Low-Calorie Pesto With Pasta

Whole wheat pasta and low calorie pesto
Westend61/ Getty Images
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
146 Calories
7g Fat
18g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 146
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 6%
Cholesterol 2mg 1%
Sodium 145mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 18g 6%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 37mg 3%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 81mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Pesto is traditionally made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Although there is flexibility in the recipe—you can swap out the basil for a different fresh herb, or use walnuts instead of pine nuts—it is the nuts, cheese, and olive oil that add the most calories to the recipe.

There are different ways to cut down on the calories in Italian pesto. Make fresh basil the main ingredient. All the other pesto ingredient are secondary and with a few little tricks, you can use much less of them than many recipes call for. 

Nuts vary in their calorie content. Nuts with fewer calories than pine nuts are almonds, cashews, pistachios, and hazelnuts. Whichever nuts you are using, whether it’s pine nuts or others, make sure to toast them before adding them. This will give them a richer flavor and even a very small amount will be enough. 

You also don’t need a whole lot of olive oil to make pesto, just enough so that the blade of the food processor does not run dry, and to give the pesto a smooth consistency. 

Another way to cut down on calories is to either use less pasta or eliminate it completely. Although pesto and pasta are always mentioned in the same breath, pesto can be used in numerous other ways, including in a low-carb diet. Use pesto as a topping for grilled chicken or fish, in meatballs, or spooned over roasted vegetables. It can turn even rather bland vegetables such as steamed cauliflower into a flavorful dish. In sandwiches, you can use pesto as an alternative to mayonnaise.

To get a more consistent mince of the garlic, put the cloves in the food processor first and pulse a few times to begin the chopping process. 

This recipe makes a small amount of pesto, just enough for one meal. If you make a bigger batch of pesto, it is best to freeze it.


  • 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti

  • 1 large clove garlic

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed with stems removed

  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, preferably toasted

  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spaghetti, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.

  3. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, basil and pine nuts and process until finely minced. Add the cheese and process until well combined. Pour the oil slowly through the feed tube, watching until the desired consistency is achieved. Season with salt.

  4. Toss the pasta together with the pesto sauce and serve immediately.

  5. Enjoy.