The In's and Outs Of Nutritional Yeast. Should You Really Be Consuming It?

If you are vegan or even vegetarian you have probably heard of nutritional yeast before. But do you know what it actually is? I know I didn't until recently and what I have found out has shocked me.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

In the most simple terms, nutritional yeast is a dried, inactive yeast grown on molasses. This sounds harmless enough, however, let's get into how it is produced for human consumption.

The production of nutritional yeast begins in highly-controlled laboratories, where a common yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) grows. Like mentioned above it has to grow on something so it grows on one of three nutrient-deficient foods; cane sugar, beet molasses (usually genetically modified), or wood pulp. Because it lacks an external source of nutrients the yeast makes it's own.

Manufacturers then dry the yeast to preserve its nutrients. They usually spray it with hot gas, a process which, unfortunately, causes thermal degradation and loss of nutrients alternatively it is dried in a more traditional method called drum drying.

From there most companies then fortify nutritional yeast by adding in vitamins such as Vitamin B12. Which is why a lot of people eat nutritional yeast, however people don't realise that it doesn't naturally contain B12. You must check the packaging to see if it has B12 in it (if this is how you want to consume your daily B12).

Nutritional yeast is not to be confused with other types of yeast as it can not be used to help the dough rise as it is inactive.

How Does Nutritional Yeast Taste

Whilst nutritional yeast doesn't look or sound that appealing it can make up for it in taste if used well. It is often described as having a cheesy, creamy nutty flavour.

When it comes to the flavour you will either love it or hate it. It seems to be a bit like coriander in the fact you love it or it tastes like dirt to you.

However, it is important to know that flavour can vary from brand to brand. So if you don't like it the first time around. try a different brand or try using it in a different way.

Is Nutritional Yeast Good For You?

Most vegans will answer this question straight away saying "Yes! Of course, it is". And whilst it has some health benefits I am still undecided on whether I would class it as a health food.

This is because some research suggests that nutritional yeast could contain MSG. When we look at how MSG develops in different foods, sadly the production method of nutritional yeast matches. It is a manufactured, fermented food, highly concentrated in flavour and glutamates. This kind of human-made food is exactly where we see MSG occurring, as a byproduct of other food processes. Also, interestingly, the manufacture of MSG itself is very similar to the process of creating nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a flavour enhancer! That’s why vegetarians and vegans love it. However, so is MSG. Any human-made flavour-enhancer should make us cautious.

Ultimately, nutritional yeast manufacturers don't add MSG intentionally; it occurs because of the manufacturing process. However, the misleading wording we often see in the food industry, “no added MSG”, means the product could still occurring MSG.

Another thing to think about is a lot of nutritional yeast is fortified with Folate Acid. Having over 400mg per day of this can lead to unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream.

Whilst the health implications are still unclear it could potentially be harmful and increase cancer outcome. While waiting for further studies, it is best just to choose a brand that adds little or no folic acid to their product.

Whilst it is safe for most people to eat nutritional yeast in moderation. If you haven't tried it before I would start out with small quantities to see how your body reacts.

What Are The Benefits Of Nutritional Yeast?

Okay, that last section was a bit of a downer. But I want to share with you the benefits of having nutritional yeast in moderation.

  • Nutritional Yeast can be a good source of B12 and other B vitamins. However, as mentioned about make sure you chose one that is fortified with B12.

  • Nutritional Yeast is high in protein. 100g contains about 50g of protein, that's around 2 grams of protein per tablespoon of nutritional yeast. On top of that, it contains the 9 essential amino acids that the human body can't produce on its own.

  • Nutritional Yeast is rich in minerals such as selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and calcium. While come of these minerals are trace minerals, which the body doesn't need much of but can't make on its own, they are essential for good health and a strong immune system. However, keep in mind that the minerals and their quantities will vary among brands and whether they have been fortified or not.

  • Nutritional Yeast is rich in antioxidants.

  • Nutritional Yeast is full of fibre. We want fibre in our diet as it promotes healthy digestion and normalises bowel movements. It also relieves constipation and can help maintain a healthy weight.

  • Nutritional yeast has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties thanks to the specific strain of yeast and its high beta-glucans content. Beta-glucans is a form of fibre that has many reported health benefits, including being considered a prebiotic.

Where Can You Buy Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional Yeast is popping up everywhere these days. If you live in Australia like me you can find it at your local Coles or Woolworths, however, you can also find it at health food stores and independent supermarkets.

How Do You Store It?

Nutritional Yeast can be stored anywhere dry, cool and dark. I store mine in a jar in the pantry. Because it is a dry product you want to keep all moisture out, so make sure whatever you store it in, it is sealed well. If you want you can also store it in the freezer in a sealed air-tight bag.

You also never need to worry about buying too much, because even if you do use it rarely it has a shelf life of 1-2 years.

How To Use Nutritional Yeast?

Okay, so I have gone through some pros and cons. You have decided the pros out way the possible cons and you want to try it out. But how do you use it?

  • Use it to thicken soups and sauces

  • Sprinkle on popcorn

  • Add in your smoothie

  • Sprinkle on your favourite salad

What do you think of nutritional yeast? Do you love it or hate it?

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