Traditional pesto is an Italian sauce made with fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. It is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle but most people use a food processor or blender now for convenience.
Other than the Parmesan cheese, all those ingredients are pretty healthy on their own. However, there is a lot of oil in traditional pesto. Although olive oil is a healthy fat, if you are trying to lose weight or watch calories, those extra calories can be a problem. Whether you make it the traditional way or use our skinny pesto recipe, here are some of the specific health benefits of pesto:
- Fresh basil is a powerhouse when it comes to antioxidants and is also known to be anti-inflammatory and has natural anti-bacterial (or infection-fighting) properties. A recent study also showed that it may help reduce stress and have natural adaptogens.
- Garlic has long been known as a medicinal food and has been used for centuries to treat infection and illness. In addition to its ability to help fight infections, it also has been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, improve bone health, and lots of other benefits.
- Lemons are packed with Vitamin C, fiber, and contain many beneficial plant compounds. They have been shown to help with digestion and can also help detoxify the body.
- Olive oil ranks as one of the healthiest choices when it comes to cooking oils/fats. It is full of monounsaturated fats, that are shown to help reduce cholesterol and promote heart health. It is also full of antioxidants and has been shown to help fight against numerous diseases.
Pesto traditionally has about 120 calories and 12 grams of fat for every two tablespoons. This lightened up skinny pesto has just 60 calories and 6 grams of fat since it uses less olive oil and cheese.
Many people also like to switch out the nuts in pesto since pine nuts can be really expensive. You can use walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or cashews for different styles of pestos. You can also leave the nuts out entirely if you have a nut allergy.
CAN YOU MAKE HEALTHY PESTO SAUCE VEGAN AND DAIRY-FREE?
Yes, you can easily make the healthy pesto sauce vegan or dairy-free. The only ingredient you will need to swap out is the parmesan cheese. Use nutritional yeast instead, which has a nutty flavor that fits right in with the taste of the pesto.
Extra pine nuts can replace parmesan.