8 Awesome Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

With its abundance of minerals, fiber and protein, nutritional yeast is a superfood that makes a valuable addition to your healthy eating arsenal. It might sound weird, and perhaps unappetizing, but it’s got a long history of safe use and doesn’t taste bad at all.

Nutritional yeast was cleverly used to help treat the severe nutritional deficiencies in prisoners of war in internment camps during the second World War.

In 1942, there were on average 2,650 internees at the Stanley Internment Camp, Hong Kong. During June alone, 215 cases of Beriberi (a disease resulting from a lack of Vitamin B1) were reported, and almost a third of internees showed some form of deficiency manifestation. British ‘Camp Nutrition Officer’ Dr Dean Smith and his semi-formalised set of helpers were not going to allow this to continue, and two men were given the title ‘Yeast maker’.

They were able to manufacture yeast from plant materials available to them and the death rate dropped from 334 in five months to just 52 in the last nine months before liberation.

First used in its active form to leaven bread, brew beer and other alcoholic beverages, yeast has been with us for a long time and it’s been an important part of human history for more than 5,000 years. More recently, with the invention of the microscope, yeast could be identified (Louis Pasteur) and studied, and its health benefits soon became apparent.

Nutritional yeast comes in both fortified and unfortified forms, with the fortified form being the best one for vegans, as it’s the only nutritional yeast with vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast is also an excellent choice for those following a vegetarian diet because it provides a non-animal source of complete protein, containing all nine amino acids.

Nutritional yeast shouldn’t be confused with brewer’s or baker’s yeast, even though they’re all derived from the same species of yeast.

Nutritional yeast which is also known as nooch, yeshi and hippie dust (what a wonderful name!) also gives a rich, slightly nutty, authentic cheese flavor to food.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

What Is Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast (a fungus) is produced by culturing Saccharomyces cerevisiae in a growth medium of glucose – typically from sugarcane or beet molasses. Once the yeast is ready, it is deactivated with heat, washed, dried and packaged. It is sold in the form of yellow flakes, granules or powder. Since it’s deactivated, nutritional yeast can’t contribute to yeast overgrowth in your body.

You can easily find nutritional yeast in most health food stores and many supermarkets and it’s widely available online. And unlike many ‘superfoods’ it is very affordable. Store the yeast in your refrigerator or in a cool, dark place where it will keep for up to two years.

Nutritional Yeast Is A Complete Protein

Nutritional Yeast Is A Complete Protein

Protein deficiency can manifest as

  • A slow metabolism and difficulty losing weight
  • Low energy levels
  • Muscle, bone and joint pain
  • Difficulty building muscle mass
  • Mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Blood sugar changes and diabetes
  • Slow wound healing
  • Decreased immunity

In order to function properly your body needs 22 different types of amino acids. Adults can synthesize 13 of these (known as non-essential amino acids) but the other 9 must be provided by the foods in our diet. These 9 are known as essential amino acids. And it’s the presence of these 9 amino acids that determine whether a food is classified as a complete protein.

Nutritional yeast boasts this complete protein. With 2 tablespoons yielding an impressive 9 grams of complete protein, which is the same amount of incomplete protein as is found in ½ cup of most beans and legumes. Nutritional yeast is also one of the lowest calorie forms of protein, coming in at 45 calories per two tablespoons.

As Kimberly Snyder, C.N. explains “Yeast is a single-celled micro-organism that feeds off sugar. It needs the same vitamins and amino acids that we humans do, yet because nutritional yeast is grown on sugary foods lacking in some nutrients, the yeast is forced to manufacture its own amino acids and vitamins through biochemical reactions.”

Amino acids are called the building blocks of life, forming the proteins in our body that support tissue growth and repair, digestion, metabolism, and the production of the antibodies necessary to fight infection. Protein makes up 10% of your brain and 20% of your heart, liver, and skeletal muscles, making adequate consumption vital for a healthy body. You may be surprised to learn that it’s vital for a healthy mind too.

As you digest protein, it’s broken down into its component amino acids, these are then reassembled into 50,000 different forms that your body uses for things like hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. These building blocks of your brain’s neural network have a significant impact on your mood and brain function.

Provides Essential Vitamins

The yellow color of nutritional yeast flakes is the result of the large amount of vitamin B complex present. In addition to facilitating energy production, proper brain function and healthy hair and skin, B vitamins also have an impact on our ability to burn fat, get restful sleep and much more.

B vitamins are often depleted due to stress – which given the stresses of modern life that we all face, makes the need for adequate consumption of vitamin B rich foods all the more important. B vitamins can also be depleted from eating junk foods.

There is some misinformation surrounding nutritional yeast and vitamin B12.

B12 isn’t naturally present in the yeast. Yeasts don’t make B12, the production of B12 is a bacterial process. B12 has to be added to the yeast. So if you’re using it as a vegan source of that vitamin, check your labels and make sure that you’re using a fortified product.

Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast provide the following amounts of B vitamins (%RDA)

  • 9.6 milligrams of Thiamin (640%)
  • 9.7 milligrams of Riboflavin (570%)
  • 56 milligrams of Niacin (280%)
  • 9.6 milligrams of Vitamin B6 (480%)
  • 240 micrograms of Folate (60%)
  • 1 milligram of Pantothenic Acid (10%)
  • and if fortified 7.8 micrograms of Vitamin B12 (130%)

Most sources of vitamin B12 are animal based, so nutritional yeast is a valuable source for vegans and vegetarians. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells, it also aids in energy production, alertness, cell growth and repair, healthy immune function, metabolism regulation, decreasing depression and bad moods, helps with the symptoms of PMS, perimenopause, menopause and more. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast will provide you with a full day’s recommended dose of vitamin B-12.

The folate in nutritional yeast is good source of the ultra-important folic acid for pregnant women and those trying to conceive as folic acid prevents Spina Bifida and other serious birth defects. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 1,059 micrograms of folate and pregnant women are advised to ensure an intake of 400 to 800 micrograms of folate daily.

Since B vitamins are needed on a continual basis throughout the day nutritionists recommended that you add a teaspoon of nutritional yeast to your meals and snacks throughout the day. Taking a larger amount in a single serving would see many of the precious nutrients excreted as our bodies can only absorb so much at any one time.

High In Minerals

High In Minerals

Nutritional yeast is a valuable source of several key minerals that contribute to healthy blood sugar and a healthy cardiovascular system, including magnesium and zinc.

Magnesium is monumentally important and necessary for almost 400 different processes in your body and is vital for your heart, brain, bones and digestive and metabolic health.

Nutritional yeast contains 24 milligrams of magnesium in a 2 tablespoon serving which is 6% of the RDA.

Zinc is also found in abundance in nutritional yeast, with a serving providing 3 milligrams, which is a hefty 20% of the RDA.  Zinc is so vital to human health that scientists have said that even a small deficiency is a disaster!

This mineral is vitally important because it’s found in every cell in the body and is needed for cell division. Zinc is also necessary for hormone production and balance, with a deficiency resulting in low libido, infertility and diabetes.

As a powerful antioxidant, zinc fights free radical damage and slows the aging process, and it is crucial for a healthy immune system.

Zinc deficiency has also been linked to cancer due to its involvement in healthy cell division.

Nutritional yeast contains beta-1,3 glucan, trehalose, mannan and glutathione, which further support healthy immune function

Here’s our list of the top nutritional yeast products out on the market today.

Bio Transforms Nutrients

Bio Transforms Nutrients

Yeast expert Dr Seymour Pomper states that nutritional yeast “has a distinguishing ability to perform one thing that human cells cannot; that is, it has the ability to biotransform nutrients at an accelerated rate into nutrients that the human body can readily use.”

Nutritional yeast unlocks vitamins and minerals, which is incredibly important if your digestion is impaired or if you’re battling an illness and need your nutrients fast tracked.

Promotes Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails

Promotes Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails

With good levels of B vitamins nutritional yeast supports healthy hair, skin and nails. Vitamins B5 and biotin are especially important for this, with the ability to reduce signs of skin aging, reduce redness and fade pigmented age spots. Niacin, also found in nutritional yeast, has been found to benefit chronic acne and improve skin overall.

Gluten, Soy and Lactose Free and Full Of Flavor

Gluten, Soy and Lactose Free and Full Of Flavor

Nutritional yeast is typically gluten-free which is great news for those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance. However you must confirm with the manufacturer of your brand to make certain. Although most yeast is grown with sugar molasses, some yeast is grown on grains.

It’s a great source of protein and flavor for those who are lactose intolerant, with a flavor similar to a nutty parmesan cheese, it can be sprinkled on pasta, salads, baked or mashed potatoes, vegetable dishes, soups, and even popcorn. You can add it to curries, stews and sauces where it will help to thicken as well as add flavor, and you can even include it in your smoothies.

Low On The Glycemic Index

Low On The Glycemic Index

Nutritional yeast contains no added sugar and is a very low carbohydrate food. Two tablespoons contains just 5 grams of carbs and 4 of those are fiber which leaves the body undigested. Low glycemic foods and fiber are important to help maintain stable blood sugar levels, give us stable energy levels and prevent the production of too much insulin.

A study conducted on an elderly group of mildly non-insulin-dependent diabetics, fed the participants brewer’s yeast. For all of the individuals the outcome was decreased insulin output and an improvement in blood sugar sensitivity. Cholesterol and total lipids also dropped, which could help to explain the weight loss component of nutritional yeast.

Holds Antiviral and Antibacterial Properties

Holds Antiviral and Antibacterial Properties

Dr Seymour Pomper, an expert in yeast, reports that nutritional yeast is the fourth most prescribed herbal mono preparation in Germany – after Ginkgo Biloba, St John’s Wort and Horse Chestnut – because of its antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Pomper also explains that because nutritional yeast has not been associated with the candida albicans strain related to yeast infections, it is one of the best ways to actively support the immune system and help treat chronic candida symptoms. It has also proved to be effective on E.coli, salmonella and staphylococcus.

Intake of nutritional yeast is also associated with enhanced immunity thanks to the  compounds beta-1,3 glucan, trehalose, mannan and glutathione.

Controversy

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and Phosphorous

Some controversy exists around nutritional yeast and it’s focused on two areas. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and Phosphorous. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.

Nutritional yeast contains compounds similar to MSG, which is an excitotoxin that overexcites brain cells and can cause brain damage. So MSG is one substance you definitely want to keep out of your diet.

MSG is approximately 78% free glutamic acid, which is the same neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system and other organs use to initiate different processes in your body.

Nutritional yeast is a natural source of glutamic acid (6 – 11%) and of that coveted Umami flavor, and that special Umami flavor is the reason that MSG is added to foods. But unlike the free glutamic acid found in MSG, the glutamic acid in nutritional yeast is bound to other amino acids.

Our bodies produce this same form of bound glutamic acid and we’re perfectly able to process it safely.  When naturally occurring bound glutamic acid (as found in nutritional yeast) is slowly broken down by our body, as nature intended, there shouldn’t be any problems.

But when our system gets hit with large amounts of free glutamic acid, it’s another story entirely. Free glutamic acid (MSG) needs no processing and it’s available to flood the bloodstream immediately, and in areas of our brain such as the hypothalamus which does not have an impermeable blood barrier the excitotoxins can enter the brain, injuring and even killing neurons.

To recap, nutritional yeast is safe, MSG most certainly is not.

Now onto Phosphorus.

Some critics maintain that nutritional yeast contains too much of the macro-mineral phosphorous, which can deplete calcium stores.

From the book, Healing with Whole Foods:

“Yeast is exceptionally rich in certain nutrients, and deficient in others that are needed for balance. The high phosphorus content of yeast, for example, can deplete the body of calcium; thus some yeast manufacturers now add calcium also.”

While it’s true that too much phosphorous can create a pH imbalance, which forces the body to release some of its calcium reserves to set things right, the fact is that nutritional yeast doesn’t actually contain that much. Popular types of soda contain way more in the form of phosphoric acid.

But to be absolutely sure and to protect your lovely calcium, just eat nutritional yeast with a source of calcium. Like when you sprinkle it on dark green vegetables like kale (super calcium rich) or broccoli, or when you add to it a calcium rich smoothie.

Check your labels because some manufacturers add calcium to their yeast, rendering the phosphorous issue completely moot.

Because nutritional yeast is such an effortless and tasty way to add extra nutrition to many foods, it perfect for sneaking some goodness into finicky kids who refuse to eat more than a handful of foods. And it’s a great way to add nourishment for elderly or sick people who have very little appetite but an increased need for protein, vitamins and minerals. Yeast is recommended for loss of appetite and diarrhea.

Add some to light soups and broths, orange juice, milkshakes, etc.

Nutritional Yeast Serving Ideas

Nutritional Yeast Serving Ideas

On bread, crackers or rice cakes, try toast or rice cakes with sliced tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of yeast on top. Or crackers with a sliver of salmon and a sprinkle of yeast.

On salads, throw some nutritional yeast on top of your salad or mix it into the dressing.

On popcorn, liven up plain popcorn with a sprinkle of cheesy yeast.

With rice or pasta, nutritional yeast will complement almost all rice and pasta dishes.

Garbanzo beans/Chickpeas, add a little salt and a generous shake of yeast.

On eggs, scramble some eggs with a generous amount of cream and add extra flavor with black pepper and yeast.

On Kale, kale is the perfect partner to nutritional yeast since it’s loaded with calcium (more than milk). Simply sprinkle on top of steamed or stir-fried kale. You could even add some bacon.

With tofu, scramble tofu (another high calcium food), tomatoes and potatoes and add more flavor with some yeast.

In sauces, add to sauces to help thicken and add flavor and use in dips for an extra kick.

Use nutritional yeast to replace cream in soups.

How to make a delicious nutritious shake:

1 cup almond milk

2 tablespoons whey protein powder

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!

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.