What Is Nutritional Yeast and What Are the Benefits?
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is, well, a type of yeast. But unlike the kind you’re familiar with in baked goods that makes foods rise, nutritional yeast is inactive so it doesn’t have the microorganisms to create the air that leavens foods.
Nutritional yeast, which can be ground up into flakes or a powdery texture, is a popular staple in vegan diets, Rizzo says, largely because it’s loaded with vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods, but one serving (1/4 cup) of nutritional yeast, for example, has 730 percent of your daily value for B12. (Don’t worry, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means only a small percentage of B12 taken orally is absorbed. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board has not set an upper limit on B12 intake as it is generally safe.)
What Are the Health Benefits?
Why is vitamin B12 so important? The vitamin, in combination with vitamin B6 and folate, can help reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. But there’s no evidence that found supplements can prevent heart disease. Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to dementia. And while B12 is tied with improved athletic performance, that’s only the case if you’ve been deficient, according to the Mayo Clinic. The common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are weakness and fatigue, which can easily affect your performance. If you suspect you may be deficient, a simple blood test can help you determine if you are.
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Outside of the health benefits, nutritional yeast is also a good source of protein, Rizzo says, with 8 grams and 60 calories for one quarter-cup serving. “That’s a lot of bang for your buck,” she says.
Studies have also found that the fiber in nutritional yeast may fight inflammation, which is often brought on by endurance exercise like cycling. The fiber—beta glucan—is the same type of fiber found in oats, which is what makes oatmeal such a heart-friendly breakfast, Rizzo adds.
The bottom line: At the end of the day, Rizzo says there’s no major reason not to add nutritional yeast to your foods—topping your popcorn, mixing it in your oatmeal or scrambled eggs, or adding it to pasta sauce—if you don’t mind a cheesy, nutty, savory flavor or shelling out extra money—especially if you follow a plant-based or vegan diet. “I can’t imagine meat-eaters would like it, but there’s no harm in adding it,” she says. You may even find it satisfies the craving for a Parmesan cheese flavor if you follow a vegan diet. If not, and you don’t prefer the flavor or want to dish out the money, then skip it. “You don’t need it if you don’t like it, [so] don’t worry about it,” she says.