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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!

“Secret Ingredient” Blender Brownies—Gluten- and Dairy-Free!

Black bean brownie recipes have been floating around the Web for a while, but I’d never tried them till recently. Based on my other dessert-type “experiments” with beans (such as my banana chickpea bars—fail), I’d figured they’d taste, well, like beans! But, and I kid you not, these brownies, which were inspired by this recipe, are moist and delicious and have no “bean-y” taste. And they take mere minutes to whip together. Gluten-, dairy- and totally guilt-free, they’re high in protein and fibre and low in carbs and sugar. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better (and whose isn’t?), these are perfect. Try them!

Ingredients:

  • 1 398-mL can black beans (1½ cups), well rinsed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil (e.g., olive, canola or walnut oil)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 6 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 15 packets stevia (equivalent to ½ cup +  2 Tbs sugar) OR ½ cup + 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder (*Adding baking powder yields a more “cake-y” brownie; omit for more “fudge-y” brownies.)
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray). Blend beans, eggs, applesauce, oil, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, stevia (or sugar) and baking powder in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer batter to prepared dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over batter. Bake 25 minutes. Let cool, then slice into 16 squares. Keep refrigerated.

Per square (using stevia): 65 calories, 3 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g trans), 19 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 2 g sugar, 3 g protein

Meg's Black Bean (but Delicious!) Blender Brownies

Meg’s Deep Chocolate VitaMuffin Knock-off Recipe (Ready in Two Minutes!)

Homemade for the win. My VitaMuffin knock-off has more protein and less sugar and is much cheaper, too!

Have you seen VitaMuffins in the freezer section at the grocery store? I’ve been tempted to buy them, but at roughly $6 per package (for four tiny muffins!), I’ve resisted. I knew I could make my own for less, and I knew I could make a more satisfying (did I mention VitaMuffins are tiny?), lower-sugar, higher-protein version. In two minutes. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve made this mini cake at least once a day every day for two years. I vary the ingredients all the time, using different extracts, flours, etc.—experiment to your heart’s delight. (Cocoa powder happens to be good for your heart, as if you needed another reason to make this . . . . )

Meg’s Single-Serve Deep Chocolate VitaMuffin Knock-off

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs oat flour*
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 packets stevia (equivalent to 1.5-2 Tbs sugar) (I prefer things slightly bittersweet and use 2 packets of Sugaresque, my favourite sweetener. Here’s a $1 coupon!)
  • 1 egg white or 2 Tbs liquid egg whites
  • 2 Tbs plain Greek yogurt or regular plain yogurt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Mix ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer batter to a lightly sprayed ramekin, coffee mug or small dish. Microwave on high 90 seconds. Remove cake from dish; split in half and “frost” with cream cheese, mashed berries (cream cheese + mashed berries = delicious), ricotta, yogurt, peanut butter whip, nut/seed butter or a few dark chocolate chips.

Per cake: 205 calories, 5 g fat (2 g sat, 0 g trans), 65 mg sodium, 4 g fibre, 6 g sugars, 11 g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • *To make oat flour, blend oats in a food processor to a flour-like consistency. I like oat flour because it lends a slight natural sweetness and, unlike whole wheat flour, doesn’t have a “wheat-y” taste, but you can swap it for other flours (e.g., brown rice, whole wheat pastry, half white/half whole grain flour).
  • For even more fibre, replace 1 Tbs flour with 1 Tbs wheat bran or oat bran.
  • Make it more fudge-y by using more cocoa powder and less flour; add extra sweetener.
  • Substitute canned pumpkin, unsweetened applesauce, ricotta or mashed banana for yogurt.
  • Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon for natural sweetness and antioxidants. (Studies show cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar levels, which helps with weight loss.)
  • Sub other extracts for vanilla (e.g., almond, maple, coconut, peppermint).
  • Swap carob powder for cocoa powder. When using carob powder you can usually add less sweetener, as carob powder has a slight natural sweetness.
  • No microwave? Oven-bake 15 minutes at 350F.
  • Peanut butter cupcake: Spoon half of the batter into dish; top with a teaspoon of peanut butter, then top with remaining batter. Bake as directed.
  • Coconut cupcake: Add 1 Tbs unsweetened flaked coconut. Sub coconut extract for vanilla. Bake as directed.
  • Oat doughnut: Omit cocoa altogether; add 1 tablespoons oat flour (or 1 Tbs oat bran or ground golden flaxseed), ¼ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Bake as directed.

A just-baked "Vita-not" muffin and one halved and topped with yogurt & shredded coconut. Delicious! (Note to self: Register for a photography course.)

Big-Batch Recipe:

In a large bowl, mix 1¾ cups oat flour, ½ cup cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 16 (or more) packets stevia (equivalent to 2/3-1 cup sugar), 8 egg whites (1 cup liquid egg whites), 1 cup plain yogurt, 1 Tbs vanilla extract and 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips. Bake in parchment paper-lined muffin cups for 15 minutes at 350F. Freeze for when the chocolate craving strikes . . . .

How to Make Skinny Coffee Drinks

If you know me, you know I am frugal (which means using coupons at Whole Foods, so it’s all relative) and I hate spending money on things I could easily make myself, such as protein bars. As such, I almost never buy coffee drinks, but I am, unashamedly, a coffee addict. I got into drinking iced coffee last summer, when I got my teeth whitened (coffee, black tea and other acidic drinks can weaken and stain enamel, so my hygienist advised sipping coffee through a straw), and now I prefer it to hot coffee, even as temperatures plummet. Though coffee has bonafide health benefits (studies show caffeine may protect against stroke, some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease), to sleep easy, I drink one (huge) glass in the morning, then switch to decaf green and herbal teas.

Making your own coffee drinks is super easy and will save you buckets of cash and calories. Exhibit A: A 16 oz. Starbucks frappuccino (no whipped cream) can pack 300 calories and 60 grams of sugar—14 teaspoons worth!

Meg’s Skinny Iced Vanilla Almond Coffee

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups cold brewed coffee*
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other milk) (I prefer Almond Fresh; the Almond Breeze brand tends to curdle in drinks.)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla or other extract (try peppermint or almond)
  • 1 packet stevia, or to taste (I like Sugaresque—it tastes and mixes like sugar and has no aftertaste)
  • few shakes cinnamon, optional
  • coffee ice cubes*

Directions:

In a shaker bottle or jar, add coffee, milk, vanilla, stevia and cinnamon. Shake! Pour into a tall glass over ice.  Enjoy with my 2-Minute Banana Bread or Pumpkin Spice Pancakes for a better-than-Starbucks breakfast! Serves 1.

Per serving: 25 calories, 2 g fat (0 g sat, 0 g trans), 97 mg sodium, 1 g fibre, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • Keep a pitcher of brewed coffee in the fridge. I use 1 heaping tablespoon dark roast ground coffee to 1 cup water.
  • Fill ice cube trays with cold coffee and freeze. This way you won’t dilute the coffee.
  • Mocha version: Use chocolate almond milk or add 1-2 teaspoons cocoa powder before blending; sweeten to taste.
  • For a pumped-up shake, add ½ scoop vanilla or chocolate protein powder before blending.
  • Like it hot? Whisk hot coffee, steamed almond milk (heat in microwave) and desired extras.

Meg's Skinny Iced Vanilla Almond Coffee

Meg’s Low-Carb, Cheesy Tuna Bake Recipe

My cheesy tuna bake is a great go-to dish: easy, quick, economical and delicious. Plus, each serving boasts 36 grams of protein, 5 grams of fibre, over 30 per cent of the daily value for calcium and almost a quarter of the daily value for iron. I usually make it in a casserole dish (or halve the recipe and bake in large ramekins), but you can also bake the mixture in bell peppers or use the unbaked filling as a sandwich/wrap spread.

Raincoast Trading No-Salt Albacore Tuna

My favourite canned tuna is Raincoast Trading No-Salt Albacore Tuna; find it in health food stores or supermarkets’ natural foods section. This brand tastes great and uses sustainable farming practices. Albacore tuna, fresh or canned, is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are king among unsaturated fats; studies show regular omega-3 intake may alleviate arthritis, reduce heart disease risk, relieve dry, itchy skin . . . and more!

Meg’s Low-Carb Cheesy Tuna Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup 1% or 2% cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp dried basil and/or no-salt seasoning blend
  • 2 300-gram packages frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 2 large cans (120-150-grams each) solid white albacore tuna in water, drained and flaked
  • ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (or substitute ¼ cup tomato paste)
  • ¾ cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 8-inch (2-quart) baking dish; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cottage cheese, seasoning, spinach, tuna and sun-dried tomatoes.
  3. Transfer to prepared baking dish, smoothing top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 225 calories, 5 g fat (2 g sat, 0 g trans), 570 mg sodium*, 5 g fibre, 4 g sugar, 36 g protein (*To lower the sodium content, use low-sodium varieties of cottage cheese and canned tuna.)

Stuffed Peppers Variation:

  • Slice tops off 8 bell peppers; remove ribs and seeds from each pepper. If pepper bottom is uneven, slice a little off the bottom so it’s level.
  • Fill peppers with tuna mixture; sprinkle with cheese. Place peppers upright in a lightly greased 8-inch (2-quart) baking dish; bake as directed above. Serves 4 (2 peppers each).

Sandwich/Wrap Variation:

  • Spread the unbaked mixture on whole grain bread, wraps or crackers.