17 Jun 2024

Nutritional yeast: Benefits, uses, and side effects

author Ashley Owen
There’s a lot to love about nutritional yeast. It’s nutrient-rich, easy to use, and brings a deliciously nutty, cheesy flavour to whatever dish you add it to. Not familiar with it? No problem! In this article, we discuss the myriad ways nutritional yeast benefits our health, plus how to use this versatile ingredient. If you’re not a member of the nooch fan club yet, you will be by the time you’ve finished reading!

What is nutritional yeast?

Prior to discussing how nutritional yeast benefits your health, let’s talk about what it actually is. Fondly referred to as ‘nooch’ by those in the know, nutritional yeast is a popular ingredient in vegan cooking. It’s an inactivated version of a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which people use to brew beer and bake bread. To make nooch, producers cultivate the yeast on a medium like sugarcane or molasses. They then deactivate it with heat before harvesting, washing, drying, and packaging it ready for sale.

Nutritional yeast generally comes in either powder or flake form, which makes it really easy to add to different recipes. This simplicity means you don’t have to be a skilled chef to enjoy the nutritional yeast benefits mentioned in this article. You can also choose between fortified and unfortified varieties of the ingredient. The former includes synthetic vitamins added during the manufacturing process, while the latter contains only those naturally produced by the yeast.

Now, yeast might not sound like the most appetising ingredient to put in your meals, but nooch will surprise you! It has a delicious savoury, umami flavour with hints of nuttiness, resulting in a taste that resembles parmesan. That’s why one of the most well-known nutritional yeast benefits is its use as a vegan substitute for cheese.

We’ve established that it’s simple to use and tasty, but is nutritional yeast good for you? Happily, the answer to this is a resounding yes! It’s time to examine how nutritional yeast benefits our health. Whether you’re vegan or not, there are plenty of reasons to add it to your shopping list.

What are the benefits of nutritional yeast?

As the name implies, nutritional yeast has an impressive nutritional profile. It’s low in calories and salt, free from fat and sugar, gluten-free, and plant based. That means pretty much everybody can enjoy the health benefits of nutritional yeast. Of course, it’s not just about what the ingredient doesn't contain. Nooch is also bursting with key nutrients that support our wellbeing.

First, nutritional yeast is a rich source of B vitamins like thiamine, B2, niacin, and B6. These each have crucial roles to play in keeping us fit and well.(1) For example, B vitamins help to release energy from the food we eat, plus support the nervous system. They’re also vital for maintaining healthy blood and skin. In this sense, eating nutritional yeast benefits almost every aspect of our wellbeing. 

B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that our bodies can’t store them. As such, we must make sure we’re regularly consuming enough of these nutrients in our diet. And sprinkling a little nutritional yeast on top of your meals is a great way to do that!

It’s important to note that if you’re specifically looking to up your intake of vitamin B12, you need to choose a fortified nutritional yeast. That’s because yeast doesn’t produce this vitamin naturally, so it must be added synthetically.

But it’s not all about the B vitamins! Consuming nutritional yeast benefits us by providing certain trace minerals too. These include zinc, manganese, selenium, and molybdenum. Although we only need small amounts of these, they are still essential for good health. For instance, zinc supports cell growth and immunity, while manganese contributes to bone health and metabolism.

More health benefits of nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast benefits us in more ways than simply being a source of vitamins and minerals. The ingredient is also abundant in two potent antioxidants: glutathione and selenomethionine. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them! Like other antioxidants, they help to defend our cells against oxidative stress, which is damage caused by free radicals. This is advantageous because research shows that oxidative stress contributes to several chronic diseases, as well as ageing. A diet rich in antioxidants may therefore reduce the risk of developing conditions like heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and diabetes.(2) However, further investigation is necessary to confirm how effective nutritional yeast is in this regard.

What’s more, nutritional yeast is an excellent source of high-quality plant-based protein. You’ll find protein in almost every part of your body, from your bones to your skin and hair. And the good news is that veggie sources of it tend to be the healthier choice compared to animal protein.

As an ingredient you eat in small quantities, nutritional yeast is not going to be your sole source of protein. However, it does contain all nine essential amino acids.(3) These are the ones our bodies are unable to make by themselves, so we must obtain them from our diet. Amino acids are necessary for many processes in the body, from muscle growth to energy production, immunity, and nutrient absorption. Topping up our intake of them is therefore one of the key ways in which nutritional yeast benefits wellness.

How the fibre in nutritional yeast benefits our wellbeing

Fibre is essential for our health, and what’s great is that nutritional yeast benefits us on this front too. Consuming a high-fibre diet helps to keep your digestive system moving smoothly and increase feelings of satiety. Fibre also nourishes the good bacteria in your gut, ensuring you have a diverse and flourishing microbiome.

The fact that nutritional yeast benefits gut health is more important than you might think. Your gut bacteria influence everything from your immune system to your mood and the health of your brain. That means sprinkling a little nooch on your meals could support your wellbeing in all sorts of ways!

One type of fibre in nutritional yeast that’s of particular interest is beta-glucan. Research suggests that beta-glucans could have a number of positive effects on our wellbeing. For example, studies have discovered that the fibre can activate certain types of immune cells and increase their activity.(4) This is another reason that consuming nutritional yeast benefits the immune system.

Beta-glucans may also help to support our cardiovascular health. For starters, research has found that the fibre is able to lower cholesterol levels.(5) If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries. This narrows the blood vessels, limiting blood flow and raising the risk of clots, heart attacks, and stroke. As mentioned above, the antioxidant content of nutritional yeast benefits heart health too. That’s because fighting off free radicals may reduce the chance of developing heart disease. So, adding nooch to your diet could protect your cardiovascular health in more ways than one!