Brazil Nut Basil Pesto

By Michelle Nowicki, Nutritionist

Brazil nuts provide a tasty twist on the more traditional basil pesto and are a good source of selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral, which is a important cofactor for the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione-peridoxidase, and helps prevent coronary artery disease, and certain types of cancer.


  • ½ cup raw Brazil nuts
  • ¼ cup raw walnuts
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled & coarsely chopped
  • 3 cups (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves, washed & patted dry
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 12 oz dry spaghetti (or pasta of choice)


  1. In a food processor, combine Brazil nuts, walnuts, garlic, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese and puree until fairly smooth.
  2. Add salt & pepper to taste & set aside.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and toss with the pesto, using as much or as little pesto as you like. If you would like the pasta to be more moist, you can add more pesto, a few teaspoons of water and/or extra olive oil.

Use any leftover pesto as a spread on sandwiches, for extra flavor in soups, on pizza crusts, or mixed with vinaigrette dressing for salads or a topping for vegetables.

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Key Ingredient Benefits

Basil: Revered in many traditions around the world, basil benefits cardiovascular health and offers DNA protection and anti-bacterial properties.  Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A. In addition, basil is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium.

Brazil Nuts: Brazil nut trees are found only in the non-flooded forest regions of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. These nuts are a good source of selenium. Adequate selenium foods in the diet help prevent coronary artery disease, liver cirrhosis, and some cancers.

Garlic: Vampire jokes aside, garlic can protect us in many ways. It contains sulfur compounds that may protect cells from cancer, relax blood vessels and improve cardiovascular health. Research suggests garlic may help boost our cellular antioxidant production. There is some evidence supporting numerous health benefits from a diet rich in garlic.

Lemon: This fruit contains citrus bioflavonoids which have antioxidant properties and are active in improving the function of the immune system. Lemons also have anti-microbial properties and are a good source of a number of nutrients including, vitamin C, potassium, and folate. The lemon’s bioflavonoids may also function as anti- inflammatories and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Olive Oil: This type of oil contains numerous antioxidant polyphenols in addition to monounsaturated oleic acid. Both help support fat metabolism and cardiovascular health. Studies suggest a healthy combo of olive oil and fish oil (omega 3s) can work together in maintaining a pro-inflammatory/anti-inflammatory balance.

Pasta: Opt for whole grain pasta that offers complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, as well as vitamin B and protein.  Pasta made from whole grains tend to have a lower glycemic index (GI), compared to their refined grain counterparts.  The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises blood sugar after eating. Foods with high GI scores are more quickly digested and cause a sharper spike in blood sugar (and insulin). Those with low GI scores are digested more slowly and raise blood sugar more gradually. Use of whole grain versus refined products promote a more balanced and healthy metabolism which in turn deceases the likelihood of developing diabetes.

Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan is a good source of calcium. One ounce of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese has about the same amount of calcium as a glass of whole milk. Also, since Parmesan cheese is so flavorful and satisfying, you can substitute a few sprinkles of Parmesan for cheddar or mozzarella.

Walnuts: These nuts are an excellent source of precursors to the anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids and great for your heart and circulatory system. Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants and are an excellent source of manganese and other essential elements.

Michelle Nowicki has a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, completed a dietetic internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and has a graduate degree from Yale University.