Nutritional yeast is enjoying a sudden surge in popularity—here's why.

By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
May 11, 2020
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You’ve probably seen a slew of trendy recipes that call for nutritional yeast, like cashew cheese, cauliflower mash, kale chips, and vegan pesto. If you’re not familiar with nutritional yeast, you may be wondering what it is, where to find it, why it’s good for you, and other ways to use it. Here’s the lowdown.

Nutritional yeast is a vegan diet staple

Nutritional yeast, also referred to as “nooch,” has been used for eons in plant-based cooking, but it's currently enjoying a surge in popularity. I was introduced to it in my college nutrition science program and began using it frequently after taking a plant-based culinary course years ago.

The golden flakes or powder are made from a type of yeast in the same family as baker’s and brewer’s yeast, but there is no live yeast in the final product. Yeast cells are grown using sugar, such as molasses or beets, and then deactivated by heat, dried, and crumbled. Fortified nutritional yeast, the most commonly used form, contains added nutrients. This nutritious vegan, gluten-free product adds flavor, color, and “cheesiness” to various dishes without the need for dairy.

Nutritional yeast is nutrient-rich

Exact nutrient levels vary from brand to brand, but a two tablespoon serving of the popular Bragg nutritional yeast provides just 40 calories, no fat, 20 mg of sodium (1% of the daily max recommended intake), 3 grams of carbohydrate with 2 grams as fiber (so 1 gram of net carbs), 5 grams of protein, and significant amounts of energy-supporting B vitamins. These include over 90% of the daily target for folate, over 200% for niacin, more than 400% for both vitamin B6 and riboflavin, over 500% for thiamin, and more than 600% for vitamin B12.

Nutritional yeast is an important source of vitamin B12 for people who follow a completely plant-based diet, as this nutrient isn’t found in whole, unprocessed plant foods. One study in people who followed a particular vegan diet for up to four years found that the inclusion of nutritional yeast helped the plant-based eaters meet their B12 needs.

Nutritional yeast supports overall health

In addition to its high-quality protein and B vitamins that support healthy hair, skin, and nails, the fiber in nutritional yeast promotes gut health. The seasoning contains beta-glucan, a specific type of fiber shown to support immunity and bone density, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and potentially lower cancer risk.

Nutritional yeast also provides antioxidants and smaller amounts of key minerals, including potassium, iron, selenium, and zinc. Finally, this inactive type of yeast does not contribute to candida yeast infections or overgrowth.

Nutritional yeast is versatile

Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, nutty, umami flavor that some people compare to Parmesan. I love to sprinkle it onto popcorn, salads, cooked veggies, and baked potatoes. You can also blend nutritional yeast into smoothies or use it as an ingredient in sauces, soups, salad dressings, homemade crackers, biscuits, and even desserts, like vegan cheesecake.

You can find nutritional yeast online at Amazon, Target, and Walmart, and at your local health food store, Whole Foods, and some mainstream supermarkets. A 4.5 ounce jar, which contains 12 servings, costs about $6, which is a good value given its many uses and the nutrients it provides— and it’s fun to experiment with!

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams. 

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