Carbs and Calories in Pesto: Is Pesto Sauce Keto Friendly?


Although pesto is a sauce for pasta, it is also delicious on meat, fish, chicken, and even on vegetables.  The good news is:  Pesto is low in carbs and Keto friendly! 

is pesto sauce keto

The sky’s the limit… You can spoon a little pesto on top of just about anything. 

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Spread pesto onto grilled salmon or balsamic chicken or toss your veggies in pesto before roasting… and Pesto Change-o!  You’ll transform almost any food into a gourmet, flavor-packed dish.

Is Pesto Sauce Keto-Friendly?

Pesto lovers can rest assured that this is a low carb sauce, as long as you don’t eat it with mountains of high carb pasta.  There are some great low carb pasta options on the market for Keto dieters and other pasta alternatives for low carb diets.  I’ll mention these later in this article. 

So keep reading to discover all the great ways you can enjoy your favorite pesto on a low carb lifestyle.

How Many Carbs are in Pesto Sauce?

Fresh:  There are only 0.75 grams of carbs in a tablespoon of pesto sauce.  There are 3 grams of carbs in a ¼ cup of pesto sauce.

Dried:  There are only 0.3 grams of carbs in a tablespoon of dried pesto sauce mix.  This number does not increase once you add olive oil, as olive oil doesn’t contain any carbs.

How Many Calories are in Pesto Sauce?

Fresh:  There are 80 calories per tablespoon of fresh pesto sauce.

Dried:  There are only 2 calories per tablespoon of dried pesto mix.  This is before you add the olive oil.  Each tablespoon of oil you add to mix the pesto adds 119 calories.  If you were to mix 1 tablespoon of dried pesto mix with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the prepared pesto would total 121 calories, most of which come from healthy (unsaturated) fat.

Because pesto contains calorie dense ingredients like pine nuts, olive oil and Romano or Parmesan cheeses, calories can tally up quickly. A 1/4-cup serving provides about 270 calories.  If you’re following a calorie reduction diet plan, it might be best for you to stick to a 1 tablespoon serving of pesto per meal.  There are 80 calories in each tablespoon of pesto sauce.

Origin

Pesto is a sauce that originated in the northern region of Italy in Genoa in the 16th century.  The sauce traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

The name Pesto translates from the Genoese word pestâ, which means to pound or crush. This authentic sauce is ground with a mortar and pestle to crush and release the full aroma of the basil leaf.

There are many variations of Pesto, although most people are familiar with green pesto that uses basil as the main ingredient.  There are other variations that are red in color reflecting the addition of sun dried tomatoes and/or red pepper.

Uses

Pesto makes a great condiment for those following a low carb diet.  Although most people are familiar with its use on pasta, pesto is great on other foods as well.  The possibilities are practically limitless…

Try using pesto in any of the following ways:

  • To top veggie noodles
  • Use it as a spread or a dip
  • Use it as a Salad dressing
  • Brush it on steak
  • Brush it on poultry or fish
  • Mix it into egg omelette
  • Toss it over roasted veggies
pesto calories

Ingredients

Pesto is made from flavorful ingredients like basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheeses and pine nuts.  Since all of these ingredients have health benefits, pesto can be a part of a healthy diet.

Ingredients like olive oil and pine nuts are higher in calories, because they contain more fat.  However, the fat in pesto is mostly unsaturated and supports heart health.

Nutrition Facts

Based on a Serving Size of 2 Tablespoons
Calories 130   % Daily Value
Total Fat 28 grams
Saturated fat 5 grams
Sodium 75 milligrams 4%
Carbohydrates 2 grams
Fiber 0 grams 0%
Protein 2 grams
Vitamin A 54 milligrams 6%
Vitamin C 3.6 milligrams 6%
Calcium 40 milligrams 4%
Iron 0.2 milligrams 3%

Health Benefits 

Pesto is a great way to pack extra nutrition into any meal.  Made with healthy ingredients, pesto provides the body with antioxidants like vitamins A and c.  Plus the olive oil and pine nuts offer a good dose of heart friendly mono and polyunsaturated fats.

This aromatic sauce offers a punch of robust flavor with just one or two spoonfuls.  

Let’s take a look at the individual health benefits that each ingredient offers:

  • Basil—The phytochemical nutrients in basil act like antioxidants by ridding the body of free radicals that damage healthy cells, preventing diseases like cancer.
  • Olive Oil—A heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat that helps lower blood cholesterol and keeps blood sugar levels stable. Monounsaturated fats also aid in blood coagulation, which is important for wound healing.
  • Garlic—Garlic protects your heart, stabilizes blood pressure and helps prevent hardening of the arteries
  • Parmesan cheese—This variety of cheese is easily digested by most and a good source of calcium. Parmesan cheese also contains a bit of vitamin D, which is known to enhance absorption of certain nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc by the intestines.
  • Pine nuts—Nuts, including pine nuts, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Pine nuts are nutrient-dense with healthy fats, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.  They contain vitamins and minerals, powerful plant sterols, and the amino acid arginine.
carbs in pesto sauce

Side Effects

Most pesto sauces that are available in supermarkets have sodium levels that can be quite high.  In fact, a few of these pesto products contain even more salt than seawater!

The maximum recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6 grams, 5 grams for adolescents and no more than 3 grams for young children.  Side effects of consuming too much salt include frequent urination, persistent thirst, swelling, headaches, and raised blood pressure.

With that being said, the added salt might be beneficial to those following a low carb diet because salt can help prevent dehydrating effects of a Ketogenic diet. When you’re on a Ketogenic diet that eliminates processed foods that contain high levels of sodium, you can deplete your body’s fluids.  You need sodium to thrive.  Supplementing a Keto diet with salt is often recommended to help the body absorb water, restore electrolytes, and prevent the dreaded “Keto flu”. 

However, you should not go overboard with pesto, as you will likely be consuming sodium in your other meals as well.  One tablespoon is plenty to flavor most dishes.  Since pesto is packed with flavor, a little goes a long way. 

You may wish to purchase a lower sodium brand at the supermarket. Make sure to read the ingredient label and find a brand that contains less than 1 gram of sodium per 100 grams. Another option for a lower sodium pesto is to ground your own homemade pesto with fresh herbs, so that you’re better able to control the amount of added salt.  You should also keep in mind that cheeses like parmesan and Romano contain a fair amount of sodium as well.

Related Questions:

Can I have Pasta with Pesto Sauce on the Keto Diet? 

Have you tried Shirtaki noodles?  They’re a delicious low carb pasta made from Tofu.   Four ounces of Tofu Shirataki Spaghetti contains 10 calories and only 3 grams of carbs.  Toss your Shirtaki noodles in 1 tablespoon of pesto, and you have a delicious pasta dish that clocks in below 4 grams of carbs! 

Or try adding pesto to the following pasta alternatives:

  • Spaghetti squash
  • Spiralized vegetables, like zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) or cabbage noodles
  • Eggplant Parmesan
  • Cauliflower couscous/cauliflower rice.

Melissa Marshall

A litigation paralegal and writer. Her first novel debuts this fall. She lives with her kitten, Zoey overlooking the waterfront in beautiful Dartmouth, Nova Scotia - also known as the “City of Lakes”.

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