Is Pesto Bad For You?
We totally get why pesto has a reputation for being bad for you. After all, any foodstuff containing high quantities of oil, nuts and cheese can never hope to be found in the health-food aisle.
However, despite its reputation, nutritionists agree that if consumed in moderation, the benefits of pesto far outweigh the risks.
Let's break this down one-by-one.
Most pestos are around 25-30% fat. That's enough for it to be slapped with a "red" warning symbol on the Food Standards Agency's traffic light system. On that basis, it's not recommended for anyone trying to lose weight or following a low-fat diet.
However, we all know that there are good fats and bad fats - and luckily pesto falls into the “good fat” bracket. Healthy diets should contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat which is proven to improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. The oils you find in pesto do exactly that.
Most pestos have in the region of 250-300 calories per 100g, so a recommended portion size of 40g will contain around 100 calories. To put it in context, that's the same as a slice of bread.
Nuts form a crucial part of all pesto sauces, and despite being high-fat and high-calorie, they are considered to be one of the world's greatest superfoods, packed full of fibre, nutrients and heart-healthy fats.
Governments love to hate salt. The vast majority of pestos are around 0.5% salt. That's enough to give it an amber warning on the food traffic light system, but that's a far cry from snacks like Pringles which contain almost five times that amount.
The sauces you find in the non-fresh supermarket aisle have to be slightly acidic in order for their shelf-life to be so long, so you won't normally find manufacturers adding sugar. Some pestos that contain fruit or vegetables - sun-dried tomatoes for example - are the most common source of sugar, but bear in mind that those natural sugars are far better than that refined white stuff you put in your tea.
If you're looking for good levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, almost all pestos boast that. Some supermarket pestos can be anything up to 50% basil which most would regard as a pretty smart way to sneak some greens into kids' diets.
If pesto forms part of a diverse diet with plenty of vegetables, fibre and moderate levels of protein and dairy, there's absolutely no need to worry about it being bad for you. It's packed full of nutrients and healthy fats which are needed in a well-balanced diet.
Yes, pesto is higher in calories than other tomato-based sauces, but if you're sticking to our recommended 40g serving, you're consuming no more calories than a hard boiled egg - and we're certainly not going to lose any sleep over that.