This delicious cooking ingredient is loaded with essential nutrients and gut-friendly fiber. It supports your immune system, revs up your energy, and wards off chronic diseases, but it’s not for everyone. Read on to learn the pros and cons of nutritional yeast.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

“Hippie dust”

Nutritional yeast, also known as nooch or “hippie dust,” is a single-cell fungus with incredible nutritional value. It’s made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of yeast used in brewing and baking [1].

Manufacturers grow S. cerevisiae, deactivate it using heat, and dry it to get the final product. They can select and culture specific strains of yeast for desired nutritional value and properties [2].

Nutritional yeast is a popular cooking ingredient, especially in vegan dishes as a cheese substitute. People also use it to boost their immunity, energy levels, and intake of essential nutrients [3].

Nutritional vs. Brewer’s Yeast

Nutritional and brewer’s yeast are close relatives: they both contain S. cerevisiae, but they slightly differ in the production process, nutritional value, and uses.

Brewer’s yeast is a byproduct of the beer brewing industry, usually grown on hops or grains. People use its dried and deactivated form as a nutritional supplement. Depending on the growth medium, brewer’s yeast may contain gluten [4].

The food industry grows nutritional yeast for its dietary uses only. The growth medium is glucose or molasses, which makes the final product gluten-free [2].

Unlike nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast is naturally rich in chromium, which helps lower blood sugar levels. As such, brewer’s yeast may be a better option for people with diabetes. Nutritional yeast is usually fortified with vitamin B12 and thus better for vegans, who are often at risk of B12 deficiency [3, 5].

Brewer’s yeast has a bitter taste that many find unpleasant; nutritional yeast has a nutty or cheesy flavor and blends well into various dishes.

Brewer’s yeast is more suitable for diabetics, but it has a bitter taste and may contain gluten. Nutritional yeast is usually fortified with vitamin B12, has no gluten, and tastes much better.

Nutrition Facts

Nutritional yeast didn’t get its name by chance – it delivers a blast of high-quality protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Plus, it has only 60 calories (kcal) per serving with no sugar and cholesterol (Table 1) [6, 7].

There are two types of nutritional yeast: fortified and unfortified. Fortified products usually contain added vitamin B12, folate, and other B vitamins [2, 6]:

Nutritional Value

Table 1: Fortified Nutritional Yeast – Nutritional Value

MacronutrientsPer 100gPer Serving (15 g)
Protein53.33 g8 g
Lipids (fat)3.33 g0.5 g
Cholesterol//
Carbs33.33 g5 g
Fiber20 g3 g
Sugars//
MineralsPer 100 gPer Serving (15 g)
Zinc, Zn18.75 mg3 mg
Iron, Fe4.80 mg0.72 mg
Potassium, K1760 mg264 mg
B Vitamins*Per 100 gPer Serving (15 g)
Thiamin (B1)79 mg11.85
Folate (B9)7200 mcg1080 mcg
Niacin (B3)306.67 mg46 mg
Vitamin B639.33 mg5.9 mg
Vitamin B12117.33 mcg17.6 mcg

*Depends on the manufacturer (fortification)

Vitamin B12

Many vegans use nutritional yeast to supplement their diets with vitamin B12. However, yeasts don’t naturally contain this vitamin [8, 9].

They produce a so-called pseudo-vitamin B12, which does not have biological activity in humans. It can compete with other forms of “active” B12 and potentially worsen B12 deficiency [10].

In a study on 49 vegans, fortified nutritional yeast did improve vitamin B12 status [11].

Fortified products with added vitamin B12 can improve B12 deficiency. If you rely on nutritional yeast as your only B12 source, make sure to use a fortified product that meets your daily needs [12].

Folate

Active S. cerevisiae (the stuff used by bakers) is naturally rich in folate in the form of tetrahydrofolate and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. Nutritional yeast, which is inactivated, is likely to contain plenty of folate as well [13].

Natural folate content depends on growth conditions and varies between products; you should always check nutritional labels before assuming that a nutritional yeast product contains enough folate [14].

Fortified yeast contains synthetic forms of folate, some of which may not be suitable for people with specific MTHFR mutations [15].

Other Nutrients

Nutritional yeast is rich in [16, 17, 18]:

These components nurture your gut, boost your immune system, and contribute to a range of nutritional yeast benefits discussed below [19, 20, 21].

Based on the growing method and conditions, nutritional yeast may also contain [22, 23, 24]:

Nutritional yeast is rich in protein, minerals, B vitamins, and prebiotics. It also contains immunity-boosting beta-glucans. Fortified products usually have vitamin B12 and folate added.

Nutritional Yeast Benefits

1) Combats Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with high blood pressure and cholesterol as major risk factors [25].

Cholesterol

Nutritional yeast is packed with cholesterol-lowering components, such as:

  • Beta-glucans [26, 27, 28]
  • Niacin (which also raises HDL) [29]
  • Nicotinamide riboside [30]

Low doses of Brewer’s yeast (3.6 g daily for 8 weeks) reduced blood triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol in 55 diabetic patients. The levels of beneficial HDL significantly increased at the same time [31].

Higher doses of this supplement (10-20 g per day) achieved similar results in 46 subjects [32].

That said, the above studies didn’t have placebo controls, and they used chromium-rich brewer’s yeast. It’s not sure whether nutritional yeast without chromium would produce the same effects.

B-glucans from S. cerevisiae cut cholesterol levels in 15 obese men and caused no side effects. Studies on rats and mice confirm their cholesterol-lowering potential [33, 34, 26].

Blood Pressure

In a study of 90 diabetic patients, brewer’s yeast (which also contains S. cerevisiae) significantly dropped blood pressure but failed to improve blood lipids [35].

Components of nutritional yeast that may lower blood pressure include:

Nutritional yeast contains an array of nutrients that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. It may thus reduce your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.

2) Shields Your Gut

Prebiotics (beta-glucans and mannan-oligosaccharides) and cell wall components from S. cerevisiae shield your gut by:

  • Binding fungal toxins such as ochratoxin A [40, 41, 42]
  • Removing harmful bacteria and supporting the good ones [43, 44, 45]
  • Strengthening your gut barrier and boosting immunity [46, 47]
  • Soothing gut inflammation [48]

That said, nutritional yeast contains inactive cells and thus lacks probiotic effects such as increased nutrient absorption and additional microbiome benefits. These are limited to supplements with live S. cerevisiae or S. boulardii [49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54].

3) Boosts Your Immunity

Gut health is the cornerstone of robust immunity. By nurturing your gut and shielding it against pathogens, nutritional yeast (S. cerevisiae) strengthens your immune system [46, 47, 55].

Two main carbs from nutritional yeast, alpha-mannan and beta-glucan, have immune-boosting properties. They bind to and stimulate your immune cells, making you more resistant to various infections and diseases [56].

In 2 studies of over 200 participants, a supplement including S. cerevisiae and its products (EpiCor) lowered the risk of catching a cold and reduced symptoms in those who became ill [57, 58].

The same treatment relieved the symptoms of hay fever in 96 individuals [59].

The above studies on EpiCor were funded by a company that owns this supplement, which indicates a potential conflict of interest.

Yeast beta-glucans showed immune-boosting properties in animal and clinical trials. They were able to [60, 61, 62, 63]:

  • Prevent infections
  • Accelerate disease recovery
  • Reduce symptoms of disease
  • Relieve allergic reactions

Nutritional yeast is also rich in zinc, another nutrient that supports your immune system [64].

Beta-glucans, zinc, and other nutritional yeast components boost your immune system, making you more resistant to infections, chronic diseases, and allergies.

4) Has Anticancer Effects

S. cerevisiae in the form of baker’s yeast shrunk the tumors and enhanced the effects of chemotherapy in mice [65, 66].

In test tubes, it increased the death rate of breast cancer cells by 38%. Metastatic cells from later stage cancer were even more sensitive to the treatment [67].

Beta-glucans from nutritional yeast are credited for the potential anticancer effects. They stimulate the immune cells that combat cancer (macrophages and NK cells), thus hindering tumor formation and growth [21].

In two clinical studies with 50 cancer patients, adding yeast b-glucans to chemotherapy [68, 69]:

  • Made cancer symptoms less severe
  • Reduced chemotherapy side effects
  • Improved quality of life

Beta-glucans inhibited different types of cancer in mice and prolonged their survival [70, 71].

Nutritional yeast contains ergosterol, which stops the growth of breast cancer cells. Cancer cells with estrogen receptors are particularly sensitive to ergosterol [72].

S. cerevisiae and its components have potent anticancer effects. However, no clinical trials have verified the ability of nutritional yeast to combat cancer.

5) Lifts Your Mood and Energy

Many athletes and active people use nutritional yeast as a natural energy booster. It’s loaded with nutrients that support a healthy mood and energy production.

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome are often deficient in B vitamins and other nutrients, which can worsen their symptoms. A supplement made from S. cerevisiae improved cognitive function and mood in such patients [73, 74, 75].

The following components from nutritional yeast lifted mood, energy, and physical performance in clinical trials:

  • B-glucans [76]
  • Nucleotides [77, 78]
  • B vitamins [79, 80]
Nutritional yeast contains an array of nutrients that support your mood and energy, but clinical trials have yet to confirm these benefits.

6) May Support Weight Loss

In a study of 54 obese men and women, a S. cerevisiae supplement (yeast hydrolysate) was able to shed extra pounds and belly fat without adverse effects on lean body mass [81].

Obese women who took the same supplement ate less, lost more fat, and didn’t crave sugar as much [82].

Animal studies have demonstrated the ability of yeast hydrolysate to reduce body fat. Furthermore, nicotinamide riboside from nutritional yeast supports the enzymes involved in fat burning [83, 84, 30].

Although yeast hydrolysate and nutritional yeast both contain S. cerevisiae, they are produced differently may not have the same effects on weight loss.

Additionally, high doses of B vitamins may increase your appetite and the risk of weight gain. If you are struggling to shed extra pounds, you may want to avoid fortified nutritional yeast [85].

Nutritional yeast might help you lose weight, but the evidence is limited. Choose unfortified products because added B vitamins may increase your appetite.

7) May Help With Diabetes

In two studies of 162 diabetic patients, brewer’s yeast reduced glucose levels and boosted insulin function [86, 87].

Brewer’s yeast is naturally high in chromium, which is partly responsible for these beneficial effects. Chromium-enriched nutritional yeast was able to lower blood glucose by boosting insulin function in animal trials [5, 23, 88].

Beta-glucans may also improve lipid and glucose metabolism in patients with diabetes [60].

Chromium-enriched nutritional yeast may lower blood glucose and boost insulin function, but no clinical trials have confirmed this benefit. Yeast b-glucans also have antidiabetic effects.

Other

Nutritional yeast is high in zinc, a mineral that boosts fertility in men [89, 90].

Selenium-enriched yeast may enhance thyroid function and help with autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease [22, 91, 92, 93, 94].

Nicotinamide riboside from nutritional yeast supplies nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a component essential for nerve health and cognitive performance [95, 96, 97].

However, while nutritional yeast is rich in these components, no studies have investigated whether it offers the above benefits.

Nutritional Yeast Dangers

The potential of S. cerevisiae to bind fungal toxins is a double-edged sword. Out of 46 analyzed yeast supplements, almost 90% were contaminated with ochratoxin A, which can damage your kidneys [98, 99].

The above study tested brewer’s yeast supplements, but the same threat exists for nutritional yeast, as they both contain inactive S. cerevisiae. To avoid contaminated yeast, make sure to choose lab-tested products from reputable brands.

People allergic to yeasts and molds should skip nutritional yeast. Those with atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) may also be intolerant to yeasts [100, 101, 102, 103].

If you have kidney stones or gout, avoid all yeasts. They are high in uric acid and its precursor, purine, which may worsen your condition. Try to limit your intake of yeast-fermented products such as beer, bread, wine, and cheese as well [104, 105].

Some researchers have warned about high levels of glutamate in nutritional yeast, which acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter in your brain. However, no studies have found harmful effects of nutritional yeast caused by glutamate [106].

Still, if you suspect that you are sensitive to glutamate, you may want to avoid nutritional yeast.

People with yeast allergies, kidney stones, or gout should avoid nutritional yeast. Others should choose lab-tested products to prevent contamination with fungal toxins.

Candida Infections

There’s public concern regarding the safety of nutritional yeast for people with candida infection.

Nutritional yeast contains inactive (killed) S. cerevisiae, which cannot cause or worsen infections. Unless you are allergic to candida and other fungi you should be fine, but it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor first [100, 101].

On the other hand, active yeasts used for fermentation (brewing and baking) or probiotic effects may cause infections in people with candida or weakened immune systems [107, 108, 109].

Gluten Intolerance

Nutritional yeast doesn’t contain gluten, but people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or Crohn’s disease may have antibodies to S. cerevisiae. Yeast-based products may worsen symptoms in such patients [110, 111].

No studies have examined the safety of S. cerevisiae in people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Drugs and Genes

People with an MTHFR polymorphism C677T (rs1801133) can not convert folic acid or folate (vitamin B9) into the active form of B9 (methyl-folate) as readily as those without the polymorphism. Therefore, they should avoid nutritional yeast fortified with synthetic folic acid. Unfortified nutritional yeast naturally contains methyl-folate, the active form our bodies can put to much better use [15, 112, 13].

Yeasts are also high in tyramine, which interacts with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a class of drugs prescribed for depression. People on MAOIs should skip nutritional yeast and other tyramine-rich foods [113].

How to Use

Nutritional yeast is a popular cooking ingredient. You can use it as a cheese substitute in various recipes to make a vegan-friendly dressing for:

  • Risotto
  • Pasta
  • Popcorn
  • Mac and cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scrambled tofu

It usually comes in flakes, but you will also find ready-to-use seasonings with nutritional yeast. Those looking to use it as a supplement may opt for tablets, but they provide much smaller amounts.

User Experiences

Most users praise the cheesy flavor of nutritional yeast, which blends well in countless dishes. Besides cooking, they use it to boost energy levels and the intake of essential nutrients.

Some users also give it to their pets as a nutritional supplement and flea repellent.

People have reported unpleasant “chemical” smell and taste of fortified products, which probably comes from added B vitamins.

Side effects are rare, and they include skin reactions and stomach cramps.

Where To Buy Nutritional Yeast

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Takeaway

Nutritional yeast is packed with protein, B vitamins, minerals, and prebiotic fiber. Fortified products can contain vitamin B12, selenium, and chromium.

The evidence supports the use of nutritional yeast as a natural energy and immunity booster. It may also shield you against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Nutritional yeast isn’t suitable for people with yeast allergies, kidney stones, and gout. Some patients with gluten intolerance, eczema, and Crohn’s disease may also want to avoid it.

The pleasant cheesy flavor makes nutritional yeast a popular cooking ingredient. Try it on your popcorn, macaroni, potatoes, mushrooms, or pasta.

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic, MSc (Pharmacy)

MS (Pharmacy)

Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets.

 

Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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