Pesto vs. Marinara

Is pesto or marinara sauce a better option for use on pasta? Both contain vegetables that provide needed micronutrients, but their nutritional components are otherwise very different.

Pesto is traditionally made using basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and grated cheese. This versatile sauce can be used in many ways, including in dips, on sandwiches, as pizza or pasta sauce, or as a salad dressing. It is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease and stroke (American Heart Association 2015). Basil provides many phytochemicals, which act like antioxidants to fight damage to cells, and can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Garlic is also good for your health and may help to lower cholesterol, stabilize blood pressure levels, and slow atherosclerosis (Anne 2018). Overall, the ingredients in pesto contribute vitamins A, E, and K to your diet (Busch 2018). However, the oil base means that each quarter cup serving of pesto is 240 calories, with 220 calories from fat. While most of the fat is monounsaturated, the four grams of saturated fat make up 20% of the daily recommended value. Pesto is low in carbohydrates (4g), protein (3g), and fiber (1g) but high in sodium (560mg, or 23% daily recommended value).

Marinara sauce is tomato-based and usually contains various spices, such as garlic, salt, and oregano. Eating marinara contributes to the daily recommended servings of vegetables for adults and provides many micronutrients, such as niacin, Vitamins A, E, and K, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Lycopene is an antioxidant that fights cancer-causing free radicals within cells, while lutein and zeaxanthin contribute to eye health (Bruso). One half cup serving of marinara sauce is only 70 calories, with five calories from fat. Marinara is low in carbohydrates (15g) and fat (1g), but unlike pesto, contains sugars (9g), more fiber (3g), and less sodium (400mg). However, store-bought marinara can be high in sodium and consumers should be aware of this when buying sauce, or avoid high sodium content by making the sauce from scratch.

The verdict: Marinara wins! Marinara sauce has less calories and allows for twice as much sauce per serving when compared to pesto. However, both sauces contain many health benefits and pesto is a good alternative to use occasionally. In moderation, pesto provides a great option for pasta night! For a lighter version, check out this recipe.