Pesto Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

a jar of thick, green pesto made from basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and cheese


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Pesto is a thick, green sauce that originates from Genoa, Italy. Traditionally made with garlic, pine nuts, basil, cheese, and olive oil, pesto has a strong, rich flavor. This flavorful sauce can be used as a pasta sauce, tasty dip, pizza sauce, spread, salad dressing, and more.

You can find premade pesto, including some vegan varieties, in most grocery stores. While homemade and store-bought pesto sauces can vary in nutrition facts, pesto is generally a rich source of healthy fats.

Because it is made with nutritious ingredients, pesto can be consumed as part of a balanced diet. It is also part of the Mediterranean Diet.

Pesto Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information for 1 tablespoon (16g) of pesto is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodData Central.

  • Calories: 92
  • Fat: 9.5g
  • Sodium: 158mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0.9g
  • Fiber: 0.2g
  • Sugars: 0.11g
  • Protein: 1.4g

Carbs

A spoonful of pesto contains just under 1 gram of carbohydrates. Pesto is not a significant source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, or sugar. However, it is often paired with foods rich in carbs, such as pasta, pizza, and sandwiches.

Fats

Nearly 60% of the calories in pesto are from fats, which come from 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, and 1.68 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Pesto also contains 2.56mg of cholesterol. According to the 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20% to 35% of daily calories should come from fat.

Protein

With 1.38 grams of protein per tablespoon of pesto, this sauce is not a protein-rich food. Because it is treated as a condiment, it can be used to add flavor to other foods that are higher in protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Pesto is typically not consumed in large amounts. Some may consume more than a serving size. Some nutrients are present. Pesto contains 33.1 milligrams of calcium, 36.8 milligrams of phosphorus, 31.8 milligrams of potassium, and 9.76 milligrams of magnesium.

Calories

A tablespoon of pesto made with parmesan cheese, basil, olive oil, salt, garlic, and pine nuts contains just under 92 calories. More than half of the calories comes from fats.

Health Benefits

Some of the ingredients in pesto—mainly olive oil—may provide some health benefits. Here are some of the potential health benefits of pesto.

May Have Antioxidant Properties

Garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and basil are rich sources of antioxidants. Diets high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Antioxidants play a critical role in defending against free radical damage, which can lead to disease. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods like pesto on a regular basis may contribute to an increased level of antioxidants in the body, which may protect against disease.

May Have Cardiovascular Benefits

There are many health benefits of olive oil, and the reduced risk of heart disease may be one of them. Substituting other high-fat foods like margarine, butter, dairy, and mayonnaise with olive oil could lower the risk of heart disease and the risk of stroke.

May Help Lower Cholesterol

There are four different types of fats—saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. While saturated fats may raise your LDL cholesterol levels (considered "bad" cholesterol), foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like pesto can help lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and can support HDL (considered "good" cholesterol) levels.

May Help With Weight Management

Pesto is a traditional Italian food, and it is commonly consumed on the Mediterranean diet. Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can lead to long-term changes in weight and waist circumference. Pesto can be part of a nutritious lifestyle that supports healthy weight management.

Allergies

Pesto traditionally contains parmesan cheese (a milk product) and pine nuts (a tree nut), which are common food allergens. It is possible that an allergic reaction may occur in people allergic to dairy products and nuts.

While parmesan cheese and pine nuts are tolerated by some people, caution is advised. Symptoms of food allergies include hives, swelling, itching, shortness of breath, stomach pain, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and lightheadedness.

You should contact a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms of food allergies. The provider can do skin testing to determine which food allergens you are allergic to.

Adverse Effects

Store-bought pesto can contain a large amount of sodium. Those following a low-sodium diet or taking any heart medications should check with their doctor before adding these products to their diet. To control the amount of sodium in your pesto, consider making a homemade pesto recipe that uses less salt.

Varieties

Grocery stores generally carry several varieties of pesto. While pesto is a vegetarian-friendly sauce, vegans can look for cheese- and dairy-free versions. People who are allergic to nuts can also opt for nut-free varieties.

While basil is the main ingredient in pesto, some products are made with other herbs in its place. To have more control over the ingredients in your pesto, try a homemade recipe that aligns with your dietary preferences.

Storage and Food Safety

Store homemade pesto in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 5 days. Check the label on your container of store bought pesto for expiration dates or best before dates.

How to Prepare

Pesto can be added as a sauce on top of any dish you desire. It is mainly associated with Italian dishes like pasta and pizza, but it can also be used as a dip, salad dressing, sandwich spread, and more.

Recipes

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6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. Updated December 2020. 

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  4. Cleveland Clinic. Heart healthy eating to help lower cholesterol levels. Updated February 16, 2018.

  5. 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. Published 2018 Apr 25. doi:10.1038/s41387-018-0023-3

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Food allergies. Updated March 24, 2021.