What is nutritional yeast and should you be using it: Your questions answered

inactive yeast

Most of us are familiar with yeast used to make bread dough rise, but there’s another kind of inactivated yeast that has garnered popularity in recent years. Nutritional yeast, also known as “nooch,” is being used more frequently by health-conscious eaters due to its excellent nutritional profile and its appeal to many people who want foods free of dairy, animal products, and gluten.

But is nutritional yeast for everyone, what health benefits does it offer, and should all of us have it in our kitchens to use?  Let’s sort out the lowdown on nutritional yeast to discover for yourself if nooch is for you.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is the same strain of yeast used for making bread and beer but is grown on a glucose medium such as molasses or sugar cane. The yeast will be grown for several days and then is pasteurized to deactivate it (this makes it unable to leave bread or to make it rise). What’s left is a paste that gets rolled out, dried, and crumbled into flakes. Manufacturers of nutritional yeast will usually fortify the yeast with nutrients, especially B vitamins such as niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12 before packaging. The powder or flakes of nutritional yeast can be added to various foods.  It’s a great flavoring agent and nutritional supplement for vegans or vegetarians and is recognized as one of the few animal-free sources of vitamin B-12.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Nutritional yeast has a naturally cheesy, nutty flavor that can create a rich flavor base for all kinds of dishes. It also adds savory umami to vegan and vegetarian dishes. This makes it a great alternative for adding flavor without salt, sugar, or fat. It can also be used to add more texture to dishes like salads and when added to hot dishes like soups or pasta, it turns creamier.

What nutritional perks does nutritional yeast offer?

Nutritional yeast is packed with essential B vitamins, fiber, and protein (8 grams in ¼ cup). Vitamin B12 and folate, both added to nutritional yeast, are necessary for DNA and red blood cell production and help convert food into energy. Nutritional yeast also contains the compound glutathione, an important antioxidant that helps preserve and promote proper immune functioning. Another perk important to many people is nutritional yeast is gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, and free from artificial colors or ingredients, making it appealing to the majority of consumers.

How does nutritional yeast support my health?

Since nutritional yeast tastes like cheese, it a perfect plant-based flavor seasoning for when you crave flavor but without the saturated fat or sodium. Nutritional yeast also contains beta-glucan, a fiber that has been associated with improved immune function by the British Journal of Nutrition as well as blood glucose control and insulin resistance. Beta-glucan may also help lower LDL cholesterol.

Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and B12, as well as folate. This is especially beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women helping meet the nutrient needs of these vitamins.

It also supports healthy blood lipid levels thanks to nutritional yeast’s 3 grams of fiber per ¼ cup.

What are some ideas for adding nutritional yeast to my diet?

One of the best advantages of nutritional yeast is its versatility. There are numerous ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet including the following:

  • Add to soups and sauces as a thickener and flavor enhancer
  • Sprinkle it on popcorn or your favorite cracker
  • Because of its cheesy flavor, use it in place of Parmesan cheese to top onto salads or pasta
  • Add to smoothies
  • Create “cashew cheese” by blending it with soaked cashews, a dash of salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice, which can be poured over pasta or served as a dip or spread
  • Stir into hummus, pesto, “cheese” spreads, and Caesar salad dressings for a more savory taste
  • Sprinkle onto roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, or cauliflower

Is there anyone who should not use nutritional yeast?

There have been questions concerning if using nutritional yeast is good for everyone. Anyone who has a yeast allergy or been told by their doctor to follow a yeast-free diet should avoid nutritional yeast. Questions have also been raised concerning people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the use of nutritional yeast. Anyone with IBD or ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease should discuss their concern with their doctor about its use. Anyone with other health concerns should also contact their healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before using nutritional yeast to see if it’s right for you.

What is nutritional yeast and should you be using it: Your questions answered
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi