We’ve been using nutritional yeast for many years. It’s one of our favorite foods, period. We incorporate it into several of our recipes, but we also sprinkle on whatever we might be eating, like popcorn, pasta, or pizza. I cannot emphasize enough how much we indulge ourselves on this tasty member of the fungi kingdom, but one of the main reasons we do it is because it’s not only delicious, it’s also really good for you. It’s numerous health benefits make it the perfect guilt-free ingredient.
Nutritional Yeast: Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts, and Other Useful Things to Know About This Superfood
Nutritional yeast is a food that truly lives up to its name. It contains a potent blend of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which is why it provides so many health benefits. We’ve been cooking with it for as long as we’ve been strictly vegan, and it’s become a staple in our pantry, as it is for many other vegans and health enthusiasts. Nutritional yeast can provide vegans and vegetarians with essential nutrients that may be hard for them to obtain from other foods, especially if they are finding it difficult to get enough variety in their diet.
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
The idea of eating yeast might seem a little weird if you’re not used to it, but it’s not any weirder than eating mushrooms, because yeast is just another kind of fungus. Yeast is also used to make many types of breads and baked goods, as well as beer, so there’s a pretty good chance you already consume plenty of it without ever giving it any thought. Yeast also lives on and inside your body, as is the case for most living organisms.
However, nutritional yeast is not the same as the brewer’s yeast that is used to make beer, or the yeast in your body. It is its own distinct type of yeast made for consumption. Nutritional yeast is a nonactive dry yeast that has been cultured on molasses. It is not sweet, though. Nutritional yeast is not alive, so it does not spoil. It can be stored dry in a pantry for long periods of time.
Nutritional Yeast vs. Yeast Extract
Yeast extract is nutritious, but it is not nutritional yeast. “Yeast extract” is a generic name for any type of processed, concentrated yeast product. Yeast extract is used to make products like Vegemite and Marmite. Yeast extract has a similar nutrition profile to nutritional yeast, however the texture, flavor, and aroma is nothing alike.
How Is Nutritional Yeast Made?
The process of making nutritional yeast is rather interesting. First the yeast is cultured in a “nutrient medium” for many days. Glucose – i.e., sugar – is the main ingredient that helps the yeast grow. This glucose usually comes from either beet molasses or sugarcane. After the yeast has been cultured, it is then deactivated using heat. “Deactivating” yeast is essentially killing it. The yeast is no longer a living organism at this point, and thus it stops growing. Once the yeast has been deactivated, it is harvested, pasteurized, dried, and packaged for sale or shipment.
Other Names for Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast – as we call it here in the states – is known by different names in other parts of the world. In New Zealand, it is known as Brufax. In Australia, it is sometimes called, “savory yeast flakes.” It also has some nicknames it goes by, including “nooch,” “yeshi,” and “hippy dust.”
Why Do Vegans Love Nutritional Yeast So Much?
It seems that most people don’t know about nutritional yeast until they either go vegan or start hanging out with one. What is it about this particular yeast that makes vegans go nuts for it? Vegans have been turned onto nutritional yeast for decades because of how much it has to offer to them. It’s cheesy flavor makes it an almost perfect cheese substitute; its culinary versatility is nearly unmatched; and its amino acid profile can rival that of any animal protein.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had a love affair with nutritional yeast every since we went vegan. Once we started using it in our recipes, it became addictive. There’s just something about it that is so delicious. A certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. I have no shame in admitting that I’ll often pinch some straight out of the container and eat it plain. Similarly, Taryn sprinkles tons of it over popcorn, and eats a huge bowl almost every day. We just can’t get enough of it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were putting crack in it.
Fortified vs. Non-Fortified
It’s important to note that some brands of nutritional yeast are fortified. Fortified yeast has had additional vitamins and minerals added to it, like B12 and iron. This is an important distinction because fortified nutritional yeast obviously yields more health benefits. For the purpose of this article, we will be focussing on the fortified version. That being said, even non-fortified nutritional yeast is still a good source of nutrients, especially protein.
Nutritional Yeast Health Benefits
Nutritional yeast really is a superfood. It’s almost hard to believe how many nutrients it packs. If it was the only thing you had to eat, you could probably live off it for a long time. It’s a rich source of many of the most vital and essential nutrients for optimal human health.
Nutritional yeast might be the perfect protein supplement, so to speak. It’s almost entirely made up of protein, it’s a complete protein, and it contains only a small amount of calories, fat, and carbs, while still being a rich source of several other vitamins and minerals. If you been on the hunt for the ideal vegan protein powder, you may want to consider nutritional yeast.
According to Self Nutrition Data, 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast yields 8g of protein. That’s a huge amount of protein for only 45 calories. In fact, 71% of the calories in nutritional yeast come from protein. But what really makes nutritional yeast such a fantastic source of protein is that it’s a complete protein. That means it contains all nine of the amino acids the human body cannot produce on its own for protein synthesis. In other words, it’s a protein that is naturally optimized for your body.
B vitamins are necessary for our bodies to function properly. They account for 8 of 13 essential vitamins we need to survive. They help our bodies convert food into energy; produce red blood cells; grow healthy skin, hair, and nails; and they even prevent memory loss, fatigue, and Alzheimer’s. Of the B vitamin group, B12 is the most difficult for vegans to naturally acquire through their diet. Fortified nutritional yeast single handedly solves the dilemma for those who incorporate it into their diet.
Fortified nutritional yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins. Just one serving provides 130% of your DV for vitamin B12, 480% for B6, 280% for Niacin, 640% for Thiamin (B1), 570% for Riboflavin (B2), and 280% for Niacin (B3). Suffice it to say, if you have a vitamin B deficiency, you are not eating enough, if any, nutritional yeast.
Zinc is a mineral that aids the body in many ways. According to WebMD, zinc promotes immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid functioning, and it even plays a significant role in maintaining eyesight. One serving of nutritional yeast provides about 20% of your DV for zinc, making it more than easy enough to get the rest from other good sources, such as nuts, legumes, and grains.
Magnesium and Iron
Magnesium and iron are two essential minerals some people don’t get enough of. When we talk about bones, the first thing that jumps to mind is calcium, but magnesium also plays a huge role in developing and maintaining healthy bones. According to WebMD, women, blacks, and senior citizens are the most likely to lack adequate levels of magnesium in their diets. They also state that magnesium deficiency has been linked to several severe illnesses, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes.
According to Paul Thomas, EdD, RD, iron is essential because it’s a mineral that “helps to transport oxygen through the body.” It all has to do with hemoglobin, a substance within red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen and transporting it throughout the body. Hemoglobin needs iron, and hemoglobin accounts for about 2/3 of the iron in your body. If you don’t consume enough iron in your through your diet, your body doesn’t produce blood cells with healthy hemoglobin capable of delivering the oxygen you breathe in through your lungs to other parts of your body, leaving you anemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 10% of women in America lack iron.
The good news is, nutritional yeast is a good source of both magnesium and iron. One serving yields approximately 6% of your DV for magnesium and 4% of your DV for iron. Granted, those aren’t whopping figures, but these are minerals you can also get from many other common fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and so on. Adding nutritional yeast to your diet is simply a good way to ensure you’re getting enough of these minerals.
High Fiber, Low Carb
It’s important that we all eat a certain amount of fiber in proportion to the other foods we eat, but that’s not because fiber is a nutrient. When you eat a food that contains fiber, your body doesn’t actually digest and absorb the fiber, like it does with other nutrients. As weird as it may seem, that’s actually why fiber is good for you.
Unlike fats and sugars, your body can’t absorb or make use of fiber, which means dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber – fiber that dissolves in water – can actually get in the way of your body absorbing fats and sugars. This has proven to be beneficial to people with diabetes and high cholesterol. According to Mayo Clinic, dietary fiber doesn’t just prevent constipation, it also prevents weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes.
Nutritional yeast contains a whopping 4g of dietary fiber per 2 tbsp, which might not sound like much, but that’s 16% of your DV. What’s also remarkable about this is that most sources of dietary fiber are foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains, but one serving of nutritional yeast only has 5g of carbs despite the high amount of fiber, making the net carbs virtually negligible.
Nutritional yeast is definitely a low-fat food. There’s no question about it. A 2 tbsp serving only contains 1g of fat. That’s only 1% of your recommended DV. In other words, the average person could eat 100 servings of nutritional yeast before reaching their daily allowance, or what would technically be considered unhealthy. That’s almost half a pound. We probably go through that much in a month.
The easiest way to lose weight is by reducing your caloric intake. This is easier said than done for most people because reducing calories also means reducing the total amount of energy and nutrients going into your body, which leads to cravings, hunger, and other side effects that will ultimately thwart your efforts to consume less calories by causing you to crash and binge.
If you’re someone who works out and you’re trying to build muscle, then you know this also poses a problem when trying to restrict calories. You have specific protein, carb, and fat requirements that must be met to aid in muscle growth, and you need to consume calories to get those macronutrients. Using nutritional yeast as a dietary supplement is a great way to cut back on calories while still consuming adequate amounts of the nutrients your body needs.
As mentioned before, a 2 tbsp serving of nutritional yeast only contains 45 calories. The breakdown is as follows: 71% protein, 18% carbs, and 11% fats. If you ate enough nutritional yeast to meet your daily requirements for protein – about 50 grams – you would only need to consume 281 calories. That’s about the same amount of calories as a protein shake that would only yield roughly half the amount of protein, or less. Compared to 2 tbsp of parmesan cheese, which contains about 3.8g of protein and 44 calories, you’re getting more than twice the amount of protein per serving for the same amount of calories – that’s a pretty good trade off!
If you’re someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can still reap the many health benefits of nutritional yeast, because it is a gluten-free food!
How to Use Nutritional Yeast
Sprinkling a few teaspoons of nutritional yeast on or into your meals is all you have to do to enhance the nutrition and flavor of your meals. Nutritional yeast has a distinct flavor that most people would describe as “cheesy” or “nutty.” For this reason it is often used to add flavor to vegan cheese recipes. Nutritional yeast flakes can be eaten raw, so some people like to sprinkle them on salads, pizza, pasta, and other savory dishes – sort of like a vegan parmesan substitute. They can also be stirred into soups, sauces, and soft foods, like mashed potatoes and refried beans.
Nutritional Yeast Recipes
Nutritional yeast is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into a wide range of dishes. We use it whenever we have some on hand, which is pretty often since we started buying it in bulk – it’s basically become a staple condiment for us, like mustard and hot sauce.
Here are some of the ways we’ve incorporated nutritional yeast into our recipes.
Philly “Cheesesteak” Quesadillas w/ “Nacho Cheese” Sauce
Nutritional yeast is the main ingredient for the nacho-style “cheese” sauce used on these quesadillas. Get the recipe here.
“Cheesy” Twice-Baked Potatoes w/ “Bacon” Bits
The “cheesiness” of these twice-baked potatoes comes from nutritional yeast. Get the recipe here.
Cashew Cream Cheese & Olive Bruschetta
Nutritional yeast was used for the “cream cheese” spread. Get the recipe here.
Cashew Cheesecake with Berry Compote
As you probably guessed, nutritional yeast puts the “cheese” in this cheesecake. Get the recipe here.
Copycat KFC “Family Feast” Recipe
Nutritional Yeast Substitutes
If a recipe calls for nutritional yeast, but you don’t have any, is there anything you can use as a substitute? The answer is: yes and no. There’s really no good substitute for nutritional yeast in terms of flavor or what it might add to a particular recipe, but if push comes to shove, you could always resort to brewer’s yeast or yeast extract. Again, the flavor will not match, but technically they are yeasts and the nutrition profiles are similar.
The Healthiest Way to Eat Nutritional Yeast
Even though nutritional yeast is a great ingredient to cook with, the healthiest way to eat it is raw. B vitamins have a tendency to breakdown rapidly when they are heated, so if you’re cooking with fortified yeast, you’re likely losing most of those added B vitamins. If your goal is to get the maximum nutritional benefits from nutritional yeast, you should sprinkle it on your food after you cook it. That being said, cooking the yeast does not destroy all of its nutrients, it simply diminishes the potency of those nutrients. It’s still a healthy food to eat whether it’s raw or cooked.
Nutritional Yeast Nutrition Facts
The following nutritional facts are based on a serving size of 2 tbsp (16g).
Please note: nutrition facts may vary from one manufacturer to another.
- Calories: 45
- Total Fat: 1g / 1% DV
- Saturated Fat: 0g / 0%
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Cholesterol: 0g / 0%
- Sodium: 5mg / 0%
- Total Carbohydrate: 5g / 2%
- Dietary Fiber: 4g / 16%
- Sugars: 1g
- Protein: 8g
Where to Buy Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is pretty easy to come by these days. We usually have no problem finding it at most grocery stores. Typically, we buy it in bulk from WinCo Foods, which is where we do most of our grocery shopping. If you can’t find it at your local supermarket, you can definitely find it at any health food store, or you can buy it on Amazon.com.
Thus concludes this article dedicated to our favorite fungus. We hope you found this post helpful. If you enjoyed it, please let us know by liking it, sharing it, or leaving a comment below. Thanks!