Hey Pesto: What are the health benefits of homemade pesto compared to shop bought?

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Hey Pesto

Pesto is the ultimate standby sauce, it’s cheap and can easily transform any pasta dish, yet how healthy is that jar of shop bought pesto?

 
 
 

Research published has shown that commercially produced pesto sauces have exceedingly high salt content, and that’s not good for high blood pressure and anyone at risk of heart disease. A high level of salt intake increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, which may also contribute to osteoporosis and increased risk of fracture.

UK campaigning group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), found that salt levels in commercially produced pesto sauces are higher than the suggested limits.

The recommended dietary allowance of sodium for adults per day is 1.6 (4g salt). More than 90 per cent of the sodium in the diet is in the form of sodium chloride (salt); 1g of sodium is equivalent to 2.54g of salt. Confusing math, yet it tells us that we really need to check labels!

We say it’s always worth making your favourites from scratch as you can control the quantity of ingredients.

Here’s 5 reasons why homemade pesto is healthier than shop bought:

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Fresh is best

There is the argument that shop-bought pesto is cheaper than concocting your own. Yet, there really is no comparison to the fresh smell and lightness of taste when you make your own and honestly in the time it takes to boil the pasta you can whizz up perfectly pungent pesto.

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Potassium plus

The key to balance and moderation is to try to raise the levels of potassium compared to sodium in a dish – and using lots of fresh vegetables, high in potassium and minerals, will reduce the negative impact of salt in a dish by balancing out the sodium. So if you want to be sure to keep the salt levels low in pesto and other pasta dishes, make your own by using lots of fresh leafy greens such as kale, spinach, parsley and basil.

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The taste

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The taste and smell of the homemade pesto is incomparable to shop-bought. You’ll prefer the difference in taste, texture and aroma with homemade. Shop bought pesto can be quite calorie dense because of the pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan. However the fat in pesto is mostly unsaturated, which supports heart health. Homemade pesto is lighter, brighter, more delicious and all round healthier.

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Experiment

The possibilities for different combinations and substitutions is endless. Traditional pesto sauce, with its combination of olive oil, pine nuts, fresh basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese, is a healthy addition to any diet.

While it is rather high in calories and fat, pesto offers a wealth of nutrients and a punch of flavour that many other sauces lack. When enjoyed in moderation, pesto can enhance your health and nutrient intake. Be adventurous and try different ingredients; substitute walnuts, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, or cashews for the pine nuts, parsley, kale or mint for the basil, and Romano cheese for the Parmesan. If you are unable to eat dairy, leave the cheese out altogether.

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Versatile variations

Because pesto is so flavoursome, you may only need a tablespoon or less to add flavour to your meals. Stir 1 tbsp. of pesto into 1 cup of Greek yogurt to make a tangy dip for cut-up veggies. Stir a teaspoon of pesto into a bowl of soup to add colour and richness. Top grilled chicken or fish with a dab of pesto to add extra punch. Don’t think pesto is just limited to pasta, it’s great with wholegrain brown rice too.

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Try our pesto variations in our Hey Pesto recipes.

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