Is Pesto Bad For You?

Oil - one of the key ingredients in pesto

We understand why some people assume that pesto is bad for you. After all, any sauce that contains 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, pesto is healthy, and its benefits 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 for those 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, and, contrary to popular belief, it's not bad for cholesterol but can help to lower your risk of heart disease.

From our research, the number of calories in pesto varies from 184 kcal to 654 kcal per 100g. On average, though, shop-bought pestos contain 372 kcal per 100g, meaning that our recommended portion size of 50g will contain around 186 kcal. To put it in context, that's about the same as two slices of bread, so not too bad for you on the calorie front.

Nuts form a crucial part of all pesto sauces, and despite being high-fat and high-calorie, they are one of the world's greatest superfoods, packed full of fibre, nutrients, and heart-healthy fats.

The vast majority of pestos contain around 1% 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 must be slightly acidic 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 the 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 smart way to sneak some greens into kids' diets.

As long as it 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 pesto being bad for you. It's packed full of nutrients and healthy fats, which are needed in a well-balanced diet.

There are plenty of low-calorie, tomato-based sauces if you're watching your weight, but if you simply add 50g of pesto to one portion of pasta, you'll be consuming no more calories than two hard-boiled eggs, and we're certainly not going to lose sleep over that.