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?
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 .
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 .
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 .
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.
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].
Table 1: Fortified Nutritional Yeast – Nutritional Value
|Macronutrients||Per 100g||Per Serving (15 g)|
|Protein||53.33 g||8 g|
|Lipids (fat)||3.33 g||0.5 g|
|Carbs||33.33 g||5 g|
|Fiber||20 g||3 g|
|Minerals||Per 100 g||Per Serving (15 g)|
|Zinc, Zn||18.75 mg||3 mg|
|Iron, Fe||4.80 mg||0.72 mg|
|Potassium, K||1760 mg||264 mg|
|B Vitamins*||Per 100 g||Per Serving (15 g)|
|Thiamin (B1)||79 mg||11.85|
|Folate (B9)||7200 mcg||1080 mcg|
|Niacin (B3)||306.67 mg||46 mg|
|Vitamin B6||39.33 mg||5.9 mg|
|Vitamin B12||117.33 mcg||17.6 mcg|
*Depends on the manufacturer (fortification)
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 .
In a study on 49 vegans, fortified nutritional yeast did improve vitamin B12 status .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
Nutritional yeast is packed with cholesterol-lowering components, such as:
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 .
Higher doses of this supplement (10-20 g per day) achieved similar results in 46 subjects .
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.
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 .
Components of nutritional yeast that may lower blood pressure include:
- Minerals (potassium and magnesium) 
- Peptides that block angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) [37, 38]
- Nicotinamide riboside 
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 
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
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 .
The same treatment relieved the symptoms of hay fever in 96 individuals .
The above studies on EpiCor were funded by a company that owns this supplement, which indicates a potential conflict of interest.
- Prevent infections
- Accelerate disease recovery
- Reduce symptoms of disease
- Relieve allergic reactions
4) Has Anticancer Effects
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 .
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 .
- Made cancer symptoms less severe
- Reduced chemotherapy side effects
- Improved quality of life
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:
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 .
Obese women who took the same supplement ate less, lost more fat, and didn’t crave sugar as much .
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 .
7) May Help With Diabetes
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 .
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.
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 .
Still, if you suspect that you are sensitive to glutamate, you may want to avoid nutritional yeast.
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].
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 .
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:
- Mac and cheese
- 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.
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
This section contains sponsored links, which means that we may receive a small percentage of profit from your purchase, while the price remains the same to you. The proceeds from your purchase support our research and work. Thanks for your support.
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.