Trying a plant-based diet, but missing your favorite cheesy dishes? Give nutritional yeast, which is packed with benefits, a try. It’s a pantry staple for many vegans as a cheese substitute thanks to its umami flavor.
“Nutritional yeast is a healthy and easy addition, providing key nutrients that may be low or missing in modern diets,” says Christina Meyer-Jax, MS, RDN, standard process nutrition chair and assistant professor at the College of Health and Wellness at Northwestern Health Sciences University. “This can be an especially great option for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet who may be missing vitamins such as B12.”
Nutritional yeast is also gluten-, soy-, and sugar-free, so it can be a great choice for people with food sensitivities, she says.
Featuring a cheesy flavor and crumbly, flaky texture, nutritional yeast also has thickening capabilities. It can be sprinkled on popcorn, salads, soups, pasta, or roasted vegetables. You can also use it to thicken sauces or soups. Here’s everything you need to know about this delicious staple.
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast, also known as “nooch,” is made from the same yeast used to help bread rise, according to Food Network. The main difference is that the yeast used in bread recipes is active, meaning it’s still alive, while nutritional yeast is no longer alive.
Related: Plant-Based vs. Vegan Diets: 26 Differences and Similarities
Nutritional yeast is made from living saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. It’s fed a sugary compound and fermented, and then heated, pasteurized, and dried, which deactivates it. The process also releases the yeast’s amino acids, giving it a cheesy flavor. During the drying process, it also takes on a nutty flavor. It’s then crumbled or flaked and packaged—and, it will keep in your pantry for up to two years.
While nutritional yeast can be a great option for people on a vegan diet or who are cutting salt from their diets, people with yeast allergies should avoid it, says Maxine Smith, RDN, LD, CSOWM, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
People with Crohn’s disease or with a compromised immune system also might want to skip nutritional yeast, as it can cause gas or trigger migraines, Smith says.
Consuming too much could interact with drugs, like diabetes medications or monoamine oxidase inhibitors, she adds, “It’s helpful to remember that more is not always better.”
Nutritional Yeast Benefits
All nutritional yeast products are different, so be sure to check an item’s label for its actual nutrient rundown. Though, nutritional yeast tends to be low in calories, sugar-free, and low carb. For example, 2 tablespoons of Bragg Nutritional Yeast contains 35 calories, 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 630% of your daily value of vitamin B12.
Here’s an overview of some of the many health benefits of nutritional yeast:
1. It’s good for your heart
“Nutritional yeast contains heart-healthy protein that doesn’t contain artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol, and is low in sodium,” Smith says.
It contains beta-glucan, a type of fiber found in yeast and whole grains, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk for cancer.
Related: 20 Best High-Fiber Foods
2. It contains protein
Many plant-based proteins are incomplete, meaning they don’t contain the nine amino acids found in animal protein. That’s not the case for nutritional yeast.
“Nutritional yeast is a vegetarian and vegan-friendly complete protein food containing all nine of the essential amino acids, which provide the important building blocks for tissue repair, growth, and cell function,” Meyer-Jax says.
3. It’s a solid source of vitamins and minerals
Nutritional yeast is a “nutrient-dense powerhouse,” Meyer-Jax says. It’s a solid source of vitamins and minerals, like zinc, iron, selenium, potassium and B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which helps keep the body’s blood and nerve cells healthy.
It also contains the antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine, which can help the body break down free radicals, fight inflammation, support the immune system, and benefit overall health.
4. It can give your immune system a boost
5. It can improve digestion
Nutritional yeast contains fiber, which is good for digestive health, and it may help reduce irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and promote gut health, Smith says.
Related: 15 Foods That Boost Your Immune System
When it comes to the fiber in nutritional yeast—about 4 grams per 2 tablespoons, a little goes a long way, Meyer-Jax says. Too much can cause gas, bloating, and digestive pain. For some people with inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s disease, it can trigger symptoms.
6. It can lower your blood sugar
Since it has a low glycemic index, nutritional yeast can keep your blood sugar in check. This can help stop food cravings, maintain a healthy weight, and decrease your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
7. It can put you in a better mood (and minimize cold symptoms)
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that beta-glucan can improve mood and offer immune protection for daily stressors. The study also showed that beta-glucan can reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms.
8. It can help with weight management
Nutritional yeast’s low-glycemic index and high fiber content will help keep you full longer, which can be beneficial for weight management. Research suggests it also may reduce body weight and prevent abdominal fat from accumulating.
Next, read about 101 vegan diet tips.
- Maxine Smith, RDN, LD, CSOWM, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition
- Christina Meyer-Jax, MS, RDN, standard process nutrition chair and assistant professor at the College of Health and Wellness at Northwestern Health Sciences University
- Food Network: What Is Nutritional Yeast?
- National Cancer Institute: Beta-glucan
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B12
- U.S. News and World Report: What Is Glutathione?
- European Journal of Nutrition: Yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan helps to maintain the body’s defence against pathogens: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicentric study in healthy subjects
- Nutrition Journal: Immune-modulatory effects of dietary Yeast Beta-1,3/1,6-D-glucan
- Bragg: Bragg Nutritional Yeast
- Mayo Clinic: Glycemic index diet: What’s behind the claims
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Baker’s yeast beta-glucan supplement reduces upper respiratory symptoms and improves mood state in stressed women
- Nutrition: Yeast hydrolysate can reduce body weight and abdominal fat accumulation in obese adults