Nutritional yeast, also known as savory yeast or nooch, is an inactive yeast made from sugarcane and beet molasses. In the scientific form saccharomyces cerevisiae, or sugar-eating fungus, yeast cells use the sugar for energy.
Yellow in color, nutritional yeast comes in flakes, granules or a powder-like form and is often found as a condiment due to its savory taste and health benefits. It has a nutty, cheesy flavor and is often used to emulate cheese in vegan dishes, thicken sauces and dressings, and act as an additional boost in nutrients because it’s filled with B vitamins!
A perfect addition to any meal — providing nutrition while saving calories — nutritional yeast is one source of complete protein and vitamins, in particular B-complex vitamins. It contains folates, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, selenium and zinc, making it a great superfood! It’s low in sodium and fat, gluten-free, and doesn’t contain any added sugars or preservatives.
Nutritional Yeast Facts
While it cannot replace whole food, nutritional yeast can help provide much needed vitamins, especially to vegans and vegetarians, who often have concerns about getting enough B vitamins in their diets.
It’s important to note that nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is a by-product of beer-making and used in making bread. It has a bitter taste. While in the same scientific family known as saccharomyces cerevisiae, nutritional yeast is far superior to brewer’s yeast and is much higher in B-complex vitamins than wheat germ and many other natural food products.
According to HealthResearchFunding.org, a serving of nutritional yeast can also provide nine grams of protein! It’s safe to eat as much as you want, but like anything new, start with small amounts and make sure it works well for you.
Here is the nutritional breakdown for one serving, which is ¼ cup. Keep in mind that this shows a fortified version. You can purchase nutritional yeast that has not been fortified as well. It may be a good idea to blend the two for optimal health benefits.
- 60 calories
- 5 calories from fat
- 5 grams carbohydrates (2 percent DV)
- 4 grams fiber (16 percent DV)
- 9 grams protein
- 0.5 grams fat (1 percent DV)
- 25 milligrams sodium (1 percent DV)
- 790 percent DV of thiamine (vitamin B1)
- 570 percentDV of riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 300 percent DV of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- 230 percent DV of niacin (Vitamin B3)
- 290 percent DV of vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- 270 percent DV of folate (vitamin B9)
- 20 percent DV of zinc
The B vitamin content in the fortified form ranges from 150 percent for B12 to 720 percent for riboflavin. Since our bodies can only absorb so much of any one nutrient at a time, and since you need B vitamins dispersed throughout the day to help your body convert food to energy, it is recommended that you add just a teaspoon of nutritional yeast to foods at each meal.
One teaspoon mixes easily into any food or beverage; costs only nine cents; and provides 10 calories, 3/4 gram of fiber, 1.5 grams of a complete protein, 50 percent to 100 percent of your daily value for all B vitamins plus some selenium and iron!
Nutritional Yeast Benefits
1. Preserves Immune Function
Nutritional yeast provides the compounds beta-1,3 glucan, trehalose, mannan and glutathione, which are associated with enhanced immunity, improved cholesterol levels and risk reduction of cancer.
Dr. Michael Greger tested marathon runners and endurance athletes, finding that those who had the nutritional yeast before their marathon had “better overall health, decreased confusion, fatigue, tension and anger, and increased vigor.” They also seemed to recover faster.
In an article by Dr. Alan Christianson, N.D., published in Nutrition Science News, he reports that nutritional yeast provides a significant dose of the minerals, such as iron, which is much needed, in particular, in athletes who train more than four hours per week and prevents iron deficiency. Nutritional yeast also contains selenium, which helps repair cell damage, and benefit-rich zinc, which aids in tissue repair, wound healing, and maintains our sense of taste and smell.
Fortified nutritional yeast has significantly less iron than the unfortified type, however. Elizabeth Brown, a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, disease prevention and optimal health through whole foods, reports that “beta-1,3 glucan, is a type of fiber that may aid the immune system and help to lower cholesterol. Additionally, nutritional yeast is a good source of selenium and potassium.”
2. Holds Antiviral and Antibacterial Properties
Dr. Seymour Pomper, an expert in yeast, notes that nutritional yeast is the fourth most prescribed herbal monopreparation in Germany due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Only ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and horse chestnut are consumed at higher levels.
Pomper explains that because nutritional yeast has not been associated with the candida albicans strain related to yeast infections, it has proven to be one of the best remedies for chronic candida symptoms, a specific type of yeast infection. It has also shown profound effects on E.coli, salmonella and staphylococcus.
3. Improves Digestion
German monographs indicate nutritional yeast as a medicinal choice for diarrhea and loss of appetite, and studies showcase the digestive system benefits of nutritional yeast. The probiotics in nutritional yeast have shown positive effects on diarrheal patients, and although more research is needed, it may help cure diarrhea.
In addition, nutritional yeast is helpful for those who suffer the symptoms of lactose intolerance since it does not contain any dairy products. The Oxford Journal suggests that Saccharomyces cerevisiae expresses significant sucrase and some isomaltase activity but no lactase activity, and it has been proposed to improve malabsorption in patients with sucrase-isomaltase deficiency who intentionally or unintentionally consume sucrose.
4. Contains Beneficial Protein and Thiamine
Nutritional yeast is a complete protein containing at least nine of the 18 amino acids that your body cannot produce. This is great news, especially for vegans and vegetarians who may struggle to find enough protein sources in the diet.
- A sluggish metabolism
- Trouble losing weight
- Difficulty building muscle mass
- Low energy levels and fatigue
- Poor concentration and trouble learning
- Moodiness and mood swings
- Muscle, bone and joint pain
- Blood sugar changes that can lead to diabetes
- Slow wound healing
- Low immunity
In addition to protein, nutritional yeast contains high levels of thiamine, which is used in combination with other B vitamins to help regulate important functions of the cardiovascular, endocrine and digestive systems. Thiamine is used in nearly every cell in the body and is especially important for supporting energy levels and a healthy metabolism, while thiamine deficiency can cause many health issues.
5. Promotes Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails
Nutritional yeast contains many B vitamins, all of which tend to benefit healthy hair, skin and nails. Vitamin B5 and vitamin B7/biotin benefit healthy hair, skin and nails with the ability to reduce signs of skin aging, such as redness and skin spots. Niacin, also found in nutritional yeast, has been found to treat chronic acne and improve skin overall.
6. Aids a Healthy Pregnancy and May Prevent Birth Defects
Because nutritional yeast is rich in folate, it is a great choice for pregnant women. Jill Corleone, a registered dietician, says that nutritional yeast is a great recourse of folate for pregnant women:
One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 1,059 micrograms of folate. Pregnant women need 400 to 800 micrograms of folate daily — the synthetic version is called folic acid. So one tablespoon of the cheesy yeast meets more than 100 percent of your daily needs. Getting adequate intakes of folate during pregnancy may help prevent major birth defects, such as spina bifida. WomensHealth.gov says that you can’t get too much folate from foods that naturally contain it, but you don’t want to consume more than 1,000 micrograms a day unless approved by your doctor because a high intake may mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
That means pregnant women should add nutritional yeast consumption to their steps to a healthy, vibrant pregnancy.
Nutritional Yeast History and Interesting Facts
Yeast has been part of human history for more than 5,000 years, first used to leaven bread and produce alcoholic beverages. It was the invention of the microscope and studies by Louis Pasteur that gave way to a better understanding of yeast as a living organism. This led to the commercial production of nutritional yeast at the beginning of the 20th century.
Nutritional yeast is grown on mixtures of cane and beet molasses. Once the fermentation process has completed, the yeast is harvested, washed, pasteurized, dried and packaged.
Nutritional yeasts, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, blackstrap molasses, and yogurt combined were once one of the four cornerstones of the health food movement. They were known as the reliable superfoods of the “good old days,” states yeast expert Dr. Pomper, because it was a primary source of B vitamins and minerals when there was less of a vitamin concentration available. He also notes that nutritional yeast “has a distinguishing ability to perform one thing that human cells cannot; that is, its ability to bio-transform nutrients at an accelerated rate into nutrients that the human body can readily use.”
This is great news! Pomper confirms that nutritional yeast is a safe yeast and there are currently no known cases showing that S. cerevisiae is pathogenic for humans.
It makes sense that prisoners of war have used it to prevent vitamin deficiencies, and it has been integral in providing much needed nutrition in a world of increasing population, where agriculture and access to protein sources may be difficult to access for some.
Nutritional yeast is used all over the world. Because of its unappetizing name, it has be given various other names and is commonly known as “nooch” (nüch) and “yeshi,” an Ethiopian name meaning “for a thousand.” In Australia, it is called “savory yeast flakes,” and the New Zealanders call it “brufax.”
As reported by Argyro Bekatorou, Costas Psarianos and Athanasios A. Koutinas with the Food Biotechnology Group, Department of Chemistry, University of Patras, Patras, Greece, yeasts have been known to humans for thousands of years, used in many fermentation processes. The industrial production and commercial use of yeasts started at the end of the 19th century after their identification and isolation by Pasteur.
In addition to these yeasts, we now know about other food grade yeasts as sources of high nutritional value proteins, digestive enzymes and vitamins, with applications in the health food industry as nutritional supplements, food additives, conditioners and flavoring agents and for the production of microbiology media as well as livestock feeds. Yeasts are included in starter cultures and for the production of specific types of fermented foods like cheese, bread, sourdoughs, fermented meat and vegetable products, vinegar, etc.
Nutritional yeast contains vital food factors such as SOD, RNA/DNA, glutathione, trace minerals, Beta-glucans, GABA, amino acids, lipoic acid, polysaccharides, B-complex vitamins, minerals including GTF chromium and over 40 proteolytic enzymes. I would call that a powerhouse superfood!
Where Does Nutritional Yeast Come From and Where Can You Get It?
Step 1: Seeding
Nutritional yeast production begins with a pure parent yeast culture of saccharomyces cerevisiae. The seed yeast is typically grown in a sterile environment and eventually transferred to a container where it will be cultivated.
Step 2: Cultivation
During the cultivation process, it is important to control the temperature and pH of the yeast in order to create the optimal growing conditions. The yeast is given a purified medium of nutrients and air.
Step 3: Harvesting
Once the growing process is complete, the fermented yeast liquid is passed through a process that concentrates the yeast cells. The result is an off-white liquid called nutritional yeast cream.
Step 4: Fortification
The cream is then pasteurized, making the yeast inactive. This is the point at which fortification may occur, such as the addition of vitamin B12, ultimately enhancing the nutritional profile of the yeast.
Step 5: Drying
The yeast is dried and sized into flakes, powder or granules similar to cornmeal.
Nutritional yeast can usually be found in the bulk or supplement sections of health food stores, though you may lose some of the nutritional value of the riboflavin since it is light-sensitive.
Why Nutritional Yeast Makes a Great Addition to Recipes
Though it is most popular among vegans and vegetarians, nutritional yeast is delicious, adding amazing flavor and nutrition without the high fat and calories associated with cheese. For those who are lactose intolerant, nutritional yeast is a perfect choice because it can be sprinkled on pasta, salads, baked or mashed potatoes, soups, and even popcorn!
Here are a few of my recipes that include this vital ingredient:
And here’s a new one to have an hour or so before your workout, or afterward to refill those muscle stores:
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 tablespoons whey protein powder or your favorite vegan vanilla protein
- 1 cup frozen or fresh berries
- 1 teaspoon cacao
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon super greens
- Pinch of cinnamon
Blend everything in a blender and serve!
Nutritional Yeast Risks
There aren’t any known risk other than is someone is allergic to yeast. Michael Donaldson, Ph.D., a researcher who focuses on plant-based diets and has studied nutritional yeast, has the following to say:
After growing the yeast, it is completely pasteurized and deactivated so it is quite safe and won’t give rise to yeast overgrowth in someone who eats it. It’s a complete protein, which means it has all nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t alone produce. The deactivation process may mean that those who have a sensitivity to active yeast found in bread can consume this variety because it does not contain candida albicans.
Of course, you should always try any new food, including nutritional yeast, in small amounts to see how your body reacts.