red pepper has 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 1g carbohydrates, 0g protein, and 0mg sodium. 

Least Nutritious Option

A single cup of blue cheese dipping sauce has 160 calories, 15g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 1g carbohydrates, 1g protein, and 250mg sodium.  

Beverages

Papa John's sells Pepsi products, along with Aquafina water. Your healthiest option is water. If you opt to drink soda with your pizza, Diet Pepsi is calorie-free but contains sodium.

Most Nutritious Option

Choose water, such as Papa John's Aquafina water, as your beverage of choice when possible.

Least Nutritious Option

A two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew contains 960 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 260g carbohydrates, 0g protein, and 340mg sodium.

Diet-Specific Options

Despite a restaurant with menu items full of carbs and saturated fat, you can still follow a number of specialty diets at Papa John’s. Arming yourself with knowledge of the menu can make ordering an easier experience for those sticking to these diets.

Low-fat

To stave off unneeded saturated fat and consume a heart-healthy meal, opt for the following menu options that are lower in fat:

  • Pepperoncini
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Gluten-free Cheese Crust
  • Breadsticks
  • Garlic Parmesan Sticks
  • Jalapeno Poppers
  • Anchovies
  • Chicken
  • Banana Peppers
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Green Peppers
  • Onions
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Jalapenos

Gluten-free

You can order the gluten-free crust with any of the toppings. However, the gluten-free dough contains milk, soy, and egg for people who are allergic.

Low-sodium

Most menu items at Papa John's contain a heavy amount of sodium, but you can stick to a low-sodium diet by ordering a thin or gluten-free crust with any of the following toppings:

  • Banana Peppers
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Green Peppers
  • Onions
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Jalapenos
  • Bacon
  • Meatball
  • 2- and 3-cheese Blend
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Parmesan Cheese

Other low-sodium items include the following:

  • Garden-Fresh Gluten-Free Pizza
  • Fresh Spinach and Tomato Alfredo Gluten-Free Pizza
  • Cheese Gluten-Free Pizza
  • One Cheesestick
  • Aquafina

Vegetarian

You can order meatless toppings and a number of other vegetarian menu items, but vegans will find Papa John's a challenge as both the gluten-free and thin crusts contain milk.

Vegetarian menu items include the following:

  • All Vegetable Toppings
  • Pineapple
  • All Desserts
  • Garlic Knots
  • Garlic Parmesan Breadsticks
  • Breadsticks
  • Cheesesticks
  • Garlic, Ranch, Pizza, and Blue Cheese Dipping Sauces
  • Special Seasoning, Red Pepper, and Parmesan Cheese Packets
  • Cheese Pizza
  • Garden Fresh Pizza
  • Extra Cheesy Alfredo Pizza
  • Tuscan Six Cheese Pizza

Food Allergies and Safety

If you have food common allergens and intolerances, be sure to take the necessary precautions with your Papa John's order. To help you avoid tree nuts, gluten, soy, or dairy, try the following:

  • Modify your order. For example, stick to a build-your-own pizza for which you can pick toppings that are safe for your food allergens and choose to skip the cheese if you're lactose intolerant.
  • Familiarize yourself with Papa John's website, which contains an allergen guide about the following ingredients: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and sesame. Speak to the staff if you have questions or concerns.
  • Know that cross-contamination can occur. The gluten-free crust might not be completely gluten-free, as the original dough may be made in the same kitchen. If you have concerns, feel free to ask the staff about cross-contamination at the location you are ordering from.

A Word From Verywell

The create-your-own pizzas at Papa John's allow you to meet your diet-specific needs and eat a heart-healthy meal. Boost the nutrition of your order by loading on the vegetable toppings and order a gluten-free or thin-crust pizza to avoid excess carbs and saturated fat.

For the non-pizza eater, Papa John's doesn't have many offerings other than starters, such as wings, poppers, and breadsticks. For those looking to stick to a low-carb diet, there aren't many options available other than wings.

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  1. Papa John’s. Updated on April 30, 2021.