Nutritional Yeast – Is It a Vegan Superfood or Not Really?

By Jen Evansy / March 1, 2020
nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast — aka "nooch" is that yellow, flaky, nutty, and cheesy condiment popular mostly among vegans and vegetarians. It is claimed to provide protein, minerals, B vitamins, and comes with many other benefits! But how good is it really?

Let's answers some common concerns and see if this acclaimed vegan superfood lives up to the hype?

What Exactly Is Nutritional Yeast?

deactivated yeast brufax

Yeast is a single-cell organism that has long been used by humans for thousands of years and comes in different types. Traditionally, two better-known uses of yeast have been in baking and in brewing beer.

However, in recent years, another form of yeast has started to gain prominence and popularity – and that’s nutritional yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

While the baker’s and brewer’s yeast are used with the single-cells alive, nutritional yeast is “deactivated,” – which means the single cell is actually killed off using a heating and drying procedure.

It is grown on a number of sources, including whey, sugar beets, and sugar cane. However, don’t let that put you off as it tastes out of this world!

Nutritional yeast comes in yellow grains, flakes, or powder. It has a very distinct cheesy, slightly nutty, savory flavor. Not only is it prized for its taste and versatility in the kitchen, but it also comes with a raft of health benefits too. At first, it may sound almost upside-down logic to ponder on the idea that yeast can be so good for you. However, when it comes to nutritional yeast, don’t let your preconceptions fool you!

Why Do So Many Vegans Like Nutritional Yeast?

vegan nooch powder

As well as not consuming meat and eggs, vegans also do not eat dairy products such as cheese. Therefore, for those vegans looking for a non-dairy cheesy flavor addition to their food, nutritional yeast is a perfect alternative.

It is also inexpensive and easy to obtain – local health food stores are always a good starting point or failing that, there’s always online.

Check out my favorite one here on Amazon >>>

A “nooch lover” has become a real term of approval by many in the world-wide vegan community to show their love for nutritional yeast.

For an added bonus, it is also naturally gluten-free.

Is Nooch Highly Nutritious?

nutritional yeast in the jar

Nutritional yeast is full of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber – all of them good for your body (it is also virtually fat-free). [1] & [2] Those vitamins and minerals include:

  • Vitamin B6.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Calcium.
  • Folate.
  • Iron.
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin.
  • Riboflavin.
  • Selenium.
  • Thiamine.
  • Zinc.

We will look at each one of these in greater detail below.

Why Take Nutritional Yeast?

illustration

It Is A Complete Protein

Nutritional yeast is also what is known as a “complete protein.” That is, the body needs to get nine amino acids externally, through diet. 

Those are called “essential amino acids.” Amino acids make up the protein that, in turn, makes up our bodies. If you start falling short on your essential amino acids for too long, you start to run the risk of developing some serious medical conditions or illnesses.

It contains all nine essential amino acids. That then is perfect for vegans because non-vegans usually get their nine essential amino acids through meat, dairy, and eggs – which vegans cannot, of course, do.

It Can Aid Weight Loss And Digestive Health

One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains:

  • Approximately 28 calories.
  • 3.8 grams of protein.
  • 3.2 grams of carbohydrate.
  • 2.1 grams of fiber.
  • 0.6 grams of fat.
  • 0 grams of sugar.
nutrition facts

Percent daily values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Combining it with a balanced nutritious and regular exercise, it is an excellent choice for vegans in terms of both weight loss/control and gastric health. Fiber is necessary for good bowel and digestive health. It also helps us to feel fuller for longer, therefore reducing the urge to eat as much, which in turn can aid weight loss/control. 

It Is An Excellent Energy Booster

Athletes and gym-goers are increasingly using nutritional yeast as a way to sustain better energy levels for longer. There is a particular fiber to be found in nutritional yeast that helps to boost white blood cell production. In doing so, that helps the body to maintain higher energy levels for longer. 

It Is A Great Source Of Vitamins, Minerals, And Nutrients

Going back to the list of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients listed above:

  • Vitamin B6 – crucial for maintaining a healthy brain and nerve function.
  • Vitamin B12 – critical for cell health and production, particularly needed for the body, hair, nails, and skin. It also plays a vital role in maintaining the good health of the central nervous system and sustaining energy levels.
  • Calcium – essential for good bone and teeth health.
  • Folate – also called vitamin B9, it is crucial for heart and lung health. Folate is also needed for healthy brain function. It is also of particular interest to pregnant women as it can help them protect against potential birth defects in their newly-borns.
  • Iron – plays a vital role in how the body removes carbon dioxide from the blood. 
  • It also plays an important role in both hormone and soft tissue production.
  • Magnesium – essential for keeping blood pressure in good shape, heart health, and maintaining healthy bones.
  • Niacin – helps to also keep the heart healthy as well as keeping cholesterol levels in check. It also goes by the name of vitamin B3.
  • Riboflavin – also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin plays a key role in the health of the brain and also in helping to maintain good eye health.
  • Selenium – plays a number of roles in keeping the body healthy, including good thyroid health, good heart health, and, as an antioxidant, it is effective in helping the body to fight off infections and boost the immune system in general. There is also some evidence linking a lack of selenium with an increased risk of cancer.
  • Thiamine – also known as vitamin B1, thiamine can help in the management of diabetes and has also been linked with helping to stave off the likes of Alzheimer’s disease. [3]
  • Zinc – is needed by the body to help maintain the immune system and to help with recovery and the healing of wounds.

It Is A Source Of Many Other Benefits

Regular consumption of nutritional yeast has also been linked with helping soothe stomach upsets and diarrhea, reducing the risk of both catching a cold [4] and if one does get hold of you, reducing the symptoms experienced, and also helps to improve mood and lower stress.

For those who need to watch their sodium intake, nutritional yeast makes a great replacement for regular salt and, the best part, it contains absolutely zero sodium. Definitely something worth knowing.

6 Most Common Concerns Answered

FAQ
1

Is Nutritional Yeast Highly Processed And Genetically Modified?

No, or at least not processed to the extent of some other food-stuffs out there (both vegan and non-vegan). It is, of course, cultivated, heated, and then dried to make it what it is. Unless additional ingredients or further processing have been applied, then relative to other foods, the processed element of nutritional yeast is very modest. As for genetically modified nutritional yeast, while that can be sourced, that is very much in the minority. Most nutritional yeast is natural and minimally processed.

2

Does It Contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) And Is That Bad For You If It Does?

No. Unless MSG has been specifically added to some low-quality nutritional yeast products, you won’t find it in there. Label-checking is then the best way to check for this by way of reassurance. MSG itself is really a matter of personal choice as the evidence is split on whether it is detrimental to health or not. Glutamate is naturally occurring in foods, including nutritional yeast, whereas MSG is man-made and added artificially.

3

Are There Better Food Sources For Nutrients Than Nutritional Yeast?

This again, is really a matter of personal choice. It is essentially indisputable that nutritional yeast is a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. There are, of course, other superfoods out there that offer something similar – Spirulina, Chlorella, Maca, and so on. Everyone is, of course, different and has different needs and preferences. So, while a little research goes a long way, that doesn’t detract from the fundamental fact that nutritional yeast is an awesome source of nutrients, particularly so for vegans.

4

Can It Cause Unpleasant Digestive Side Effects?

It can, but like anything else, only if you over-do it. Keep in mind that nutritional yeast has a high fiber content. While a high fiber diet can certainly help with digestion, consuming too much too soon may actually be counter-productive, with things like bloating, cramps and diarrhea occurring. Therefore, as long as you don’t jump in at the deep-end straight away and over-do it, your stomach should be just fine.

5

Do Producers Add Vitamins Such As Folic Acid To Nutritional Yeast?

Yes and no – it really depends on what your needs are. Basically, nutritional yeast comes in two main types – fortified and unfortified. Fortified means that the manufacturer has introduced additional vitamins and nutrients to their nutritional yeast – such as folic acid and vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast “as is” – still with a really good amount of nutritional value, but not as extensive as the fortified version.

6

Does Nutritional Yeast Contain Mold Toxins?

Ultimately, yeast is fungi, and yes, some fungi may come with the mold. If this is though concern for you, the best way to avoid consuming any such contaminated yeast is to purchase, reputable brands. By doing so, you are way more likely to have a lab-tested product to use – one that will have been cleared of mold toxins.

Are We Then Looking At Nutritional Yeast As A Genuine Superfood?

food powder

In short, the answer just has to be a resounding, yes! 

Not only is it a great tasting cheese substitute for vegans, but it comes with a wealth of health benefits, including a range of naturally occurring B vitamins and other nutrients. It is a complete protein, comes with a good fiber component, and it has virtually zero fat! On top of all that, this savory yeast is easily available and cheap to buy!

It’s hard to think of another superfood that manages to both pack that much in and offer so much taste and versatility in the kitchen!

There are, it has to be said, some vegans out there who don’t find nutritional yeast to their particular taste. Such is vegan life at the best of times! However, the broad vegan consensus on nutritional yeast is that yes, it is a superfood in terms of both health and taste.

If you already know nooch, it will likely be in your shopping basket any time soon. If you haven’t yet tried it, now you know about it, it’s definitely the time to give it a go – you won’t be disappointed!

Best Natural Nooch For Vegans (or non-vegans)

hart

Completely Natural Non-Fortified Nutritional Yeast Flakes

This product is 100% whole food based. It is dairy-free, gluten-free, MSG-free and free of Candida Albicans.

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How To Use Nutritional Yeast In Food And Cooking?

nutritional yeast used in cooking

There are two main ways to use nutritional yeast:

  1. In cooking itself as an ingredient.
  2. As a condiment – to sprinkle on a dish for an extra taste, for example.

Some examples of nutritional yeast in recipes include as the flavor component of a vegan cheese sauce or as mixed into making homemade vegan sausages? If you are looking for a replacement for dairy parmesan on your pasta, nooch has got you covered! Or, your author’s favorite – vegan (quinoa) mac & cheese! [5]

The bottom line with nutritional yeast is that it can be used as a cheese alternative in literally every recipe that would ordinarily have cheese in it. Even if you weren’t vegan, think of the fat consumption that eliminating dairy cheese would have on your waist-line!

Condiment wise, nutritional yeast is awesome as an alternative for grated dairy cheese on pasta. It can also be sprinkled onto popcorn and into soups for extra flavor. Or you can simply mix it in a cup of almond milk. It really is very versatile and can be used in any number of ways. The only restriction would be your own imagination!

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About the author

    Jen Evansy

    Nutritionists, researchers, and writers, interested in everything healthy-living related. Helping you identify the best diets, learn about food and nutrition, to help you live happier, longer and stronger.


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