Do you know someone who swears by nutritional yeast? Some people even say it tastes like cheese.
What exactly is it and what is the point of eating it? Have you always wanted to try it, but aren’t sure it’s worth the trip to the health store?
You’ve got questions and I’ve got answers. Here’s a mini-primer on what nutritional yeast is and why you should (or shouldn’t) be eating it. Read on, folks 🙂 .
What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, usually made from the strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that is sold as a food product.
It’s important to note that the yeast is deactivated or “dead”, so it’s not a live yeast which will continue to grow. And it’s not the same as the Candida albicans yeast.
Nutritional yeast is sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder and can be found in the bulk aisle of most health food stores. It has been popular with vegans and vegetarians for a long time and it’s usually used as a condiment or “supplemental food” since it has some B-vitamins and other nutrients.
What does it taste like?
You’ll hear that it tastes like cheese, but that may be a stretch. It has a strong flavour that is somewhat reminiscent of cheese, but also has a hint of nuttiness and umami flavour.
Why should you eat it? Any benefits?
Well, you certainly don’t HAVE to eat it, but it’s a decent food to add for a bit of variety to your diet.
And if you like the taste, it’s a great way to boost the flavour of your meals as well as increase their nutritional value. That’s a win-win!
1. PROTEIN – A two tablespoon (heaped) serving of nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein! How much is that?
Let’s put it into perspective. That’s almost as much as half a small can of tuna or 1/2 a scoop of protein powder. So it’s definitely not a big amount, it’s still a good way to get some supplemental protein into your diet, especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian.
2. VITAMINS AND MINERALS – Nutritional yeast, if unfortified, naturally contains significant amounts (more than 30% of the RDA) of vitamin B1, vitamin B3, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin B5 and molybdenum.
While you can definitely get these vitamins from other foods, there’s no harm in getting a decent amount from from nutritional yeast. I look at the yeast as a natural “supplement”. I’ll have a bit with my meals 3-4 times a week.
It’s important to note here that while some nutritional yeast products are NOT fortified, many ARE fortified with additional vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin B12. Is that a good thing? Yes and no. Read more in the *starred* section below.
3. FIBER – Two heaped tablespoons of nutritional yeast contain 4 g of fiber and we all know how important dietary fiber is for good health (if you want to learn more about the benefits of fiber, you can read my post here), especially for digestive health.
The fiber in nutritional yeast is a special kind of fiber known as beta-glucan. So why are these beta-glucans so important? It’s a type of soluble fiber that helps improve cholesterol, heart health, and blood sugar levels. Sounds like something worth eating, doesn’t it?
*Anyone who shouldn’t eat nutritional yeast?*
OK, so here’s where things get complicated. When it comes to nutrition, things are not always black and white – it’s 50 shades of grey :P.
While unfortified nutritional yeast is fine to eat in moderation for almost everyone, I can’t say the same about fortified nutritional yeast. If you’re planning on eating unfortified nutritional yeast, you can skip this section, but if you aren’t sure, read on.
First things first, what does fortified nutritional yeast have that regular nutritional yeast does not?
Fortified nutritional yeast can contain a number of different synthetic vitamins depending on the brand, but the most commonly added vitamins are folic acid and vitamin B12 because yeast does not contain much of these nutrients naturally. While I’m not against fortifying with vitamin B-12, there is a slight problem with folic acid fortification. Most people can use folic acid just fine and not have any issues with it, but there is a portion of the population that cannot.
People who have a certain genetic mutation known as the MTHFR mutation cannot use folic acid. MTHFR? I know it looks like a curse word, but “MTHFR” is a shortened form of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. Thank goodness there’s a shorted version!
If you have the MTHFR mutation, that means it is more difficult for you to break down synthetic folic acid (like the folic acid added to fortified nutritional yeast). Since synthetic folic acid can’t be converted into the usable form, it can build up in the body. This can eventually lead to a variety of health problems (which you can read more about here).
If you don’t have the MTHFR mutation, you don’t have to worry, but if you do, stick to unfortified nutritional yeast. If you have no idea if you have the mutation and want to err on the side of caution? Then stick to unfortified nutritional yeast as well.
Where can you buy it?
If you can handle synthetic folic acid and are fine with consuming synthetic B vitamins, then you can buy the fortified version. You can find it online (Amazon, etc) or at your local health food store.
Now, if you’re someone who has to avoid synthetic folic acid due to the MTHFR gene mutation or for other reasons, then stay away from the fortified products. At this time I am only aware of two brands that make an unfortified version – Dr. Fuhrman’s Nutritional Yeast and Sari Foods. If you know any other brands, leave them in the comments below.
How do you use it?
It can be used like any other condiment. Just sprinkle a bit on top of any savory meal or snack and you’re good to go. Nothing fancy. If you want to try more interesting ways to use nutritional yeast, try these recipes:
Do you use nutritional yeast? What do you think of it? Leave a comment below – we love reading them :).