5 health benefits of nutritional yeast and how to use it

Mini Smith
·5-min read

From Harper's BAZAAR

Popular atop plant-based plates for years now, nutritional yeast is a staple even the most sceptical of omnivores are starting to get behind.

As well as providing a hit of (quite surprisingly) cheesy flavour to any dish, it’s a solid source of protein and fibre and is often fortified with a range of body-benefiting micronutrients.

Ideal for finishing off pastas, soups, stews and more, nutritional yeast is a versatile cupboard staple anyone can benefit from. According to nutritionist and health coach Melissa Kuman, AKA The Delicious Nutritionist, it is "naturally low in sodium and calories, as well as fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan".

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is, as it turns out, yeast. "It is often used as a cheese substitute in vegan cooking as it has a cheesy, nutty flavour," says Kuman.

To be precise, it’s a type of inactive (meaning it won't ferment) yeast from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species, according to nutritionist Jenna Hope (@jennahopenutrition) – that’s the same strain that goes into a freshly baked loaf.

To create the golden flakes, the yeast is cultivated on fortified molasses under carefully controlled conditions, according to Kuman.

After deactivating the yeast using heat, the resulting product is washed, dried and packaged up as granules, flakes or powder. "Many of nutritional yeasts on the shop shelves are fortified with several micronutrients including B-vitamins (including vitamin B12), iron and zinc," adds Hope.

Is nutritional yeast good for you?

In short: yes. Here's why.

1/ It’s a complete source of protein

For those turning to nutritional yeast to supplement a plant-based or fully vegan diet, it can be especially helpful for providing the protein you need to hit your daily goals.

"It is a complete source of protein, like meat, so plant-based eaters can have good quality protein," says Kuman. That means it contains all nine essential amino acids we need from our food, where some plant-based sources only provide a few.

According to Hope, a 5g serving provides 2.6g of protein – but make sure it’s not your only source to ensure you’re getting all you need.

2/ It provides fibre

As well as being packed with protein, nutritional yeast also delivers on the fibre front. A 5g serving provides 1.1g of the stuff, says Hope.

This can help your digestive system get things moving and, combined with the protein content, keep you feeling full for longer.

3/ It could help lower cholesterol

According to Kuman, nutritional yeast contains beta-glucan - also found in oats - that may help lower your cholesterol.

Indeed, in a 2017 study by Silla University, men with high cholesterol who consumed 15g of yeast-derived beta-glucan for eight weeks found that their total cholesterol levels had dropped by 6% at the end of the trial.

4/ It can provide lots of essential B vitamins

"The fortified versions of nutritional yeast are a great way to incorporate the nutrients which are a struggle to obtain on plant-based diets," says Hope. "For example, a 5g serving of B12 fortified nutritional yeast provides 2.2ųg, which accounts for 88% of the daily recommendations."

Most of the varieties you’ll find in supermarkets have been fortified with a range of B vitamins, but it’s the B12 that vegans are careful to supplement outside of their regular diet – it’s only naturally occurring in animal-based products and a deficiency can lead to anaemia.

5/ It contains antioxidants

Finally, nutritional yeast contains the antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine. These can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and help to release toxins, according to Kuman.

A note for those considering a purchase, however: "It’s not the cheapest ingredient on the shelf and therefore it’s important to note that whilst it can be really useful for those following a plant-based diet, it’s not an essential component of a healthy balanced diet," says Hope.

What do you use nutritional yeast for?

Nutritional yeast provides a rich, Parmesan-style flavour that’s perfect for if you’re aiming to ditch the dairy – or simply want to try out an alternative recipe. "Nutritional yeast is very versatile that works with a lot of dishes," adds Kuman. "It can be sprinkled over pasta and risottos and stirred into soups and white sauces to add a cheese flavour. It can also help thicken sauces up. You can even mix it into smoothies and vegetable juices."

Try:

  • Adding to sauces and dressings for a cheesy flavour

  • In a vegan mac and cheese

  • In bread recipes, for an umami hit

  • On top of a risotto

  • Sprinkled on a salad

  • Stirred into a soup

  • With scrambled tofu

  • On top of fresh popcorn for a very savoury vibe

Wondering about storage? Once you’ve opened a pot, keep it in a cool, dark, dry place with the lid on tight and it should last nicely for a couple of years.

Is nutritional yeast the same as active, dry yeast?

No. Nutritional yeast is not activated, so it won't make your bread rise. If you're baking, know that this is not a sub for when a recipe calls for 'yeast.'

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