Can You Eat Pesto On The Atkins Diet?

A healthy, Atkins-friendly salad

Short answer
Most pesto sauces contain relatively small amounts of carbohydrates, some as low as 2%, and can therefore be eaten guilt-free on most carbohydrate-controlled diets, including the Atkins diet.

Long answer
As one of the most famous low-carbohydrate diets in the world, people often ask us if pesto is Atkins-friendly. Before we answer that question, here's a quick snapshot of the three Atkins diets:

Atkins 20®
This is what Atkins describes as the "induction phase," where dieters are allowed 20g of carbohydrates per day, 15g of which should come from low-carb "foundation vegetables" such as cucumber, spinach, and cauliflower.

Atkins 40®
This version of the diet is geared towards people who want to lose weight but also want a little more flexibility in their diet. This group is allowed 40g of carbohydrates a day, 15g of which should come from vegetables.

Atkins 100®
This is designed to appeal to people who either want to retain their existing weight or lose weight very gradually. It allows 100g of carbohydrates a day, 15g of which should come from vegetables.

Let's start by getting a broad understanding of the nutritional content of pesto by looking under the bonnet of one of the UK's bestselling sauces, Sacla's Classic Basil Pesto.

Nutritional information

Fat 33g
     of which saturates 5g
Carbohydrates 6.9g
     of which sugars 3.4g
Fibre 2.4g
Protein 4.4g
Salt 3.0g

Atkins dieters will be pleased to see that carbohydrates make up less than 7% of this particular pesto. That means if you follow our recommended serving size of 50g of pesto per person, you'll be consuming just 3.45g of carbohydrates, leaving you with 16.55g for the rest of the day.

Even better is that basil makes up 46% of the sauce, meaning that many of those carbs are coming from the "foundational vegetables" that the diet stipulates.

Things get significantly better than this, though. Shop around, and you'll be able to find pestos with far fewer carbohydrates than Sacla's. Casalinga's basil pesto, for example, contains just 1.8% carbohydrates, so you'll be consuming just 0.9g of carbohydrate per standard 50g serving. That gives you over 19g of carbohydrate left to play with for that day, even on the strictest Atkins 20® diet.

The table below shows the amount of carbohydrate in many of the most popular basil pestos in the UK.

Sauce Carbs
Casalinga Basil Pesto 1.8%
Garofalo Basil Pesto 2.1%
Filippo Berio Classic Pesto 3.5%
Ocado Green Pesto 4.0%
De Cecco Basil Pesto 4.0%
Mr. Organic Pesto 5.6%
Belazu Basil Pesto 6.6%
Sacla Classic Basil Pesto 6.9%
M&S Green Pesto 7.2%
Jamie Oliver Green Pesto 7.6%
Barilla Basil Pesto 9.8%
Daylesford Basil Pesto 12.2%

Where the carbohydrates are coming from
While every recipe is different, the chart below shows, in order of ingredient quantity, the carbohydrate content of the seven key ingredients contained in classic basil pesto. As you can see, the nuts, cheese, and garlic are responsible for providing most of the carbohydrates. That's useful to know, because if you choose to make pesto yourself, then you could cut back on these and save even more carbs.

Ingredient Carbs
Olive oil 0%
Basil 2.7%
Parmigiano Reggiano 4.1%
Pine nuts 13%
Pecorino Romano 3.5%
Garlic 18.6%
Salt 0%

Pasta, the elephant in the room
There can be no getting away from the fact that pesto is closely associated with pasta, and that's a problem because most dried pasta consists of around 70% carbs. For that reason, many dieters give both pasta and pesto a miss on the Atkins 20® diets and only choose to introduce them once they progress to the less strict 40® and 100® diets.

But what about low-carb pasta? Well, that is an option, and their quality has improved over the years, but if you read reviews of them, you'll find words like "rubbery," "cardboard," and "synthetic" crop up time and again.

We've tried dozens of low-carb pastas made from all manner of things, like cauliflower, chickpeas, and isolated soy protein (whatever that is). We didn't enjoy any of them.

Most low-carb pastas still contain around 6% carbohydrates, which is why some people go a step further and hunt down konjac noodles. This awful creation contains less than 1% carbohydrate, very few calories, and practically no nutrition. They clearly serve a purpose for people on a low-carb, keto-style diet, but not even closing your eyes, holding your nose, and uttering a mantra that you're having an enjoyable meal will make up for the fact that they are, quite simply, gross.