Have you heard of nutritional yeast? This food has become quite popular in recent years, but not everyone fully understands what it is and what it does.
Nutritional yeast is a type of inactive yeast that is used as a cooking and flavoring agent. While it comes from the same food family as baker’s or brewer’s yeast, it cannot cause a chemical reaction. Instead, it adds plant-based vitamins and minerals to a dish, making it a common ingredient in many vegan and vegetarian recipes. Instead of tasting characteristically ‘yeasty’, it tastes cheesy and nutty, making it a popular substitution for aged cheeses like Parmesan, Pecorino, or cheddar.
Today, we’ll explain why nutritional yeast has become a go-to ingredient for many vegans and vegetarians, then outline its nutritional profile to show its many health benefits.
When It Comes to Nutrients, Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy?
The process of creating nutritional yeast starts in a similar way to other types of yeast. First, the yeast is cultured on a sugar-rich diet, then it’s heated to deactivate it. Following that, the nutritional yeast is washed and dried, then flaked and crumbled to the consistency we see in the packaging.
Nutritional yeast can be sold as either a fortified or unfortified product. Unfortified yeast has trace amounts of many vitamins and minerals, but when it’s fortified with lab-created vitamins and minerals it becomes even more nutritious.
Here are some of the nutrients you can find in most types of fortified nutritional yeast.
9 Essential Amino Acids
Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, which means that it contains all 9 essential amino acids. This is unusual for plant-based proteins, which tend to only contain a few of the essential amino acids.
In contrast, animal-based proteins like fish, eggs, or meat generally contain all 9 essential amino acids. Our bodies need each essential amino acids in the right ratios to function effectively.
One serving of nutritional yeast contains anywhere from 30-180% of our daily recommended value of various B vitamins, including:
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pyridoxine (B6)
- Folic acid (B9)
- Vitamin B12
Getting enough of these vitamins is essential to maintaining our good health. In particular, the vitamin B12 found in most fortified versions of nutritional yeast can help prevent people on a vegan diet from becoming deficient, since this vitamin is only naturally found in animal products.
One small study found that consuming just 1 tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast per day was enough to rectify a pre-existing vitamin B12 deficiency in some vegans.
Potassium is an essential mineral found in fortified nutritional yeast that our body uses for both muscle and nerve function. It can also help regulate our heartbeat, and encourages the movement of critical nutrients into cells, fueling their growth and development. Typically, potassium is found in plants such as leafy green and root vegetables, as well as fruits like oranges, blackberries, and more.
Another essential nutrient found in nutritional yeast is zinc. It’s essential to a variety of bodily processes, from gene expression and enzyme reactions to the healthy functioning of our immune system. Zinc is found in most types of fortified nutritional yeast, but remember to check the label of whichever one you purchase to see the specific amount per serving.
Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy for Weight Loss?
Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and protein. One-quarter cup of nutritional yeast contains just 60 calories, as well as 8 grams of protein. It also contains 3 grams of fiber, which helps keep us fuller for longer. When we’re trying to lose weight, it’s helpful to search out foods that have high amounts of fiber to help us feel more satiated after meals.
Nutritional yeast is also prized for its cheesy, nutty taste, so it can be used as a replacement for cheese in various recipes. This lowers the recipe’s overall calorie count while providing additional beneficial nutrients. Shortcuts like these are excellent when you’re trying to limit your daily caloric intake while still maintaining a healthy diet.
Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy for People with Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, it is quite safe to eat nutritional yeast. It’s a low-glycemic index food, so it won’t spike your blood sugar. Its high levels of fiber also help to slow the absorption of sugars, which is helpful for someone who is trying to regulate their blood glucose levels.
Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy for Your Heart?
Nutritional yeast is a very heart-healthy food due to its vitamin and mineral content and structure. The fiber found in nutritional yeast is known as beta-glucan, and it’s been studied for its role in reducing cholesterol levels. This helps minimize the impact on your heart, improving its long-term health.
Nutritional yeast also contains lots of antioxidants, which can protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. This damage can lead to chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. By consuming the antioxidants found in nutritional yeast regularly, you can help lower your long-term risks for these diseases.
How Can You Incorporate Nutritional Yeast Into Your Diet?
There are many different ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet. If you’ve never tried it before, start with a small amount sprinkled onto foods in place of grated cheese or crushed nuts. Then you can move up to making it the star of the show, like in the dishes below.
Vegan Mac and Cheese
Instead of relying on tons of different calorie-dense cheeses for traditional macaroni and cheese, try making it with nutritional yeast! This ingredient gives it the cheesiness that’s so addicting, but with tons of added vitamins and minerals and fewer calories.
Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast
If you’ve been trying to eat less junk food, try satisfying your cravings with healthier options. A great example of this is replacing cheesy popcorn with fresh-popped popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. The nutritional yeast gives it a cheesy, umami flavor but with fewer calories, more protein, and lots more added vitamins and minerals.
Roasted Veggies with Nutritional Yeast
Instead of sprinkling Parmesan or Pecorino cheese over freshly roasted veggies, try adding some nutritional yeast instead. This trick works well on any vegetable you can think of, from broccoli to cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and more.
Should You Be Eating Nutritional Yeast?
Cheese is delicious, but should you be eating it with every meal? Probably not. That’s why so many people (including many vegans and vegetarians) reach for nutritional yeast. It packs a huge nutritional and flavor punch, offering lots of rich umami flavors along with tons of added vitamins and minerals. We recommend buying the fortified version if you’re going to use it as a seasoning since it adds so many beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Wondering about the health benefits of other foods that you enjoy? The dietary DNA tests from GenoPalate offer you a look into how your diet may be influenced by your genes.