Is Pesto Healthy?

By Luke Daley RNutr, MSc from Daley Nutrition | 2781 views

Brief Overview of Pesto

Q. Is pesto healthy and nutritious for us……? This is a question we get asked a lot when we run our cooking demonstrations in Melbourne, so we thought we would answer in a blog post for others to read.

The traditional recipe can be traced back to the 16th century in Genoa in northern Italy, the recipe included locally grown and produced garlic, crushed basil, parmesan Reggiano cheese, crushed pine nuts and olive oil.  The recipe is high in rich fat and antioxidants but is also energy-dense so moderation is advised.  It contains healthy monounsaturated fats, calcium, and some non-haem iron from the basil.

The most important part of the sauce is the flavour, the combination of the ingredient creates a deep rich flavour to any pasta or potato dish.  The sauce doesn’t have to be cooked as it can also be eaten raw.  The recipe is simply made by combining the different ingredients together in a blender or mortar and pestle.

Is Pesto Pasta Healthy?

Using a healthy pesto with pasta is a perfect weekly meal that is tasty and good for you.  The public seem to have this fear of pasta, in the worry that they will put weight on by consuming it.  We know that weight gain is causes by repeatedly eating too many calories consumed per day above your energy requirements.  So if pasta is your weak spot and portion control is hard, then focus on portioning your pasta and aim for 1-2 servings per day.   In general it is a filling food and very good for us especially if you are consuming the wholemeal versions.

is pesto healthy?

Are all pesto jars the same?

Definitely not, if you are asking the question is pesto healthy? The first thing we would advise you to do is check all the pesto types in the supermarket, the variety is vast.  The majority contain the key ingredients vegetable oil, basil, cheese, pine nuts but in addition, manufacturers can add salt, sugar, preservatives and extra herbs and spices.  Unfortunately adding salt and sugar to pesto can turn it into an unhealthy option from the traditionally healthy sauce it once was.  Carry on reading to find out which pesto we recommend from Australian supermarkets and the least healthy option.

The benefits of Pesto

OK let’s explore some of the nutritional benefits from pesto and answer the question ‘is pesto healthy’ in more detail:

  • Pesto is made out of olive oil, which research has shown to beneficial in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (1).  The antioxidant risk oil is also good for reducing oxidative damage of LDL cholesterol in our blood, helping to reduce the risk factor of atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.
  • Basil is a main ingredients in pesto, which contains oils that are antiviral and anti-fungal, it also contains modest amounts of calcium and non-haem iron.  Basil also contains phytochemical which are known to be good at reducing inflammation.
  • Pesto also contains Parmesan cheese, which is high in protein and calcium.  One ounce of cheese can contains 35% of a persons recommended daily intake of calcium, which is good for bone health especially as we get older (2).

So in answer to the question is pesto healthy?  YES – the traditional version carries some great benefit with it.

is pesto healthy?

Is Pesto Healthy? – Supermarket Comparison


The two pestos we are comparing we believe are one of the best and one of the worst pesto’s to buy, there is also a significant difference in the price between these two jars.  In this case you do get what you pay for you in pesto, Aldi’s version is $1.79 per jar, Jamie Oliver’s pesto from Woolworths is between $5-6 per jar.

Below we have compared the nutrition content of each jar per 100g:

  1. Protein: Jamie Oliver’s = 4.9g | ALDI’s version = 3.9g
  2. Fat content: Jamie Oliver’s = 43g | ALDI’s = 41g
  3. Sugar: Jamie Oliver’s= 1.9g | ALDI’s= 2mg
  4. Sodium: Jamie Oliver’s = 510mg | ALDI’s= 1180mg
  5. Extra benefits – Jamie Oliver’s version contains no preservatives.  ALDI’s has preservatives and stabilizers and a list of other additives.

Recipe Idea

Pesto Pasta Chicken.  This recipe is full of flavour and veggies and of course we use the Jaime Oliver Pesto in this recipe.

The recipe can be found here 🙂

Is Pesto Healthy? Posted by Luke Daley, Registered Nutritionist, Msc, BSc (Hons)
Director and Founder of Daley Nutrition

A little about us….

Daley Nutrition is a community nutrition team based in Melbourne Victoria, we run a range of nutrition based programs such as workplace health programs and cooking demonstrations in Australia to raise people’s awareness of what they are eating and empower them to change certain eating habits.

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