Is pesto keto? Pesto sauce is a keto friendly condiment, as it is naturally low in carbs. In this twist on traditional pesto recipes, fresh sage leaves and toasted pecans are combined to make the best keto pesto sauce around! You'll love having this low carb pesto on hand, ready to use on veggies, fish, and meats!
As most of my friends in the nutrition sphere know, it's kind of silly to refer to pesto as "keto pesto." Pesto is pretty much always a keto friendly food. It's kind of like calling apples "vegan apples." Haha
That said, I still get lots of questions about whether pesto is keto and which nuts are keto friendly. Many people still don't have a firm grasp on where carbs may be coming from.
As a result, I sometimes see people on very low carb diets getting overly restrictive. Some rely heavily on cheese and bacon simply because they are unsure which foods are good for keto. It always brings me joy to help people bring more variety to their plate in a way that fits their food preferences.
Many of the most popular condiments in the American diet (think BBQ sauce, ketchup, and many salad dressings) contain sugar. Pesto is different because it does not typically contain any added sugars at all. As a result, pesto is one of my top picks for keto condiments.
I was blessed with an abundance of pineapple sage from my garden this year, so this is a pineapple sage pesto recipe. You're welcome to use regular grocery store sage or another favorite green in this recipe instead. As I'll talk about more below, this pesto will remain low in carbs regardless of the leafy greens and herbs you use.
- What are the benefits of making Keto Pesto?
- Keto Pesto Ingredients
- How to Make Keto Pesto Sauce
- How to Store Pesto Sauce
- Expert Tips from a Dietitian
- What are some keto recipes using pesto?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- More Very Low Carb Recipe Ideas That You May Enjoy
- And now for the disclaimer…
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
What are the benefits of making Keto Pesto?
Why make keto pesto? Here are some of my top reasons:
- Helps prevent food waste: Pesto is the perfect way to use up greens that often get thrown away. Have some carrot tops or radish greens hanging around? Buy too many fresh herbs this week? Make them into pesto!
- Naturally gluten free food: I don't need to tell you how to modify this low carb pesto to make it gluten free since it is a naturally gluten-free food. Pesto is often served with pasta. As long as you use gluten free pasta, you'll be all set with a celiac friendly meal.
- A tasty way to get some more greens in your diet: There is a lot of controversy in the world of nutrition. However, almost everyone agrees that leafy greens are a healthful food to include in the diet. Most of us don't get enough green leafy vegetables in our diets; use pesto to increase your intake!
- Your new secret ingredient for salvaging meals: Revive your leftover dried out chicken or overly dry roasted veggies by stirring in some pesto! You'll be amazed at how well pesto can cover up certain culinary indiscretions. (I promise, I won't tell!)
Keto Pesto Ingredients
Let's take a look at what you need to make fresh low carb pesto sauce, shall we? Here's the round-up of ingredients:
- Fresh sage leaves (chopped)
- Garlic cloves
- Pecan halves or pieces
- Extra virgin olive oil (also known as EVOO)
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper
But what equipment is needed to make this low carb pesto? I find my large-capacity food processor to be a handy tool to whip up pesto fast. To store pesto without freezer burn, I recommend using ice cube trays and a vacuum sealer.
How to Make Keto Pesto Sauce
Making pesto is very simple! When you use bitter greens to make pesto (think carrot leaves and radish greens), I recommend blanching your greens first. With this sage pesto or a classic basil pesto, you can skip the blanching step.
If the pecans you have are raw, I recommend toasting them for 2-3 minutes in a dry skillet over medium heat. This will add an additional layer of flavor to your keto pesto. I'm all about squeezing every little last bit of delicious out of my food!
Rinse your sage leaves in cool water and dry them in a salad spinner. Then give them a rough chop and throw them in your food processor. Add the pecans, minced garlic cloves, Parmesan cheese, salt, and black pepper.
Next, drizzle everything in the food processor with the olive oil. Blend your low carb pesto until it reaches the desired texture. You don't want a completely smooth paste; I think a little grit is best for pesto.
Are the ingredients for pesto are sticking to the sides of your food processor? Stop the processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Then put the lid back on and continue blending.
You may need to stop the processor and scrape the sides a few times before you're done. Sometimes my pesto ingredients seem a bit stickier than others.
After blending, you can use your finished pesto in recipes or store it according to my directions in the next section. That wasn't too hard, was it?
How to Store Pesto Sauce
Unless you have a huge family, this recipe likely makes far too much pesto for a single meal. So, what is the best way to store pesto?
I like to take my leftover pesto and freeze it in an ice cube tray. A regular-sized tray for ice cubes (with 2-tablespoon compartments) works perfectly. Each cube is equivalent to one serving.
After the pesto cubes are frozen, I use a vacuum sealer for packaging the cubes. Then I simply pop them back in the freezer until I am ready to use them. The vacuum sealing step helps to prevent my pesto from getting freezer burned.
When I want to add some pesto to a meal, I take the number of servings I need out of a vacuum sealed bag. (If there are still cubes left in the bag, I simply reseal it and stick it back in the freezer.) To defrost pesto, either leave it in the fridge overnight or use the microwave. Easy!
Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 3 recipe (weight maintenance and active lifestyles). Is pesto good for weight loss? Something to understand about pesto is that it is essentially an added fat, and the portion size is SMALL. This recipe makes approximately seven 2-tablespoon servings of pesto. Each small serving will add over 200 calories to your meal.
Even if you follow a keto diet for weight loss and aren't explicitly counting calories, you still need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. I tend to think of pesto as a heart healthy way to pack more energy (i.e., calories) into meals. With energy dense ingredients like olive oil (120 calories per tablespoon) and nuts (150-200 calories per tablespoon), pesto is a high calorie food.
That said, it is possible to use pesto in low calorie, high protein meals that may help support weight loss. Skipping the pasta and making a keto friendly meal with your pesto may be one option. Try serving the pesto over a lean animal based protein (such as chicken or fish), with non-starchy vegetables on the side.
It may initially seem counterintuitive that a diet pattern that is permissive with bacon and cheeses can support weight loss. However, well-balanced very low carb meals are often accidentally lower in calories and higher in satiating protein. Not having to constantly use willpower to fight hunger pangs may make losing weight feel fairly effortless.
What are some keto recipes using pesto?
One of the most common ways to use pesto is to stir it into pasta dishes. However, if you think outside the box, there are actually lots of keto friendly ways to use pesto sauce. If you've only used pesto as a pasta topper in the past, you are missing out on some tasty possibilities!
I used my keto pesto to top a nice salmon filet in the photos. It’s also a super way to flavor keto meal prep recipes. Here are some other keto friendly ways to use pesto:
- Caprese Chicken Recipe – So Easy!
- Breakfast Frittata for One
- Use it to top Air Fryer Tilapia
- It's also super on Air Fryer Spaghetti Squash
- Stir it into your favorite cooked veggies, like these Air Fryer Frozen Vegetables
- Make the pesto vinaigrette from my Wildflower Bread Chopped Salad recipe, and use it to top your favorite keto salad
If you wanted a keto pesto pasta dish, try this savory condiment over zucchini noodles. Keto pesto zoodles are SO delicious!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many carbs in pesto?
There will be some variation on the carbs in pesto sauce, depending on the recipe. This keto pesto provides a mere 0.5 grams net carbohydrates per serving. It counts as “keto food,” for sure.
Is store bought pesto keto friendly?
Yes, most store bought pestos are compatible with the keto diet. If you want to save time, you can pick up some pesto at Costco or your favorite store instead of making your own.
That said, homemade pesto generally has lower sodium and fewer additives than store bought varieties. If you have cooking oil preferences, homemade pesto can be made with your oil of choice (e.g., olive oil instead of canola oil or other seed oils).
What are some other greens to use in pesto that are keto diet friendly?
Just about any green you wish to use will make a terrific low carb pesto, so don't be afraid to get creative! Here are a few more ideas for keto pesto greens:
- Basil (choose this if you're making a classic pesto recipe)
- You could also make keto pesto with spinach
- For peppery pesto, try arugula
- Beet greens
- Try my Carrot Leaves Recipe for pesto that uses carrot tops
- Radish tops (this is a great way to use the greens from radishes that have bolted in the garden)
- Parsley (though I prefer to use parsley in Chimichurri or tabouli)
- Fennel fronds
These are all options for making green pesto. You could also experiment with red pesto recipes using sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers as a base. I've also seen black pesto using olives. YUM!
What are some other seeds or nuts to use in keto pesto?
Pretty much any nut or seed could be used in keto pesto. Use your favorite nuts and seeds, or use what you happen to have on hand! I made a low carb pesto with pecans here, but there are so many other options to explore:
- Pine nuts (for a classic low carb pesto)
- Keto pesto with walnuts
- Pistachio pesto
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds (makes a great nut free pesto!)
- Pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
How do you make vegan pesto?
To make this pesto dairy free, you will need to either skip the Parmesan cheese or swap it out for a vegan alternative. UPrise foods has a nutritional yeast-based Parmesan alternative that may work in this recipe.
If you have lactose intolerance, aged, hard cheeses like Parmesan have very little lactose. You may find that you can enjoy this recipe comfortably without any modifications.
More Very Low Carb Recipe Ideas That You May Enjoy
If you enjoyed this recipe for keto pesto, here are some other very low carb recipes that you may like:
- Cloud Bread with Greek Yogurt
- Cauliflower Hash Brown Egg Cups with Cheese
- Keto Trail Mix
- Keto Parmesan Crisps
- Chorizo Recipe (Fresh, Homemade Mexican Chorizo Sausage!)
And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
"Keto" recipes on the web may not be appropriate for those using ketogenic diets as part of their medical nutrition therapy. That includes this recipe.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let's get cooking!
Keto Pesto Sauce Recipe | Low Carb Pesto
- 2 cups fresh sage leaves, chopped (loosely packed; I used pineapple sage but regular grocery store sage leaves work too!)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup pecans, toasted
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- If your pecans are untoasted, I highly recommend toasting them for 2-3 minutes in a dry, heated skillet (medium heat). The toasting will add an additional layer of flavor to your pesto.
- Rinse your sage leaves and dry them (a salad spinner is great for this). Give the sage a rough chop and put it in a large food processor.
- Add the pecans, minced garlic cloves, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and black pepper to the food processor. Drizzle with the olive oil last.
- Blend your pesto until it reaches the desired texture. You may need to stop the processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula if ingredients are sticking to the sides. Enjoy your homemade keto pesto!
- To store leftover pesto: Freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray. Then pop the frozen pesto cubes in vacuum sealer bags and vacuum seal them. Leave your pesto in the freezer until you are ready to use it. (The vacuum sealing step will help you to prevent freezer burn.)