How much calories are in pesto Pasta?

Pesto pasta is a delicious and flavorful pasta dish made by tossing hot cooked pasta with pesto sauce. Pesto is a sauce originating from Italy made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. When mixed with pasta, it creates a simple yet tasty meal that is full of flavor. But for those watching their calorie intake, how many calories are actually in pesto pasta?

What Is Pesto?

Pesto is a sauce that originates from Genoa, Italy. The most traditional version is made by blending together fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese. This creates a bright green sauce with a fresh herbal flavor and richness from the nuts and cheese. Pesto can also be made using other herbs like parsley, arugula, or spinach. The classic pesto alla genovese contains:

  • Basil – This provides the base flavor and green color.
  • Garlic – Adds flavor and depth.
  • Pine nuts – Provides creaminess and texture.
  • Olive oil – Binds ingredients and adds fat and flavor.
  • Cheese like Parmesan – For saltiness, savoriness, and richness.

Pesto can be used in many dishes besides pasta. It is great as a spread on sandwiches or pizza, tossed with veggies or potatoes, or as a dip for bread. When mixed with hot pasta and a bit of pasta water, it creates a quick and easy pasta sauce.

Nutrition of Pesto

The nutrition of pesto depends on the specific ingredients and amounts used. In general, pesto is high in calories, fat, and sodium because its main ingredients are oil, nuts, and cheese. According to the USDA, a 2 tablespoon serving of pesto contains:

  • 179 calories
  • 18 grams fat
  • 2 grams protein
  • 1 gram carbohydrate
  • 267 milligrams sodium

Therefore, pesto is very high in fat and calories for the serving size. Most of the calories come from the olive oil. Nuts like pine nuts are also very high in fat and calories. Parmesan cheese adds sodium, fat, and protein. Garlic and basil provide minimal calories.

Nutrition of Pasta

Pasta is made from just wheat flour and water, so its nutrition depends on the type of flour used. Plain dry pasta contains:

  • 371 calories in one cup of penne or elbow pasta
  • 7 grams protein
  • 1 gram fat
  • 77 grams carbohydrates

Cooked pasta contains significantly fewer calories than dry because it absorbs water. One cup of cooked penne has:

  • 221 calories
  • 7 grams protein
  • 1 gram fat
  • 45 grams carbohydrate

Whole wheat pasta has a slightly different nutrition profile with more fiber, manganese, selenium, copper and magnesium compared to regular pasta. But both regular and whole wheat pasta are high in carbohydrates and relatively low in fat and protein.

Calories in Pesto Pasta

To determine how many calories are in pesto pasta, you have to consider the portion sizes of both the cooked pasta and the pesto. Here are some estimates:

  • 1 cup of cooked penne pasta: 221 calories
  • 2 tablespoons pesto: 179 calories
  • Total calories for 1 cup pasta + 2 tbsp pesto: 400 calories

This estimate is for a simple pesto pasta dish with no additions like vegetables, cheese, or meat. Adding any extras would increase the calorie count. So a generous portion of pasta with pesto can easily have 500-600 calories or more depending on the toppings.

The exact calorie count also depends on factors like:

  • Type of pasta – Whole wheat is slightly higher in calories than regular pasta.
  • Amount of pasta and pesto – More of both means more calories.
  • Type of oil and nuts in pesto – More healthy fats increases calories.
  • Herbs used – Basil has minimal calories, but spinach would have more.
  • Additions like cheese, meat, veggies.

For the simplest pesto pasta, you can make a good estimate using 1 cup cooked pasta + 2-3 tablespoons of pesto. This would yield around 400-500 calories for the entire dish.

Ways to Make Pesto Pasta Healthier

While pesto pasta is high in calories, fat, and sodium, there are ways to tweak the dish to make it a bit healthier:

  • Use whole wheat pasta – Has more fiber and nutrients than regular pasta.
  • Use less oil in pesto – Lower calorie olive or avocado oil still gives great flavor.
  • Add veggies like sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, or spinach.
  • Use less cheese or sub half with low-fat ricotta.
  • Boost nutrition with fresh herbs, lemon juice, or roasted garlic.
  • Go easy on high-sodium ingredients like cheese.
  • Use a light coating of pesto instead of a large dollop.
  • Top with lean protein like chicken breast or shrimp.

With some simple substitutions like using less cheese or oil, you can enjoy pesto pasta more often without feeling guilty!

Low Calorie Pesto Alternatives

You can make lower calorie substitutions for a healthier pesto pasta dish:

  • Low-fat pesto – Uses light olive oil or vegetable broth instead of some of the oil to cut calories and fat.
  • Kale pesto – Substitutes kale for the basil to add nutrients.
  • Broccoli pesto – Uses broccoli florets in place of basil.
  • Sun-dried tomato pesto – Replaces some or all of the basil with sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Edamame pesto – Uses shelled edamame and cashews instead of pine nuts.
  • Cilantro or parsley pesto – Replaces the basil with either cilantro or parsley.

Getting creative with pesto ingredients allows you to cut calories and fat while still getting lots of flavor. A veggie-based pesto is a smart substitution.

Tips for Weight Loss with Pesto Pasta

If you’re trying to lose weight, pesto pasta can absolutely still fit into a healthy diet with proper portion control. Here are some tips for enjoying pesto pasta on a weight loss diet:

  • Stick to 1 cup cooked pasta and 2 tbsp pesto per serving.
  • Use 3.5 oz lean protein like shrimp, chicken or salmon.
  • Load up on low-cal veggies like broccoli, peppers or tomatoes.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water with your meal.
  • Always sit down and eat slowly to prevent overeating.
  • Pair it with a side salad instead of bread or butter.
  • Walk or exercise after eating to burn extra calories.
  • Split a serving in half and save leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Enjoy pesto pasta only once or twice a week as part of a balanced diet.

With smart portions, pesto pasta can be a skinny pasta choice!

Low Carb & Keto Pesto Pasta

Pesto pasta is traditionally a higher carb meal due to the pasta. But there are ways to enjoy pesto on lower carb diets:

  • Spiralized zucchini noodles instead of pasta
  • Shirataki noodles made from konjac yam flour
  • Thinly sliced yellow squash or eggplant planks
  • Roasted spaghetti squash strands
  • Sautéed green beans or asparagus
  • Baked chicken breast or fish

Just toss any of these lower carb options with a bit of pesto for great flavor. You can also look for low carb pasta options made with chickpea flour, lentil flour, or composed of beans or lentils. Watch portions since even low carb pastas can have 20+ grams of carbs per serving.

How to Make Pesto Pasta

Making pesto pasta at home is simple. Here is a basic recipe:


  • 8 ounces dry pasta like penne, rotini or farfalle
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish
  • Grated parmesan (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously.
  2. Add pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente.
  3. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta.
  4. Return pasta to pot and add pesto. Toss, adding reserved pasta water 1-2 tablespoons at a time to thin pesto.
  5. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Divide into bowls and top with basil and parmesan if desired.

For added protein, you can toss in cooked shrimp, chicken or sausage. For extra veggies, add chopped tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, or roasted bell peppers. Get creative with add-ins!


Pesto pasta is a filling and flavorful dish that can have 500 calories or more per serving depending on portion sizes. Traditional pesto is high in fat, calories, and sodium. But there are easy ways to tweak pesto pasta to make it healthier, like using whole wheat pasta, adding veggies, and cutting back on cheese and oil. With proper portion control and smart ingredient swaps, pesto pasta can be enjoyed even when trying to lose weight or eat low carb. Make pesto pasta at home so you can control the ingredients and calories.

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