Nutritional Yeast 101: The Superfood You Should Be Eating
Ever tried nutritional yeast flakes? Are you thinking, Why the heck would I want to eat yeast? I get it—nutritional yeast sounds gross (hence its nickname “nooch,” though I inexplicably hate that word, too). I first tried nutritional yeast while in nutrition school (we nutritionists love to try weird-sounding superfoods—the more obscure, the better) but had forgotten about it until a few months ago, when I went to make a recipe calling for it. Since then, it’s been a pantry staple, for its flavour (savoury and slightly cheesy) as much as its nutrition.
forcing encouraging all my friends to try it, and I suggest you do, too. Find it at health food stores, in packages (Bob’s Red Mill is a common brand) or in bulk, where it’s often sold for cheaper. (It’s a bit pricey, but a couple tablespoons is all you need.) Still not convinced? Here’s the lowdown on what it is and why you should add it to your diet—stat!
Nutritional Yeast 101
What is nutritional yeast?
Like baker’s and brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is cultivated from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species and grown in a lab. But unlike the others, nutritional yeast is rendered inactive through pasteurization (heat). More nutrients are often added to nutritional yeast during pasteurization, and then it’s dried, cut into flakes and packaged. Note: Nutritional yeast cannot cause a yeast infection nor is it related to the Candida albicans strain.
Why is it so nutritious?
As its name suggests, nutritional yeast is grown for its nutrient content. Most brands contain added nutrients, but check the ingredient list to be sure.
Protein: A quarter-cup of nutritional yeast boasts 24 grams of protein, and it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all the amino acids needed for muscle growth. Plus, nutritional yeast is easily digested (many people can’t digest or are allergic to animal proteins, such as milk or eggs. Remember, you can’t use what you can’t digest!).
Fibre: Forget boxed cleanses; fibre is the best detox tool, pushing waste, cholesterol and toxins, including harmful estrogen, from our bodies. We need at least 25 grams of fibre per day; a quarter-cup of nutritional yeast provides one-third that amount (plus it’s far tastier—and lighter—than a bowl of All-Bran!).
B vitamins: Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, which is otherwise only in animal foods (meat, fish, milk, cheese, etc.) or fortified cereals. Vitamin B12, which gets depleted during periods of stress, supports nerve health, fights fatigue and boosts metabolism. In fact, many people, not just vegans, get vitamin B12 shots for these benefits. Also, as we get older, our stomachs produce less hydrochloric acid, resulting in reduced absorption of vitamin B12 (from animal proteins); however, we still can absorb B12 from fortified plant sources, such as nutritional yeast.
Minerals: Nutritional yeast contains calcium and magnesium, which together strengthen bones. It also contains a host of other essential minerals, including potassium, zinc, iron and manganese.
Antioxidants: Nutritional yeast is high in the antioxidant glutathione and contains 30 percent of the daily recommended intake for selenium, the antioxidant mineral shown to help prevent some cancers, including colon cancer. Glutathione and selenium form glutathione peroxidase, the mother of all antioxidants. Free radicals, watch out!
Healthy fats: Nutritional yeast has lecithin, a fatty substance which keeps cell membranes strong and pliable, so nutrients can enter cells. Lecithin also helps to carry fats and cholesterol throughout the body so they don’t stick to artery walls.
What else? Nutritional yeast is low in fat, sodium and calories and is dairy-, gluten-, wheat-, and sugar-free. Unlike supplements, nutritional yeast is considered a food and may be added to all types of recipes, including my low-carb sandwich thins, crunchy kale chips and no-bake chocolate chip balls.
How to use nutritional yeast:
- Add ¼ cup to casseroles, meatloaf or meatballs; lentil loaf; or beef, bean or salmon burgers.
- Add ¼ cup to muffin, cookie or protein bar batter (you won’t be able to taste it).
- Add a spoonful to a smoothie.
- Mix with ground flaxseed and breadcrumbs for a coating for chicken or zucchini sticks.
- Sprinkle on popcorn, salad, pasta, pizza, potatoes, cooked vegetables and scrambled eggs.
- Stir into peanut butter; spread as usual!
- Stir into dips (I like it in hummus), salad dressings and soup.
- Whisk into eggs before making an omelette or a frittata.
For more recipes with nutritional yeast, check out these sites.
- Love Veggies and Yoga (She has a great recipe for Reese’s-style peanut butter cups.)
- FatFree Vegan
- Peas and Thank You
- About.com–Vegetarian Cooking
Now go and get some nutritional yeast!