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Pesto – Nutritional and Health Benefits


Pesto is a sauce that is made with garlic, pine nuts, basil, cheese, and olive oil, which creates a strong, rich flavor. It is used as a marinade, dip, salad dressing, sandwich spread, and a topping for dishes like pasta and pizza. It can be homemade or bought premade, including vegan varieties. It is made with nutritious ingredients and can be consumed as part of a balanced diet. The sauces can vary in nutrition, but in general, it is a rich source of healthy fats and is also part of the Mediterranean Diet.

Pesto - Nutritional and Health Benefits



  • The sauce is not a significant source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, or sugar.
  • A spoonful contains under 1 gram of carbohydrates.
  • It is often paired with foods rich in carbohydrates, like sandwiches, pizza, and pasta.


  • Nearly 60% of the calories in pesto come from fats, provided by the olive oil, cheese, and pine nuts.
  • There are 9.47 grams of fats per spoonful, which includes:
  • 5.63 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • 1.53 grams of saturated fatty acids.
  • 1.68 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • It also contains 2.56mg of cholesterol.
  • According to U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20% to 35% of daily calories should come from fat.


  • The sauce is not a protein-rich food with only 1.38 grams of protein per tablespoon.
  • It is often used as a condiment, it can add flavor to other foods higher in protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Pesto contains:
  • 33.1mg of calcium.
  • 36.8mg of phosphorus.
  • 31.8mg of potassium.
  • 9.76mg of magnesium.

Health Benefits

Some of the potential health benefits of pesto.

Antioxidant Properties

  • Garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and basil are rich sources of antioxidants.
  • Antioxidants have an essential role in defending the body against free radical damage, which can lead to disease.
  • Diets high in antioxidants reduce the risk of various diseases, like heart disease and cancer.
  • Consuming antioxidant-rich foods like pesto on a regular basis can increase antioxidant levels.

Cardiovascular Benefits

  • Olive oil health benefits include the reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Substituting other high-fat foods like margarine, butter, and mayonnaise with olive oil can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Help Lower Cholesterol

  • Four different types of fats – saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Saturated fats can raise LDL/unhealthy cholesterol levels.
  • Foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like pesto can help lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and support HDL/healthy cholesterol levels.

Weight Management

  • Pesto is commonly consumed on the Mediterranean diet and can be part of a nutritious lifestyle that supports a healthy weight.
  • Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can lead to and maintain long-term changes in weight management.
  • Store-bought pesto can contain a large amount of sodium.
  • Individuals following a low-sodium diet or taking heart medications should check with their doctor before consuming these products.
  • To control the amount of sodium, consider making a homemade recipe that uses less salt and aligns with individual dietary preferences.


  • Grocery stores generally carry several varieties of pesto.
  • Basil is the main ingredient but some varieties are made with other herbs.
  • Pesto traditionally contains parmesan cheese/milk products and pine nuts/tree nuts which are common food allergens.
  • The sauce is a vegetarian-friendly sauce, but vegans can look for cheese and dairy-free versions.
  • It is possible that an allergic reaction can occur in individuals allergic to dairy products and nuts.
  • Individuals allergic to nuts can choose nut-free varieties.

From Consultation to Transformation


Agnoli C, Sieri S, Ricceri F, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and long-term changes in weight and waist circumference in the EPIC-Italy cohort. Nutr Diabetes. 2018;8(1):22. doi:10.1038/s41387-018-0023-3

Bolling, Bradley W et al. “Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.” Nutrition research reviews vol. 24,2 (2011): 244-75. doi:10.1017/S095442241100014X

Bower, Allyson, et al. “The Health Benefits of Selected Culinary Herbs and Spices Found in the Traditional Mediterranean Diet.” Critical Reviews in food science and nutrition vol. 56,16 (2016): 2728-46. doi:10.1080/10408398.2013.805713

Guasch-Ferré M, Liu G, Li Y, et al. Olive oil consumption and cardiovascular risk in U.S. adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;75(15):1729-1739. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.02.036

Liu, Qing, et al. “Antibacterial and Antifungal Activities of Spices.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 18,6 1283. 16 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms18061283

Marcelino, Gabriela et al. “Effects of Olive Oil and Its Minor Components on Cardiovascular Diseases, Inflammation, and Gut Microbiota.” Nutrients vol. 11,8 1826. 7 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11081826

Nicastro, Holly L, et al. “Garlic and onions: their cancer prevention properties.” Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa.) vol. 8,3 (2015): 181-9. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0172

Sestili, Piero, et al. “The potential effects of Ocimum basilicum on health: a review of pharmacological and toxicological studies.” Expert opinion on drug metabolism & toxicology vol. 14,7 (2018): 679-692. doi:10.1080/17425255.2018.1484450

Sun, Liangzi, et al. “Tryptophan targeted pulsed electric field treatment for enhanced immune activity in pine nut peptides.” Journal of food biochemistry vol. 44,6 (2020): e13224. doi:10.1111/jfbc.13224

USDA FoodData Central. Pesto sauce.

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The information herein on "Pesto - Nutritional and Health Benefits" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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