Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (2024)

Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (1)

Chunky Garlic Scape Pesto

As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the key principles of an anti-inflammatory diet is to choose foods that are as nutrient-dense as possible. That’s what makes homemade pesto such a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet: it is packed with phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a bit of a culinary chameleon, easily fitting into recipes as an ingredient, marinade, or condiment.

Traditional pesto combines garlic (which, like all alliums, is powerfully anti-inflammatory) with basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Since dairy is one of my inflammation triggers, I leave cheese out of our homemade pesto, but if you can tolerate it, then by all means add a few tablespoons of finely grated, hard cheese like parmesan, romano, or asiago to your recipe. Other nuts besides pine nuts taste great in pesto, but if you or a loved one has a nut allergy, you can leave out the nuts altogether and substitute pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds. Playing around with different herb combinations will change up the flavor and add nutritional variety. And extras like a little citrus zest or spices can also add extra flavor and health benefits.

Another great thing about making your own pesto is how forgiving it is. A little short on nuts? Splashed in too much olive oil? It doesn’t really matter — you can easily make adjustments, and it’s still going to taste good. Sometimes I like to make my pesto a little drier, for example, if I’m going to use it inside a gluten-free calzone, while I might loosen it up with additional oil if I’m going to use it as a marinade.

Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (3)

Broccoli rabe pesto and cherry tomatoes atop chickpea flatbread

Pesto is delicious as a sauce on homemade pizza, or tucked inside calzones. Stir pesto into tomato sauce, pour the mixture over some chicken breasts, cover, and bake for an easy dinner. Marinate fish, chicken, or lamb with pesto before grilling. Top your beef, salmon, or veggies burgers with a dollop of pesto. Blend pesto with soaked raw cashews and broth into a creamy sauce for chicken or pasta. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar in an 8 0z mason jar, add a tablespoon of pesto, screw on the lid, shake, and presto! — homemade salad dressing in less time than it took you to read this sentence. Stir pesto into mashed potatoes, guacamole, or hummus. Puree pesto with cooked, drained cannellini beans and a squeeze of lemon for an easy, healthful, and flavorful dip.

Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (4)

Pesto frozen in 1-cup containers.

The ways to use this nutrient-dense mixture are limitless, so I like to whizz up a big batch and freeze various portion sizes (1-cup containers and ice-cube trays) so I always have some on hand when my cooking needs a quick, flavorful, anti-inflammatory boost. Here are some basic guidelines for experimenting with your own special pesto blend. Pesto can be enjoyed raw, so if you’re not sure about a new ingredient, try adding just a little and taste as you go.

Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (5)

Click to enlarge

To make the pesto: Add the nuts or seeds and alliums to a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add the herbs and pulse a few times more. Add the oil (and any extras) and continue to process until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Salt to taste, if needed. Decant the pesto into storage containers, and pour a little additional oil over the top before refrigerating or freezing.

Culinary Chameleon: Anti-Inflammatory Pesto (2024)


Can you eat pesto on an anti-inflammatory diet? ›

That's what makes homemade pesto such a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet: it is packed with phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. It's also a bit of a culinary chameleon, easily fitting into recipes as an ingredient, marinade, or condiment.

Is pesto unhealthy or healthy? ›

Because its ingredients include olive oil, nuts, and cheese, pesto can be high in calories and fat. However, the fat is primarily unsaturated and may have heart health benefits. Pesto is also full of antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage.

Is pesto good for the liver? ›

Good news! The weeds in the garden can contribute to this delicious pesto that provides nourishing phyto-nutrients to support our liver health. This pesto goes well on crackers, in pasta dishes, or with vegetable sticks.

Why can't dogs have pesto? ›

However, you shouldn't actively feed pesto to your dog because it can make them sick. Pesto can be dangerous to dogs because it contains a lot of garlic which is toxic to dogs, and garlic toxicity can build up over repeated exposure even if they only eat a tiny bit.

Is pesto healthier than tomato? ›

As you would expect, pesto's wider variety of ingredients means it does slightly better in the vitamin and mineral stakes. Pesto outsmarts tomato sauce in many of these, but the pasta sauce still provides a sizeable chunk of your recommended daily targets.

Can I eat pasta on an anti-inflammatory diet? ›

Whole Grains: Packed with fiber, whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, wheat pasta, and whole-grain bread are included in the anti-inflammatory diet.

Can I eat pesto every day? ›

You'll want to be mindful of the sodium content. Some jars have more than 500mg per serving and the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend you eat no more than 2,300mg per day. It would be hard to stay within those guidelines if you get more than 20% of your sodium from pesto.

Is pesto an ultra-processed food? ›

Energy bars, pesto, almond milk and protein drinks are all ultra processed foods, to name a few.

Is pesto bad for blood pressure? ›

Dieticians consider pesto's positive health benefits to far outweigh their negatives, especially when it comes to high blood pressure.

What is the hardest food for the liver to process? ›

Foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt put extra stress on the liver. Fast food, packaged foods, and processed foods tend to contain a lot of these elements.

What foods are inflammatory to the liver? ›

Foods That Cause Inflammation and Harm the Liver

These foods are typically found in soft drinks, cookies, cakes, sugary cereals, pastries, some breads and pasta, and candy. Many of these foods are packaged and from fast-food restaurants.

Are scrambled eggs ok for the liver? ›

Many patients in our clinic ask us if they can consume eggs, since it is a widespread belief that people with a liver disease cannot eat them and even that they are harmful in healthy people. This is not true.

Why can't vegans eat pesto? ›

Most pesto is not considered vegan for the sole reason that basic recipes call for some kind of hard cheese like Parmesan or pecorino, which is not suitable for vegans. Some authentic Parmesan is even made using rennet, an enzyme found in the lining of a goat or calf's stomach.

Why can humans eat garlic but dogs can t? ›

Garlic and other members of the allium family (including onions) contain thiosulfate, which is toxic to dogs but not to humans. Thiosulfate causes oxidative damage to red blood cells, resulting in hemolytic anemia.

Why can't dogs eat cilantro? ›

In small quantities, cilantro is perfectly safe to share with your dog. When feeding cilantro to your dog, you'll want to only use the leaves and avoid the stems. “The stems are difficult to digest and may lead to gastrointestinal issues in some dogs when eaten,” explains Dr. Klein.

Does pesto count as a vegetable? ›

In the case of pestos that do count towards your 5 a day, sun-dried tomato pesto for example, a recommended portion size of 50g of pesto per person will only give you around 10g of dried tomato. That's just 1/15 of your daily recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. It's not all doom and gloom, though.

Is pesto a processed food? ›

While some foods scream ultra processed (ready meals, doughnuts, cookies, we're looking at you), others are much more surprising – and often marketed as healthy options. Energy bars, pesto, almond milk and protein drinks are all ultra processed foods, to name a few.

Can I eat pesto with ulcerative colitis? ›

A main ingredient in pesto is olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fats. These type of healthy fats may help to reduce the inflammation associated with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Can you eat peanut butter on an anti-inflammatory diet? ›

Are peanuts inflammatory? The short answer is no, and in fact, peanuts and some peanut products like peanut butter have been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is a mechanism thought to be at the center of the majority of chronic diseases.

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