Nutritional Yeast: Is It Good for You?

Nutritional yeast is the cheesy-tasting cousin to brewer’s and baker’s yeast that has gained popularity in recent years alongside the rising interest in plant-based diets. 

Nutritional yeast is rich in nutrients often lacking from vegetarian and vegan diets. It’s also free of gluten, soy, and sugar, making it a great dietary addition for people with food sensitivities. However, research shows that its nutritional content can benefit any diet.

These golden flakes are made with yeast similar to the strain used in brewing and baking, but it’s deactivated in the final product. While nutritional yeast is rich in nutrients on its own, most varieties sold today are fortified with even more vitamins. You can find it at health stores and most supermarkets. 

Due to its cheesy, nutty flavor, nutritional yeast can be added to just about all your meals and snacks for extra protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

Nutrition Information

A 2 tablespoon serving of nutritional yeast contains: 

  • Calories: 50
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Nutritional yeast is a good source of: 

Fortified nutritional yeast also contains high levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid (B9), both of which help your body make and maintain your DNA and red blood cells. Not all varieties sold are fortified, so be sure to check each product’s label for its nutritional content.

Potential Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a great source of vitamins and minerals. It also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein like those found in animal products. 

Complete proteins are important nutrients that assist functions like tissue repair and nutrient absorption. They may also prevent muscle loss. 

Other potential health benefits of nutritional yeast include:  

Heart Health

The fiber in nutritional yeast, beta-glucan, may reduce cholesterol levels. Nutritional yeast is also a low-glycemic food that contains chromium, a mineral that may help regulate your blood sugar. Maintaining good blood sugar and cholesterol levels lowers your risk for diabetes and heart disease.  

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Immune System Support

Beta-glucan is also believed to strengthen your immune system. One study found that people who consumed nutritional yeast were 25% less likely to catch a cold than those who didn’t. Those who did get sick experienced less severe symptoms and sleeping problems.  

Nutritional yeast also contains high amounts of antioxidants, which may have anticancer properties and improve certain immune responses.   

Physical Recovery

Nutritional yeast may improve your physical recovery after exercising. Studies have found that athletes who consumed yeast products with beta-glucan experienced less post-workout fatigue and better moods than those who didn’t. 

Researchers believe yeast restores white blood cells that are lost during exercise. This cell restoration promotes muscle recovery, strengthens the immune system, and reduces inflammation. Nutritional yeast also contains high levels of zinc, a mineral that aids in muscle repair and regeneration. 

Fights Fatigue

Getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet helps you avoid feeling tired. While there is no evidence that vitamin B12 boosts energy in people who get enough in their diet, the most common sign of deficiency is fatigue.  

The B12 content in nutritional yeast can offer several times the amount your body needs, so adding it to your diet ensures you’re meeting the recommended level

Along with B12, the other B vitamins in nutritional yeast help convert food to energy. This process helps your body maintain a healthy metabolism and consistent energy levels.  

Potential Risks of Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is considered safe for most people, but it may cause issues for those who are sensitive to yeast products or who take certain medications. Talk to your doctor before using nutritional yeast to avoid potential side effects. 

Consider the following before adding nutritional yeast to your diet:

Migraines

Yeast products contain tyramine, an amino acid that helps regulate blood pressure. While it’s uncommon, tyramine may trigger headaches in people who experience migraines. 

Allergies

People with a sensitivity to yeast products should not consume nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast may also worsen symptoms in people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease

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Digestive Issues

Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of fiber. A two tablespoon serving contains about 20% of your daily intake. However, increasing your fiber consumption too quickly can cause digestive discomfort. It’s best to start with small portions and make sure to drink plenty of water to aid digestion. 

Medication Interference

The tyramine in nutritional yeast may interact with certain medications, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors used to treat depression, some narcotics that treat severe pain, and antifungal drugs. Nutritional yeast is also not recommended for people taking drugs to treat diabetes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 25, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism: “Metabolic B12 Status on a Mostly Raw Vegan Diet with Follow-Up Using Tablets, Nutritional Yeast, or Probiotic Supplements.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Do I Need to Worry About Eating ‘Complete’ Proteins?”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Nutritional Yeast.”

European Journal of Nutrition: “Yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan helps to maintain the body's defense against pathogens: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicentric study in healthy subjects.”

Harvard Medical School: “Understanding antioxidants.”

International Journal of Molecular Medicine: “β-glucans and cholesterol (Review).”

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: “Effect of BETA 1, 3/1, 6 GLUCAN on Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Symptoms and Mood State in Marathon Athletes.” 

Mayo Clinic: “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.”

Mayo Clinic: “MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?”

Nutrients: “Yeast Beta-Glucan Supplementation Downregulates Markers of Systemic Inflammation after Heated Treadmill Exercise.”

Redox Biology: “Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis.”

The Journal of Nutrition: “Yeast Extract Stimulates Glucose Metabolism and Inhibits Lipolysis in Rat Adipocytes in Vitro.”

University of California Berkeley: “Do B Vitamins Really Give You Energy?”

University of Massachusetts Medical School: “Nutritional Yeast – Nourishing or No-Go?”

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