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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!

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How to Make “Pookies” (a.k.a. Protein Cookies) + Bonus Baking Mix

In my opinion, the key to eating healthfully (and for less money!) is to plan and to make your own meals and snacks. Just think, how many times have you been caught—at work, on your commute, while travelling—with only drive-thrus and vending machines to choose from? Suddenly, a Starbuck’s scone (or worse) is the only thing standing between you and a hunger-fueled meltdown. Friends and family members will confirm (eyes rolling) that I’ve always got snacks on me. Weddings, the airport, the mall, Costco . . . wherever I am, I’ve likely stashed an energy bar, a Vitamuffin knock-off, an apple or a “pookie,” a.k.a. protein cookie, in my purse. Preventive measures, people!

Are my pookies on par with grandma’s oatmeal cookies? Hell, no. But they’re pretty tasty, packed with protein, fibre and omega 3s, and easy to make. Although using protein powder, particularly whey isolates, in baking typically yields dry, hockey puck-like goods, these are fairly moist (do not omit the oil, however!). Though you can make smaller pookies, I prefer giant pookies—the larger size is perfect to wrap and grab on the go. Plus, each boasts 11 grams of protein, 3 grams of fibre and only 175 calories and 4 grams of (naturally occurring) sugars, making them ideal for breakfast (pair a couple pookies with iced coffee for a speedy, satiating meal) or after a workout.

Meg’s Pookies (a.k.a. Protein Cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour*
  • 1 cup vanilla whey protein powder (I like IsaLean Shake in Creamy Vanilla or IsaPro in Vanilla)
  • ½ cup ground flaxseed (use golden flax–not dark brown–for a lighter taste)
  • 6 packets stevia blend (equivalent to 4 Tbs sugar)
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup mashed ripe banana (1 medium banana)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 4 Tbs vegetable oil (e.g., olive, walnut, coconut)
  • ½ cup water or milk
  • 1/3 cup raisins or chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk flour, protein powder, flax, stevia, cinnamon and baking soda. Add banana, vanilla, oil, water and currants; stir to combine. Place six 1/3-½ cup mounds of batter on each baking sheet, spacing each at least an inch apart. Use wet fingers to flatten and shape. Bake 8 minutes (do not overbake!). Let cool; store in an airtight container (or in plastic wrap) in the fridge. Makes 12 BIG pookies.

Per pookie: 175 calories, 8g fat (1g sat, 0g trans), 119mg sodium, 3g fibre, 4g sugar, 11g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • *To make oat flour, grind oats in a blender or food processor to a flour-like consistency.
  • Don’t do dairy? Use rice protein powder (or other type), but you may need to use more or less liquid (banana, oil, water, etc.), depending on your powder.
  • Substitute canned pumpkin or unsweetened applesauce for banana (you may need to increase the amount of sweetener to ½ cup).
  • Use different extracts, such as almond or coconut.
  • Substitute chopped nuts, seeds, chocolate chips or other dried fruit for raisins.

Bonus: Meg’s Protein Pancake Baking Mix

Check out my protein baking mix to make delicious pancakes (or muffins) in a flash!

See, I told you I like ’em big! Wrapped and ready to eat, my pookies are on the left and my protein pancakes are on the right. As the saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail”!

Super (Simple) Salmon Burgers

These easy, tasty burgers combine some of my favourite foods: salmon, squash, oats and mustard (mustard is a food in my book). Ultra low in calories and carbs, they’re packed with fat-burning protein and omega-3s; heck, you could eat the batch in one sitting if you like. They may even rival my favourite Costco find: Trident Seafoods wild salmon burgers.            P.S. I haven’t yet made these with canned tuna, but I plan to, as I bet they’d taste great. For a vegan option, sub mashed cannellini beans for salmon.

Ingredients:

  • 1 213-g can wild salmon (no-salt variety preferred, e.g., Goldseal No-Salt Pacific Pink Salmon)
  • 1/2 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash or sweet potato
  • 1 Tbs whole grain mustard
  • 3 Tbs oat bran (or oats or bread crumbs)
  • 2 Tbs fresh chopped parsley, if you have it
  • Pepper and/or no-salt seasoning blend, to taste (e.g., Spike Salt-Free Magic)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. In a bowl, combine ingredients. Shape into 4 patties and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes; flip; bake 10 minutes more. Alternatively, cook over medium heat in a lightly oiled non-stick skillet, about 3 minutes per side. Serve over shredded cabbage, rainbow coleslaw or salad greens; top with salsa, avocado or guacamole, hummus or more mustard!

Per burger: 99 calories, 4g fat (1g sat, 0g trans), 84mg sodium, 1g fibre, 0g sugar, 12g protein

Yes, I love mustard! (For a quick, light dressing, whisk mustard, oil and lemon juice; drizzle over burgers/salad.)

“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 . . . .

Meg’s 2-Minute Banana Bread

I created this recipe for an article I wrote on healthy breakfasts, and it was a hit dish in my kids’ cooking classes. Full of fibre, protein and omega-3 fats, with no added sugar, it also makes a great snack or dessert. (I always sometimes add a few chocolate chips to the batter when making this for dessert. Banana chocolate chip bread, anyone?)

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbs quick oats
  • 2 Tbs ground flaxseed (use golden flax—not dark brown—for a lighter taste)
  • ½- 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 egg whites (4 Tbs liquid egg whites) or 1 egg
  • ¼ cup mashed ripe banana (½ medium banana)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla or almond extract, optional

Directions:

Spray a microwave-safe ramekin, small dish or coffee mug with cooking spray. Add ingredients; mix thoroughly. Microwave on high 90 seconds. To remove bread, invert dish/mug over a plate. Enjoy plain, or slice in half and spread with nut butter or cream cheese. Serves 1.

Per serving: 232 calories, 8 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g trans), 107 mg sodium, 8 g fibre, 8 g sugar, 13 g protein

Variations:

  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce or canned pumpkin for banana; add stevia to taste.
  • For a chocolate version, add 1 Tbs cocoa or carob powder and omit 1 Tbs flaxseed.
  • Add a few chopped walnuts or raisins to batter.
  • Substitute 2 Tbs oats, oat bran or wheat bran for flaxseed.
  • You can also bake this in a regular oven (about 15 minutes at 350F).

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.

How to Make Your Own Protein Bars

My sister’s friend Andrew recently emailed me. He’s a model, and he wanted my advice on eating healthfully when on the go. (Photoshop doesn’t work on the runway, friends.) Apparently, my sister had told him that I prefer to eat at home or bring snacks to control the amount of sugar, calories, salt, etc. in my food. Although I generally prefer to prepare my own food (and hey, I am frugal!), I do eat out, too. Since it’s my duty to help the genetically gifted become even more attractive (call me, Angelina), I gave Andrew my best tips for eating on the run (a later post, perhaps) and some snack ideas and easy recipes, including my recipe for no-bake protein bars.

Truth be told, this recipe was born of frustration. I love the convenience of packaged protein bars, but the $2-$3 price tag offends my Scottish heart. Besides, most are glorified candy bars, spiked with soy protein isolate, sucralose and who-knows-what. No thanks. As a know-it-all, I figured I could make my own—and better! A few tries later, I had created a high-protein/fibre, lower-carb/sugar bar with nutrition stats that trump those of most on the market. They’re tasty, too, and scored high on my family’s flavour test, which is more telling than my “What, you don’t think cottage cheese whipped with frozen berries tastes like ice cream?” palate.

Got 15 minutes, a bowl, a spoon and zero baking skills? Try the recipe. Or maybe you don’t want extra cash and a body like Andrew’s. Just sayin’.

I find whey protein works best in this recipe. I love IsaLean Shake and IsaPro by Isagenix. Both are naturally sweetened and from New Zealand whey, which exceeds USDA organic standards. (Cows used to produce whey in Isagenix products are pasture fed on small farms and milked seasonally, with no hormones or antibiotics.) Although whey isolate contains fewer carbohydrates and slightly more protein than whey concentrate, the difference is marginal, and isolates are most often extracted from the milk by acids, high heat or salts, all of which destroy the natural enzymes and amino acid profile in whey–or worse. (IsaLean and IsaPro are undenatured, that is, they undergo a cold filtration process to preserve the whey quality and natural enzymes.)

Bonus: A recent study found that supplementing with whey protein daily significantly reduced participants’ body weight, body fat, waist size and levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite. No changes were seen in participants given other forms of protein. Further, whey is shown to be the best protein for building and maintaining muscle, which is the key to releasing fat, staying lean and combating the aging process long term.

Meg’s No-Bake Protein Bars

Ingredients:

  • 5 scoops (1¼ cups) vanilla whey concentrate (e.g., I used 3 scoops IsaLean Shake and 2 scoops IsaLean Pro)
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • ½ cup ground flaxseed (choose golden flax–not brown–for a lighter taste)
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • ¼ cup unsalted sunflower seeds (or other nut/seed)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seed butter (or other nut/seed butter)
  • ½ cup applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 3-4 Tbs hot water
  • ¼ cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
  • ½ tsp butter or vegetable oil (e.g., coconut or canola oil)

Directions:

Line an 8-inch baking dish with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang over two sides; set aside. In a large bowl, stir protein powder, oats, flax, cinnamon and sunflower seeds. In another bowl, whisk peanut butter, applesauce and 3 Tbs hot water. Pour peanut butter mixture over oat mixture; stir to combine. If it’s too dry, add a tablespoon of water. (It may be easier to use your hands to combine the ingredients, but be sure to wet them first as the mixture will be sticky.)

Transfer mixture to baking dish. Use wet hands to pack down mixture evenly. In a small bowl, microwave chocolate chips and vegetable oil or butter 20-30 seconds (do not overheat or chocolate will scorch). Stir until chocolate dissolves; use a spoon to drizzle melted chocolate over bars (or spread evenly over bars).

Place in fridge or freezer 20-30 minutes. Once chilled, lift bars from pan by holding onto plastic wrap. Slice into 10 bars. Store in an airtight container or wrap each in plastic wrap. Keep refrigerated.

Nutrition information: 

  • Per bar (w/chocolate): 240 cal, 12g fat (2g sat, 0g trans), 19g carb (4g fibre, 4g sugar), 24 mg sodium, 19g protein
  • W/out chocolate: 215 cal, 10g fat (1g sat, 0g trans), 24 mg sodium, 17g carb (4g fibre, 3g sugar), 19 g protein

Variations:

  • Make protein “balls” (not bars) by rolling mixture into small balls (wet hands first).
  • If desired, add chocolate chips to mixture instead of drizzling bars with chocolate.
  • If you don’t roll with dairy, use rice protein powder (or other type). Depending on the powder, you may have to add more liquid (water and/or applesauce).
Easy, tasty and delicious!

Easy, tasty and delicious!