While it’s always been big in Italy, pesto is one of those condiments that seems to be taking off around the world, especially as more pizza chains offer it in lieu of traditional sauce. If you haven’t had pesto before, it’s a sauce from Liguria, Italy that consists of basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. The end result is a green mixture that smells and tastes delicious.
The pesto sauce itself is typically used on top of other foods such as pizza, pasta and more, though you can eat a spoonful if you’d like to get some quick nutrition. The ingredients themselves are healthy when standing alone, but how do they interact when it comes to helping your body? Let’s take a closer look at the nutrition you get from a finished basil sauce (store brand in this case) and the health benefits that you can get from eating pesto in your diet.
Nutrition of Pesto
Pesto isn’t going to be the most low calorie food that you’ll eat or see on our site, but it does offer up quite a bit of nutrition. Your typical half cup serving of pesto contains about 230 calories, though people usually tend to eat just a quarter of a cup. There are plenty of healthier fats in pesto, making up many of the calories. As for the vitamins, vitamin K is the big one here at about two-thirds of your daily recommendation.
There are other important nutrients, as well, as you’ll be getting more than 15 percent of your daily recommendation for vitamin A and vitamin C. Two big minerals come into play, delivering more than 20 percent of your recommended calcium and about 20 percent of your needed iron intake. Vitamin E has a big part in pesto, too, with the standard serving size delivering 40 percent of your daily recommendation. Pesto is very low in sugar, while bringing fiber and a lack of cholesterol.
We pointed out how the biggest nutrient you’ll find in each serving of pesto is vitamin K. This vitamin is absolutely essential for your bone health, with many studies backing this claim up. It’s been found that vitamin K improves bone health by increasing the bones’ density, and was linked to a reduction in bone fractures and a prevention of arthritis. Vitamin K also helps your body to balance calcium, which can also be found in pesto.
Since the new millennium has started, doctors have been recommending that people get more vitamin K in their diets. Before, it was suggested that you only needed 90mcg, but that number has been increased to 120mcg. Thankfully, pesto has about half of what you need in each serving, ensuring that your bones will be healthy for years to come, preventing problems such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
While pesto isn’t the most vitamin C packed food (the vitamin that we first think of when it comes to our immune systems), it does have many benefits to ensure you don’t get many different diseases. Pesto contains a wide range of antioxidants thanks to ingredients such as basil and garlic; including vicenin and orientin. These antioxidants can help protect your cells’ DNA against free radicals that attack the body.
While the vitamins in pesto help to give your body a boost against smaller infections and illnesses, stopping free radicals in their tracks prevents deadly ones. Cancer is caused by free radicals attacking your cells, and can even lead to other chronic illnesses. Flavonoids are very potent at getting rid of free radicals, though most people aren’t sure whether they are getting enough of them or not.
There’s a good chance that you have heard of people taking garlic supplements to help with their heart health. Since garlic is one of the main ingredients of pesto, you’ll be doing your heart a favor. Garlic has been shown to help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol in just a matter of weeks while also soothing your arteries and lowering your overall blood pressure. Many of the unsaturated fats within pesto also provide a boost.
Another key component of pesto is basil, another food that provides you with increased heart health. Vitamin A and magnesium are big parts of basil, which combined can stop cholesterol in your blood from oxidizing and causing clogged arteries. Overall, you’re reducing your chances of heart disease, heart attack and stroke drastically by eating a bit of pesto each week.
If you want your skin to look its best, you’re going to need a lot of vitamin A and vitamin C in your diet. Thankfully, pesto is a good source for both of these vitamins that can help you look younger and prevent early signs of aging. Vitamin C allows your body to produce more collagen, giving your skin a youthful look due to more elasticity. Vitamin A gives you a more natural glow and gets rid of toxins.
Combined, these two will fight of free radicals, that can cause wrinkles, bags under the eyes and other aging signs. Your hair even gets a nice boost when eating pesto, as your scalp will also clear out and give way to fuller and thicker hair. There’s a reason why basil has been used more frequently these days in soaps and creams.
One other nutrient that we haven’t quite touched on much is iron, and it’s one of the most abundant nutrients found within pesto. Iron helps your body to metabolize proteins, and is needed by both young and old. If you feel fatigued during the day, you might be suffering from anemia due to a lack of iron. Taking supplements and eating more iron-rich foods such as pesto will help you feel more energized throughout the day, whether you have chronic anemia or not.
Summing it Up
Like most foods that bring health benefits, there are always things that you have to look out for, and one of those is moderation. The high amount of calories in pesto can sneak up on you pretty quickly, so you don’t want to eat more than a small amount each week as it could lead to fast weight gain. One other thing that you’ll want to monitor is your pine nut intake, as they are a major ingredient within pesto.
People have experienced a side effect known as “pine mouth” after eating these nuts (or foods that contain them). It can leave a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth for a brief period of time, but typically no longer than two days. Pine mouth isn’t all that common, however, especially if you’re getting pine nuts from a reputable source. Outside of those two minor details, there isn’t much you have to worry about at all when it comes to pesto, so feel free to swap it in place of other sauces in your diet!