What Are The Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast?

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    We review the research on the benefits of nutritional yeast. It is a source of vitamin B12, beta glucans, protein, and antioxidants.

    When you hear the word fungus, your immediate reaction may be thoughts of unpleasant skin concerns. How about edible fungus? Instead of saying “ew,” you should actually be saying “yum!”

    Some notable types of fungus that are part of the food supply are mushrooms and yeasts. So that artisanal sourdough bread you love is actually made with fungus!

    Baker’s yeast is just one kind of yeast. There is also something called nutritional yeast that can add unique flavors to foods and potentially support health. Let’s review the benefits of nutritional yeast and discuss how to add it to your diet.

    What is Nutritional Yeast?

    Nutritional yeast is made from a fungus called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It’s grown in a sugar-rich environment and then killed during the manufacturing process, so it’s not alive in the final product.

    Nutrition yeast is sometimes called “nooch” by adoring fans. It provides a cheesy flavor to foods and is often described as adding an umami (or savory) taste.

    As the name suggests, nutritional yeast has nutritional value. This is because it contains B vitamins and is often fortified with vitamin B12. It has become popular with those following a vegan diet as an important source of B12 (more on this later).

    Nutritional Yeast vs. Baking Yeast

    Here’s a little food science for you:

    Baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, and nutritional yeast are all made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. But even though they are made from the same yeast species, they have very different uses.

    Baker’s yeast is used to help dough rise. When making bread dough, for example, water reactivates the yeast so it “wakes up.” The yeast then eats the sugar in the flour and produces ethanol and carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result. The CO2 gas is trapped by the gluten in the dough, causing it to expand. The yeast is then killed off by the heat of the oven and you’re left with a tasty loaf of bread. Science!

    If baker’s yeast is used to bake, then brewer’s yeast must be used to do what? Brew!

    Brewer’s yeast is also purchased alive and is used to brew beer. The yeast eats the sugars in malted grains and produces alcohol. So soft pretzels and beer wouldn’t be possible without live Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

    Nutritional yeast is still made from S. cerevisiae, but it’s not the same. Unlike baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is killed off before packaging. Another key difference is that nutritional yeast is often fortified to bump up its nutrient content.

    Types of Nutritional Yeast

    As we’ve discussed, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the most widely used type of nutritional yeast. It can be a source of B vitamins and nutrients, especially chromium and selenium. Chromium is necessary for the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels, while selenium promotes a normal function of the immune system.

    Another less-known species is Yarrowia lipolytica. This yeast contributes to the production of a number of important nutrients, including bioavailable proteins, essential amino acids, and trace minerals.

    A specific strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae called Saccharomyces boulardii is actually considered a probiotic. It can be beneficial to the gut microbiome and promotes a normal balance of microbes in the intestines. It also helps support a healthy immune system, and can provide overall gut health support.

    Nutritional Content of Nutritional Yeast

    Nutritional yeasts are a rich source of amino acids, single cell proteins, several bioavailable minerals, and B vitamins. The minerals in nutrition yeast include chromium, selenium, zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese.

    Contains B12, protein, fiber and antioxidants

    One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 2 grams of fiber and about 4 mcg of vitamin B12. It also contains B vitamins such as folate (usually in the form of folic acid).

    Saccharomyces cerevisiae can also be a source of antioxidants. Research shows that a certain strain of S. cerevisiae isolated from fruits contains the antioxidant glutathione. Antioxidants support the health of cells by helping to protect the body from free radicals.

    Let’s talk more about the potential benefits of nutritional yeast.

    Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

    Boosts Energy Levels

    Nutritional yeast may help support energy levels.

    As we mentioned, S. cerevisiae is a source of B vitamins and B vitamins are needed to help convert food into energy. If someone is deficient in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, they may have an improvement in energy if they get more B12 in their diet or from a B12 supplement.

    Supports a Healthy Immune System

    Beta glucans are a type of fiber that is present in yeast. Research shows that they may help support a healthy immune system. They can also help support the health of the gut microbiome, which can have an impact on the health of the immune system.

    Vitamin C and vitamin D can also help support the immune system.

    Supports Healthy Skin, Hair, and Nails

    The amino acids (building blocks of proteins) and minerals found in yeasts may help support healthy skin, hair, and nails.

    Research suggests that nutrition can support the health of hair, so a good diet overall is key. But sometimes supplements can help fill in gaps in nutrition needs. A keratin supplement can also be beneficial for hair, skin, and nail health.

    Contributes to Heart Health

    Remember the beta glucan fibers found in yeast that we talked about earlier? While there are no direct studies on nutritional yeast and heart health, there are studies that show that beta glucans can be beneficial.

    Studies show that beta glucans may support maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels already in normal range. Research has also found that they can support overall cardiovascular health.

    More research is needed to determine if nutritional yeast can provide these same observed benefits.

    Using Nutritional Yeast in a Vegan Diet

    Vitamin B12 is necessary for the health of blood and nerve cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to weakness and fatigue because the body is not able to make enough red blood cells. B12 deficiency can result from poor absorption by the body or from not getting enough B12 in the diet.

    Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and milk. According to the National Institutes of Health, “people who eat little or no animal foods, such as vegetarians and vegans, might not get enough vitamin B12 from their diets.” Therefore, they must get B12 from supplements or fortified foods.

    Nutritional yeast has been shown to be helpful to bridge nutrient gaps for children on a vegan diet. However, the researchers cautioned against using nutritional yeast as the only source of B12 supplementation.

    For adults, one study looking at mostly raw vegan diets recommended supplementation with B12 sources. They showed that the use of nutritional yeast helped support B12 levels in this population.

    Enhancing the Flavor of Vegan and Plant-Based Dishes

    Want to start using nooch in your cooking? There are so many ways to use nutritional yeast to bring some savory into plant-based dishes!

    Nutritional Yeast as a Cheese Substitute

    Since nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor, many people use it in place of cheese. You can sprinkle it over pasta, chili, or soups. You could also use it on a vegan pizza instead of cheese.

    Here is just one of the countless recipes for making vegan cheese sauce with nutritional yeast!

    Looking for some salty-crunchy cracker action? Give these “nooch crackers” a try!

    Adding Nutritional Yeast to Smoothies

    It may sound odd, but you can absolutely use nutritional yeast in smoothies.

    Nutritional yeast can add a kick of nutrients and some extra thickness to your shakes. Just remember that it does have a cheesy flavor, so start with a small amount so you don’t overpower your drink. Adding some sour fruits like pineapple can help balance out the taste.

    The Bottom Line

    Nutritional yeast may be a good way to add nutrients and flavor to foods, especially for those who avoid animal products. Research shows that there are a wide variety of potential benefits of nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast can be a tasty way to get more vitamin B12 and fiber into your diet!

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.