Category Archives: Reviews

Nutritional Yeast 101: The Superfood You Should Be Eating

Doesn’t nutritional yeast look appetizing? I promise it is tasty. I bought this at an IGA supermarket, but I’ve mostly seen it at health food stores (ask if you can’t find it).

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.

I’ve been 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. 

Now go and get some nutritional yeast!

Want to Stay Young? Go Okinawan.

I recently read and was inspired by The Blue Zones, which describes the lifestyles of the world’s healthiest, longest-living peoples. Unfortunately, Canadians aren’t among them. In fact, if you want to feel youthful for longer, it’s best not to live like the average Canadian, who is 60 percent likely to be overweight or obese. Rather, you’d be wise to adopt the health habits of the Okinawans of Japan. Not only do Okinawans boast the lowest rates of disease worldwide, including cancer and heart disease, but more healthy, independent centenarians live in Okinawa than anywhere else.

There’s no need to bid adieu to the Great White North, however, to tap the fountain of youth. Adopt the Okinawans’ long life secrets, and repeat after me, “Hara hachi bu”!

Okinawans stay lean:

The scale doesn’t fluctuate much for the Okinawans, who keep a stable weight through adulthood. Although it’s no surprise they eat healthfully (no drive-thrus there), they don’t diet; however, Okinawans consume more food (by volume) yet fewer calories than other populations. Their diet mainstays are veggies, fruit, fish, seafood and legumes, all high-fibre, low-calorie foods. Add to this a philosophy of “hara hachi bu,” which translates to “80 percent full”: they eat enough to feel satisfied, not stuffed. This makes sense, since it takes the body 20 minutes to register satiety.

Okinawans stay fit:

Okinawans aren’t beholden to arduous workout regimes (no boot camp classes for these folks); instead, they weave activity into their day and do activities they enjoy, such as walking, gardening and tai chi. For them, exercise isn’t an end in itself but a chance to connect with nature and others.

Okinawans also tend to do some sort of exercise in the evenings, to prep the body for restful sleep. Speaking of sleep (my favourite topic!), Okinawans hit the hay earlier and have fewer sleep problems than other peoples.

Okinawans go (mostly) meatless:

Okinawans’ seasonal, plant-based diet is a definite key to their longevity. Rich in fibre and antioxidants, plant foods, such as veggies, grains and beans, fortify immunity and prevent free radical damage. Okinawans favour whole soy foods (think tofu, not soy “nuggets”) for protein, and a higher soy intake is thought to be one reason why Okinawan women have an easier menopause, a better bone density and an 80 percent reduced risk of hormone-driven cancers, such as breast cancer. (Okinawan men have 80 percent less incidence of prostate cancer.)

Okinawans rarely eat red meat or chicken, but they eat a lot of fish and seafood, which contain heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3s.

Okinawans don’t sweat the small stuff:

Resilient and adaptive, Okinawans don’t stress over much (though I bet most Okinawans don’t have a neighbour with state-of-the-art subwoofers, but I digress). Okinawans’ positive outlook, strong spiritual beliefs, and sense of community and purpose—all determinants of health—are credited for their low rates of depression and dementia. (Or perhaps their blissful attitudes owe to higher-than-normal levels of the sex hormones DHEA and testosterone . . . .)

And in what is perhaps the greatest difference between Okinawan and Western culture, Okinawan elders are revered for their wisdom, and the aging process is celebrated. Here’s to healthy aging, Okinawan-style!

P.S. Needless to say, Okinawans don’t smoke!