My Introduction to Nutritional Yeast
I first learned about nutritional yeast (a.k.a. “nooch”) a couple of years ago when my daughter and I tried the vegetarian lifestyle. As an avid weightlifter and concern over adequate protein consumption, naturally, my first thought was “how in the heck am I going to live a vegan lifestyle without sacrificing my protein intake? There’s no way.” I did a little research and discovered nutritional yeast and the nutritional benefits of it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I consumed a pescatarian diet for about 9 months and went back to my carnivorous ways and couldn’t be happier myself.
What is Nutritional Yeast?
When you think of yeast, you probably think of the ingredient that makes bread rise (baking or dry yeast) or an ingredient to brew beer (brewer’s yeast). Nutritional yeast is neither of those. It is inactive yeast made from sugarcane and beet molasses. Since it is an inactive yeast, it doesn’t grow or cultivate like other yeasts. Nutritional yeast is yellow in color and most commonly comes in flakes, but you may see it granules or powder as well. It has a nutty, cheesy, savory flavor and is often used to add a cheesy flavor to dairy-free dishes. You may see nutritional yeast labelled as savory yeast, nutritional seasoning or nutritional yeast flakes.
The Health Benefits
While nutritional yeast is mostly used by vegans and vegetarians, meat-eaters can also enjoy the health benefits of nutritional yeast which are numerous.
B Vitamins – Nutritional yeast is abundant in many of the B Vitamins. B vitamins help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. They also help form red blood cells. While many of them work together, the B vitamins each play their own role in our health as well.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is important for the growth, development, and function of the cells in your body.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) helps in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, which fuels many functions in the body. It helps in the processing of amino acids and fats and can also serve as an antioxidant, which slows the pace of aging.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) has been found to treat acne and improve overall skin.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) and Vitamin B7 (Biotin) are the main vitamins that benefit skin, hair and nails.
Vitamin B6 plays an important role in various physical and psychological functions. For example: a healthy metabolism, nerve function, liver function, skin health, eye health, as well as help to boost levels of energy.
Vitamin B9 (Folate) helps produce and maintain cells and is especially important for pregnant women. Read the label on your nutritional yeast, because some brands may not include folic acid.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for maintaining a good digestive system, increasing your energy, regulating your nervous system and protecting you against colon cancer, breast cancer, and stomach cancer. Vitamin B12 is also an essential vitamin for addressing adrenal fatigue, multiple metabolic functions — including enzyme production, DNA synthesis and hormonal balance — and maintaining healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems. Check the label to be sure that it does, in fact, contain B12 as it is available without it as well.
Complete source of protein – 2 tbsp. of nutritional yeast provides 9g of complete protein, containing at least 9 of the 18 amino acids that our bodies can’t produce.
Fiber is important for the gut and digestive system. It also helps with blood sugar regulation. One serving of nutritional yeast will give you about 3g of fiber.
Immune function properties. Nutritional yeast contains the compounds glutathione, mannan, trehalose, Beta-glucan and beta-1, which are associated with enhancing immunity levels, reducing cholesterol and assisting with cancer prevention.
Antibacterial & Antiviral Properties. In Germany, nutritional yeast is considered the fourth most prescribed herbal additive, right behind ST Johns Wart and Ginko Biloba. It is antiviral and antibacterial and has profound effects on viruses such as salmonella, staphylococcus, and E.coli.
Low glycemic index. Nutritional yeast has no added sugar and is low in carbs, meaning it is slowly digested and has little effect on blood sugar levels.
Gluten free. Gluten is a protein found in grains and wheat. Those who are gluten intolerant cannot process this protein, which can cause digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, inflammation, and swelling.
Nutritional Breakdown for a ¼ Cup Serving
- 60 calories
- 5 calories from fat
- 5 grams carbohydrates (2% daily value)
- 4 grams fiber (16% daily value)
- 9 grams protein
- 0.5 grams fat (1% daily value)
- 25 milligrams sodium (1% daily value)
- 790% daily value of thiamine (vitamin B1)
- 570% daily value of riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 300% daily value of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- 230% daily value of niacin (Vitamin B3)
- 290% daily value of vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- 270% daily value of folate (vitamin B9)
- 20% daily value of zinc
How Can You Use It?
Nutritional yeast is low in fat and sodium, doesn’t contain added sugars or preservatives and, naturally, is gluten free. Although you may not be directly swapping a few grains in a dish for the flakes of nutritional yeast, it is used more as a flavor enhancer for dishes and a great substitute for cheese. Add a little to your diet and you can get all the benefits above while adding flavor to your food without all the high fat and calories.
I like to add a teaspoon to my scrambled eggs in lieu of cheese. I’ve been sneaking it in on my husband’s eggs and he hasn’t even asked about the difference. In fact, when I did the switch on him, he remarked that the eggs were “really good!” Try these ideas to bump up your nutrition:
- Sprinkle over your salad or cooked veggies
- Incorporate into your mashed cauliflower
- Mix into your turkey burger
- Blend into your smoothie
- Sprinkle on top of your popcorn
- Etc., etc.
Whole Foods has several great recipes which you can find through the source link below.
Where Can You Get It?
You can often find nutritional yeast in the bulk bin of your local natural foods grocer (i.e., Sprouts or Whole Foods Market). If you prefer doing your shopping online, you can get it there, too. Try Amazon.com or other online retailers.
I hope this article opens you up to new ideas on how you can boost your nutrition without adding extra fat and calories. Add nutritional yeast to your diet and let us know how you did it and how you liked it.