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Nutritional Yeast: Benefits, Risks, and How to Use It

These days, there are hundreds of so-called health foods on the market shelves with branding that may convince you they are miracle-workers. Health food trends come and go, yet many of these foods really do have nutritional value that can contribute to your overall wellness. One food product that has been gaining popularity lately is nutritional yeast, especially among vegans who like to cook.

Here is some information about what nutritional yeast is, why people consume it, and how to use it in cooking.

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What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a specific type of yeast that is related to the types of yeast that help make bread and beer. However, this type of yeast is grown to be a food product and is not alive like baker’s or brewer’s yeast. It is made from a single-celled organism called saccharomyces cerevisiae and is dried with heat to make it inactive.

Types of Nutritional Yeast

When shopping for nutritional yeast, you’ll often find both fortified and unfortified versions. Fortified means that the yeast has vitamins added to it to boost its nutritional content during manufacturing. Unfortified means that no vitamins or minerals were added to the yeast other than the ones it naturally has. In the health food world, nutritional yeast is sometimes referred to as “nooch.”

Nutritional Yeast Benefits

Nutritional yeast is considered to be a health food because it is low in calories and sodium, is free of fat and sugar, and is naturally vegan and gluten-free. It is also a source of protein and B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which some vegans have trouble getting enough without meat in their diets. Every brand of nutritional yeast has a different vitamin and mineral makeup, but some brands even contain trace minerals like zinc, manganese, and selenium. Consuming nutritional yeast may also fuel your body with antioxidants and boost your immune system.

Nutritional Yeast Risks

It is possible to be allergic to nutritional yeast if you are sensitive to dairy products. This is because some types of nutritional yeast are grown on whey, which means you’ll need to look for a dairy-free yeast product. The potential risks of nutritional yeast are very minimal, although there are some legitimate concerns about GMOs and MSG byproducts in some nutritional yeast brands.

Photo credit: Jeff Gunn via Flickr

How to Cook with Nutritional Yeast

People cook with nutritional yeast because it adds a nutty or cheesy flavor to foods without actually having to actually mix in nuts, nut butters, or cheese. Easy ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet is to simply sprinkle it over pasta, soups, salads, or popcorn. You can also mix it into homemade sauces as a thickener and to add flavor.

A quick search online will yield dozens of temping recipes for vegan pasta dishes, savory dips, and slow cooker concoctions that use nutritional yeast as an ingredient. However, it’s most common to sprinkle it on ready-made foods rather than adding it into your pots and pans while cooking. In most recipes, the recommended serving size of nutritional yeast is a tablespoon or two. Just make sure to store nutritional yeast in a dark, cool, and dry container to prevent light and moisture exposure in your cupboard.

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