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Nutritional Yeast – Nourishing or No-Go?

Monday, February 24, 2020



After subscribing to a few too many food pages on Facebook, sometimes my news feed is almost all cooking and recipe videos. Many people are becoming interested in eating more plant-based foods, and fewer foods from animals. This can be a healthy way of eating, and a great choice for the environment. One common ingredient you might find in vegetarian and vegan recipes is nutritional yeast. I knew from watching many recipe videos that nutritional yeast is often used as a substitute for cheese, but I had never tried it. Giving up cheese was not on my radar! That is, until I had a cholesterol test and decided I wanted to take steps to decrease saturated fat and impact my cholesterol. I’m not much of a meat eater, so I’ve been trying to reduce my dairy consumption. But what to sprinkle on my edamame pasta? This is how I came across nutritional yeast.

Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer. While brewer’s, baker’s and nutritional yeasts are technically made from the same species of yeast, they are very different products.

  • Baker’s yeast: Baker’s yeast is purchased alive and used to leaven bread. The yeast is killed during cooking but adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to bread.
  • Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast can be purchased alive and is used to brew beer. The dead yeast cells leftover from the brewing process can be consumed as a nutritional supplement but have a very bitter taste.
  • Nutritional yeast: This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.

To produce nutritional yeast, S. cerevisiae cells are grown for several days on a sugar-rich medium like molasses.

Nutritional yeast is commonly sold as granules or flakes. It has a rich yellow color and a savory taste. It’s a good source of protein, fiber, and B vitamins. Animal products are the most common sources of vitamin B12, so for people who avoid eating animal products B12 can be especially important. Without enough vitamin B12, anemia and other medical problems can develop.

However, some people should not eat nutritional yeast. People with inflammatory bowel disease, especially Crohn’s disease, may experience an immune reaction that can lead to inflammation. There is some evidence to suggest that the tyramine (one of the building blocks of protein) in nutritional yeast might be a headache or migraine trigger. If you need to avoid nutritional yeast, there are plenty of other ways to get enough vitamin B12 (like most fermented foods) or satisfy a craving for savory or cheesy taste (like cashew cheese).  Good quality tempeh, yogurt and kefir (even dairy free), and miso are a GREAT source of B12:

Check out this great recipe for Miso Sauce

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