Is Pesto Keto?

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Pesto is one of the most popular sauces. With its grassy and nutty flavor, this sauce pairs well with many foods. But should you give up on your favorite Italian sauce if you are on keto?

Is pesto keto? Traditional pesto made with pine nuts, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil is keto-friendly. A 2-tablespoon serving of this sauce contains around 2 grams of net carbs. You can easily incorporate pesto in your keto meals.

In this article, we explain why pesto is keto and if all pesto varieties can fit into a keto diet. Continue reading for a keto pesto recipe with pecans as well as keto-friendly meal ideas with this delicious green sauce. 

What Is Pesto?

Pesto is a bright green sauce that originated in the region of Genoa, Italy, hence the name pesto alla Genovese. 

The main ingredients of this popular sauce are pine nuts, garlic, basil leaves, parmesan, and olive oil. The traditional way of making this sauce is crushing all the ingredients using mortar and pestle. 

First, garlic and nuts are crushed to reach a consistency of a paste. Then you add the basil, salt, and cheese.

Olive oil that is added at the end of the preparation process helps the ingredients mix well together and make the consistency creamier. 

The overall flavor of pesto sauce is garlicky and grassy, with the richness of pine nuts and the saltiness of the cheese

Pesto is most commonly used in pasta dishes. But if you love the flavor of this sauce, you can pair it with pretty much anything.

From pizza to breakfast eggs, and from salads to roasted meat and veggies, you can use this sauce to top any food of your choice. 

You can also use pesto as an ingredient for dips as well as a marinade for chicken or fish.

Is Pesto Keto Friendly?

Keto, which stands short for a ketogenic diet, is a highly restrictive low-carb diet that has gained popularity in recent years. Keto implies eating high-fat meals

According to this diet, when the carbs are replaced with fats, the body goes into a state of ketosis.

The latter is a metabolic state during which the body burns fat to gain energy. Aside from weight loss benefits, eating keto also lowers blood sugar and insulin levels.

Common foods you will come across in a keto meal plan are low-carb vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry, avocado, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc. 

So, is traditional pesto keto-friendly? 

Yes, pesto is keto-friendly. All the ingredients used to make this sauce qualify for keto.  Basil and garlic are keto-friendly as they are very low in carbs

Parmesan is also a keto-approved ingredient. It is one of the cheeses that you can eat while on keto. Another firm cheese variety popularly used to make pesto is pecorino. Pecorino is a keto-friendly cheese too.

As for olive oil, it is a staple ingredient in keto as it contains zero carbs and a high amount of healthy monounsaturated fats. 

And what about pine nuts? Pine nuts can also be a part of a keto meal. They are low in carbs and high-fat. An ounce of pine nuts (28 grams) contains 3 grams of net carbs. 

How Many Carbs Are in Pesto?

A 2-tablespoon serving of traditional pesto sauce contains around 2 grams of net carbs or less.

The carb content of pesto may slightly vary depending on the amount of each ingredient used to make the sauce. And still, traditional pesto is keto-friendly. 

Considering that the number of carbs you can eat while on keto may range from 20-50 grams a day, eating a serving of pesto in your chicken sandwich is totally acceptable. 

Is Store-Bought Pesto Keto?

While making pesto is quite easy if you have a food processor or a powerful blender at home, buying a jar of pre-made pesto sauce is easy. 

Store-bought pesto sauces are generally keto-friendly. However, we recommend you check the nutrition label to make sure the number of carbs per serving is not higher than 3 grams

If the carb content of the store-bought pesto is higher than 2-3 grams, check the recommended serving size by the brand as it may be more than 2 tablespoons. 

If this is the case, reduce it to two tablespoons to count how many calories a serving of pesto contains and if you can incorporate it into your keto meals. 

Is Every Kind Of Pesto Keto?

Pesto is a well-loved sauce. It has been around for centuries and it’s not surprising that now there are various pesto variations. 

Nearly all pesto varieties that are close to the traditional pesto recipe are keto-friendly. This is because most nuts and seeds are keto-friendly. 

But there are pesto recipes that greatly differ from the original pine nut and basil-based sauce. For example, there is a Mexican-inspired pesto variety with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and cilantro.

You can definitely eat it while you are on keto as both pumpkin seeds and cilantro are keto-friendly. 

Pesto made with arugula is keto-friendly too as a cup of this healthy green contains only 0.4 grams of net carbs

A non-traditional pesto variation that will make a great addition to your keto diet is avocado pesto. As avocados are a good source of healthy fats and contain little carbs, they are a staple in keto dishes. 

Pesto varieties you may need to avoid on keto are the ones made with sun-dried tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes contain around 24 grams of net carbs per cup which is even more than the carb content in the same amount of raw tomatoes. 

Pesto Calabrese, which is a pesto variety made with red bell peppers, tomatoes (fresh or dried), and ricotta cheese, may not be the best pesto choice for you if you are on keto.

As mentioned above, sun-dried tomatoes are not the most keto-friendly ingredient and so is ricotta cheese. 

In any case, if you have eaten a serving of pesto without being sure whether it was low-carb or not, put yourself at ease as a small amount of any pesto variety couldn’t push you over your daily carb limit.

Even if that is the case, you can always limit the carb intake for your next meals. 

Keto-Friendly Pesto Recipe

As mentioned earlier, nuts and seeds are generally keto-friendly. And while traditional pesto sauce is fine to eat when you are on keto, you can use other nuts too to make pesto just to change things up. 

Nuts that are keto-friendly and work well for pesto include almonds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, walnuts, and pecans. You can also use pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds to make keto-friendly pesto sauce

You can make traditional pesto with pine nuts and enjoy it with your keto meals. But this pesto recipe we recommend you make is with pecans.

Pecans are some of the most low-carb nuts, with an ounce of these nuts containing only 1 gram of net carbs

Pecans in pesto yield a slightly different nutty flavor. The flavor of pecans is more robust compared to pine nuts. These nuts are also sweeter and creamier than pine nuts. 

Here’s what you will need for this keto pesto sauce with pecans. 

  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 50 g shredded parmesan 
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Here’s how to make keto pesto with pecans:

  1. Start with toasting the pecans and let them cool.
  2. Add the nuts, basil leaves, garlic, and shredded parmesan into your food processor or a blender and process until you reach a half-chunky half-smooth consistency. You can also use a mortar and pestle to reduce the ingredients into a paste.
  3. Once blended, add the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to achieve the perfect pesto consistency. Avocado oil is another great option for keto pesto sauces.
  4. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. 
  5. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for around 5 days. 

Keto Meal Ideas With Pesto 

If you love pesto, you will eat it with just about any keto-friendly food as pesto is a very versatile sauce. But in case you need some keto meal ideas with pesto, here are a few.

  • Baked pesto chicken. This is an easy keto dinner idea the entire family will enjoy even if they are not on keto. Simply spread a tablespoon of pesto on each chicken breast, top with a thin layer of shredded mozzarella, and bake in the oven. 
  • Zucchini noodles with pesto. The vegetable options for keto are limited. But you can still have fun with your recipes if you pick the right veggies. Zucchinis are perfectly keto-friendly. A medium-sized zucchini contains only 3 grams of net carbs. Make some zucchini noodles of your desired shape and serve with a tablespoon of pesto for a delicious and low-carb meal. 
  • Green salad with pesto. Get a handful of spring mix, add in soma avocado, chickpeas, and top everything with lemon juice and your favorite vegan pesto. 

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