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Is Nutritional Yeast Good For You?

What’s the difference between nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
December 2, 2009
Episode #072

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This week’s topic comes from a reader. Elizabeth writes:

I’m wondering if you would talk about nutritional yeast. I recently found out about this food product and noticed that you could put it on popcorn and it tastes pretty good, like cheese! I was just wondering how much of it is safe to eat and if it’s really that healthy for us.

You’re right that nutritional yeast is good on popcorn!  That cheesy flavor makes nutritional yeast flakes particularly popular with vegetarians. It makes a decent dairy-free substitute for grated parmesan cheese. And, true to its name, it is reasonably nutritious. 

There’s another product similar to nutritional yeast called brewer’s yeast, which is spent yeast that’s left over from the brewing process. It’s also nutritious, but with some important differences. For one thing, it doesn’t taste that good on popcorn!

What is Nutritional and Brewer’s Yeast?

Nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are both related to the kind of yeast you use to make bread.  Baker’s yeast (used for bread) is a living organism, of course. When you rehydrate it and give it some sugar to eat, it will start blowing bubbles for you, and this is what makes your bread rise—or in the case of active brewer’s yeast, what makes your brew boozy.

Nutritional yeast and the kind of brewer’s yeast you find in health foods stores aren’t living organisms. They’re deactivated, so they won’t ferment into alcohol and they won’t make anything rise. So why do we bother? Because deactivated yeasts are quite rich in nutrients, particularly B-vitamins.

As Elizabeth noticed, nutritional yeast, has a tasty, cheesy flavor that a lot of people enjoy. But just how nutritious is it?

How Nutritious is Nutritional Yeast?

Eating a heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast is like taking a high-potency B-vitamin complex. A serving will generally stock you up with a couple of days’ worth of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and B12, and a substantial amount of folic acid. Nutritional yeast also packs a decent amount of fiber and protein into a pretty small, low-calorie package.  All in all, as cheesy-flavored toppings for popcorn and pizza go, it’s pretty impressive.

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