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Eat This: Nutritional Yeast

September 2, 2010

I’d like to discuss the nutritional aspects of beer.  Well, not exactly beer, but one of the by-products that is leftover after the brewing process.  Sorry to get you all excited there :)

Untold thousands of years ago, humans discovered fermentation, and some time thereafter, beer was created.  Sometime after that, humans discovered that beer brewing left behind a very nutritious by-product – Brewer’s Yeast.  Then a bit later, someone else decided to grow the stuff specifically for it’s nutritional value, and sell it to others.  And the cleverly renamed it – Nutritional Yeast.

The Fermentation Process

But this isn’t just a tricky marketing term – nutritional yeast really is incredible stuff.   If you’re looking to incorporate some healthy stuff into your diet, this is one product you want to know.

The scientific name is Saccharomyces cervisiae. It is de-actived yeast, grown specifically as a nutritional supplement.  The taste is quite pleasant, and usually described as being slightly nutty, cheesy or sweet.

Nutritional Yeast in Powdered Form

Let’s start off by listing what it doesn’t have a lot of: calories, fat or sodium.  What it does have most of is PROTEIN.  In fact, one tablespoon of nutritional yeast has about 8 grams of high quality protein (I’m talking to you, vegetarians!)  Nutritional yeast is also a good to excellent source of the B complex vitamins, Vitamin E, Chromium, Selenium, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Magnesium, Panthothenic Acid and Lysine.  And again for you vegetarians out there, nutritional yeast is also a great source of the ever-elusive vitamin B12.

Nutritional Yeast in Pill Form

You might come across sources touting nutritional yeast as a “miracle food.”  Please don’t ever fall for this.  There is no such thing as a miracle food. But there are foods that are so chock full of nutrients that incorporating them into your diet is a no-brainer.  Nutritional yeast is one of these.  While it doesn’t work miracles all by itself, studies have show it to help lower LDL cholesterol and protect against heart disease, improve ability to maintain healthy blood glucose levels , decrease homocystene levels to protect against cancer and heart disease and assist in preventing acne.

OK I’m CONVINCED, WHERE DO I GET SOME?!?!   Glad you asked.  Any health foods store will carry various brands, both in the supplements section and the bulk bins.  It might go by the name nutritional yeast or brewer’s yeast.  Be aware that nutrient content will vary depending on the growing medium, so be sure to compare labels.  I have heard Lewis Labs recommended by my own trusted sources.  Be sure to purchase the inactive form and don’t confuse it with active baker’s yeast!  Store in a cool, dark place in an opaque container.  It keeps 6-8 months, or up to 3 years refrigerated.

A few suggested uses:

  • Sprinkle on popcorn, cereal, or vegetables
  • Mix in with soups and stews
  • Mix with a glass of juice or a smoothie
  • Add to baked goods, yogurt or cottage cheese

A few tips and cautions:  If you are a new user of nutritional yeast, take it easy in the beginning to allow your digestive system to adjust.  Start with ¼ tbsp and increase to 1-2 tablespoons.  Don’t have more than 3 tablespoons per day, as this can cause diarrhea and nausea. Nutritional yeast is high in purines, and unsuitable for those with gout, kidney disease or arthritis.  People with diabetes or hypoglycemia should consult their doctor before using nutritional yeast.  As with most foods, there is a possibility of allergy to nutritional yeast, and it is not recommended for women who have yeast overgrowth (candida).

So I hope that you will give nutritional yeast a try.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear from current nutritional yeast users out there!  What brand do you prefer?  Do you have any other uses or recipes to share?

References:

Murray, Michael.  The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books. 2005.

Whitney, Ellie and Rolfes, Sharon.  Understanding Nutrition. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth. 2005.

Bruning, Nancy and Lieberman, Shari.  The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book. NY: Penguin, 2007.

Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal. New York: Reader’s Digest Association, 2004.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nette permalink
    September 7, 2010 12:54 pm

    it’s great when added to a basic vinager/olive oil salad dressing, and even helps it stay emulsified!

  2. April 7, 2011 7:40 am

    I use nutritional yeast to make vegan mac ‘n cheese and tofu scrambler. Plus I use it to make raw cheeze:
    1/4 cup of nutritional yeast
    2 cups of raw soaked cashews
    1 clove of garlic
    enough water to ensure smooth consistency
    1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt
    Blend together in a food processor.
    Very good spread.

  3. November 25, 2012 2:49 pm

    I love the flavor of nutritional yeast… and seem to crave it. It’s almost addictive. I used it on popcorn and sprinkled it on kale chips. But I overdid it Thanksgiving weekend. Must have had more than the recommended three tablespoons and am struggling with nausea and diarrhea today. Ah, well. Glad to know that moderation will help.

  4. June 9, 2013 8:46 pm

    I love nutritional yeast and was recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I chose to go gluten, soy, corn, sugar, egg, dairy and peanut free. I’ve been in what they call a severe flare for a few months but am now able to eat real food and have been adding different things every few days. Nutritional yeast is like a life saver to me…however, I have started having almost migraine level headaches and I finally figured out that I believe the nutritional yeast is causing them. I cut the amount I was eating because I started getting diarrhea and the headache started to go away, until I ate it again for dinner.

    I’ve done a little research and the company that makes Red Star is actually a corporate conglomerate that also creates all those chemicals used in processed foods like Doritos to make it taste good and addictive. I’ve also found some material that suggests that the way nutritional yeast is fermented, MSG or an MSG like substance is part of the final product. I am very sensitive to MSG and this headache is reminiscent of the headaches I get from it.

    Finally, when I researched the corporations who make most of the nutritional yeast, the other thing I realized is that all the healthy aspects of the yeast–the B12 and other vitamins it provides us–are all added by the company making the yeast. It’s not a naturally occurring part of the yeast. It’s really no better than the processed foods we are all trying to get away from!

    Anyway, between the D and the headaches, I am sadly going to stop using what had become a wonderful part of my diet. Oh well… back to the drawing board!

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