Why you should add nutritional yeast to your diet even if you aren't vegan - and tips on how to cook with it

INSIDER logoINSIDER 9/04/2021 00:38:51 (Anika Nayak,Kailey Proctor)
a cup of coffee and a spoon on a table: Nutritional yeast makes a great addition to sauces and dressings. Capuski/Getty Images © Capuski/Getty ImagesNutritional yeast makes a great addition to sauces and dressings. Capuski/Getty Images
  • Nutritional yeast consist of dead yeast cells and has a cheesy, nutty flavor.
  • Nutritional yeast is high in protein, B vitamins, and other nutrients that boost your immune system.
  • You can add nutritional yeast to eggs, nachos, pasta sauces, or sprinkle it on popcorn.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

If you're looking for something savory and plant-based to top your pasta, eggs, or soup, consider adding nutritional yeast. It makes a great addition to a vegan diet thanks to its high protein and vitamin B12 content.

"Nutritional yeast tastes very cheesy and nutty, making it a great cheese replacement for plant-based eaters," Debra Shapiro, MD, a plant-based physician with a private practice.

We spoke to experts about what this ingredient is, what the health benefits are, and how it can be prepared in your favorite dishes.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast consists of dead yeast cells. That's what differentiates it from the yeast used to bake bread, which is still active with live cells.

Note: Since nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast, it is unable to grow and thus, cannot be used to bake bread. However, you can use it as a seasoning on top of your bread dough to give it a cheesy, nutty flavor.

There are two varieties of nutritional yeast - both you can purchase as a flaky powder:

  • Fortified nutritional yeast, which contains added vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, potassium, and folic acid to increase the nutrient content.
  • Unfortified nutritional yeast, which only contains the vitamins and minerals naturally produced when the yeast grew in the production process, like iron, zinc, and vitamin B6.

Note: You can find nutritional yeast in the health food or spice aisle of your local supermarket or grocery store. It should be stored in a cool place and does not need to be refrigerated.

"Nutritional yeast is very popular among the vegan community even though yeast is a single-celled organism because it has no nervous system and is unable to experience pain, thus making it different from animal products.," Rhyan Geiger, a registered dietitian and owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian says.

In addition to being vegan, nutritional yeast is also gluten-free, Geiger says.

Here, is the nutritional content of one serving of fortified nutritional yeast, which is about ¼ a cup:

NutrientAmountDaily Value (based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
Calories60 3%
Protein8 g --
Fat0.5 g 1%
Carbohydrates5 g 2%
Fiber3 g12%
Calcium6 mg 0%
Iron1 mg 6%
Potassium342 mg 8%

Nutritional yeast is a nutritious food that boasts many health benefits. Here are three of them you should know of:

1. Nutritional yeast is a complete protein

Related Article Module: 8 of the best plant-based sources of protein, according to dietitians

"Nutritional yeast is a complete protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies don't make and must get from food sources," Geiger says.

Amino acids are the building blocks for your body, and help your hair, skin, nails, and muscles grow.

Note: Choosing plant-based protein in place of red and processed meat can reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It may also help you maintain a healthy body weight.

There are few plant-based complete protein options making nutritional yeast a crucial addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

2. Nutritional yeast contains B vitamins

Nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins. A ¼ cup serving contains:

  • Thiamin (vitamin B1): 11.8 mg / DV: 980%
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 9.7 mg / DV: 750%
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): 46 mg / DV: 290%
  • Vitamin B6: 5.9 mg / DV: 350%
  • Vitamin B12: 17.6 mcg / DV: 730%

"B vitamins help with metabolism by converting food into energy, creating new blood cells, and maintaining healthy brain cells and other body tissues," Geiger says.

While most vegans and vegetarians won't have a problem consuming their B vitamins as they are prevalent in foods like legumes, leafy greens, and seeds they may struggle to get enough B12.

That's because vitamin B12 is most commonly found in animal products like meat and dairy. It is important for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen from our lungs to tissues throughout our body, and deficiencies are generally more common among the plant-based community

Most fortified nutritional yeasts contain up to 10 times the daily value of vitamin B12, making it an ideal source for vegans. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause long-lasting neurological problems and diseases like dementia and difficulty walking.

3. Nutritional yeast may boost the immune system

Thanks to it's impressive nutrient profile, nutritional yeast may also boost the immune system.

One key nutrient that it contains is beta-glucan, a soluble dietary fiber, Shapiro says. A 2018 study found that participants who consumed beta-glucan from yeast had lower and less severe upper respiratory tract infections, suggesting that this nutrient supports immune function.

"It also contains vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron, that feed our trillions of gut microbiota," Shapiro says. The bacteria in our gut help regulate our immune system, thereby helping combat disease.

How to use nutritional yeast

  • Add it to soups, salad dressings, and sauces
  • Sprinkle it on popcorn or nuts
  • Mix it with pasta or rice
  • Use it as a replacement for cheese on pizzas, mac and cheese, eggs, and nachos
  • Season tofu or plant-based meat with it

Insider's takeaway

Nutritional yeast is a healthy, nutrient-dense protein that has all nine essential amino acids. It's a great option for plant-based eaters looking to bump their vitamin B12 intake along with other B vitamins, such as folic acid and riboflavin. Consider adding nutritional yeast in your diet to support immune function and prevent disease, Dr. Shapiro says.

8 of the best plant-based sources of protein, according to dietitiansThe best sources of B12 for vegans - and when to take a supplement5 science-backed benefits of vitamin B12 and how to get enough of it in your dietA beginner's guide to a plant-based diet and how it can benefit your health
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9. huhtikuuta 2021 3:38:51 Categories: INSIDER

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