What is Nutritional Yeast and Why You Should Try It

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
What is Nutritional Yeast & Why You Should Try It

If you’ve ever seen a vegan friend eating macaroni and cheese or seen a pizza or creamy pasta dish listed as vegan on a menu, you may have thought the restaurant didn’t understand veganism. Either that, or you thought science or sorcery made a new cheese that didn’t require a cow. It probably wasn’t sorcery. That pizza or pasta dish was probably made with nutritional yeast.

This isn’t the same yeast used to make bread rise, nor is it the same stuff growing on your bread that’s too old: Nutritional yeast is usually harvested from beet molasses or sugarcane and it’s an inactive culture—so your stomach won’t bloat up with gasses and “rise” like a loaf.

After it’s rendered inactive, nutritional yeast is processed into flakes, which vegan cooks love to use for its cheesy flavor and nutty texture. Other vegans love it as a condiment to be sprinkled over popcorn or egg substitutes.

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How does it taste?

Kind of like parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast lovers use it as a substitute for cheese in just about any vegan dish and also mix it in with mashed potatoes, stir it into soups or add it to pasta for faux-alfredo texture. But mostly, nutritional yeast is loved because it adds umami to food, a category of taste most associated with savory mouthfeel.

It’s not just flavor and texture, though: Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids required for the body to utilize the protein to build lean muscle tissue.

Other vegetarian protein sources, like beans, can be missing one or more amino acids. In these cases, the body can’t completely utilize the protein unless it’s accompanied by the missing amino acids from another food source—in the case of beans, it’s usually paired with rice, which creates a complete protein.

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A quarter-cup serving of nutritional yeast has just 60 calories, but brings along eight grams of this complete protein. The yeast also includes three grams of fiber, a nutrient found in vegetables that helps keep you full and has been associated with a reduction in belly fat. It’s also loaded with vitamins and minerals that most Americans get from meat, eggs and dairy: That quarter cup provides almost 800 percent of your daily recommended thiamin, a vitamin that’s important in metabolism, as well as cell production and maintenance.

It’s got 570 percent of your daily riboflavin, an important vitamin for energy production that’s usually ingested via eggs and meat. It also provides triple your recommended amounts of Vitamins B6 and B12—both vitamins that most Americans get from non-vegan sources like fish, meat and dairy.

You might be saying, “I’m not a vegan, though… Why should I care?”

Because of that protein and fiber, that’s why: Both nutrients have been shown to slow digestion, so you get full faster and feel fuller for longer. So if your meal includes a sprinkle of traditional yeast, it could be more satisfying—and keep you from feeling snackish soon after.

If you’re curious, you can find nutritional yeast flakes in bulk or in tubs in the vegetarian or health food aisle of large grocery stores. Try it sprinkled on popcorn or on top of eggs to see if you like the cheesy experience and to see if the yeast’s protein and fiber makes your snack more satisfying—whether you’re vegan or not, it could be another weapon in your craving-crushing arsenal on your way to your goal weight!

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