Nutritional Yeast: Its Usage, Health Benefits, And Side Effects

nutritional yeast

Why this fungus is good for your health

Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a wide known food product mostly used in vegan cooking. Nutritional yeast derives its name from the vitamins, proteins, antioxidants, and minerals it contains. It is also the same yeast used to bake bread and brew beer. However, baker’s and brewers nutritional yeasts are made from the same species of yeast but they are of different products.

Brewer’s yeast is a by-product of the beer-making process, and it grows best on hops. Manufacturers can cultivate nutritional yeast on a variety of sources like whey, blackstrap molasses, and sugar beets. Since this fungus is highly nutritional, it can help boost your immune system, improves your energy, and several other health benefits.

Nutritional yeast is similar to the yeast used by bakers, but it undergoes a heating and drying process that makes it appear inactive. Nutritional yeast could be gluten-free and dairy-free. It can also be a useful supplement for individuals with sensitivities or food allergies, as well as those placed on restricted diets.

Consequently, nutritional yeast is low in fat, sodium, and calories and has no soy or sugar. This fungus is an essential ingredient in beer, bread, and a range of other foods.

Types of yeast

Baker’s yeast: This type of yeast is purchased alive and it helps to leaven bread. However, the yeast is being destroyed during cooking but adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to the bread.

Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast can be gotten alive and is suitable in beer industries (brew beer). You can also consume the dead yeast cells leftover derive from the brewing process as a nutritional supplement. But it does have a very bitter taste.

Nutritional yeast: The main aim of this yeast is to be used as a food product. Its yeast cells are killed during production and not alive in the final product. Nutritional yeast is suitable for cooking and it’s accompanied with a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.

For effective production of nutritional yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells are grown for several days on a medium rich in sugar like molasses. The yeast is then denatured with heat, harvested, washed, dried, crumbled and packaged for distribution.

Types of nutritional yeast

There are basically two types of nutritional yeast known as fortified and unfortified.

Fortified nutritional yeast: Here synthetic vitamins are added in the course of the manufacturing process to improve its nutrient content. These vitamins added to the yeast will be reflected in the ingredients list. Fortified nutritional yeasts are widely available for purchase in groceries shops, unlike unfortified nutritional yeast which is not readily available.

Unfortified nutritional yeast: This particular type does not have any added vitamins or minerals in it. It only contains the minerals and vitamins that are produced naturally with the help of the yeast cells as they grow.

Nutritional yeast is purchased as flakes, granules or powder and is available in the spice section or bulk bins of health food stores. This fungus is a versatile food that is suitable for any type of diet or eating style.

In this article, I will be explaining what nutritional yeast is, its health benefits, side effects, and suggests the best ways to incorporate it into a healthy diet.

nutritional yeast

What are the health benefits of nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins, and high-quality protein. Usually, 1/4 of a cup of nutritional yeast contains the following:

  • 8 g of protein
  • 11.85 mg of vitamin B1, or thiamine
  • 5.90 mg of vitamin B6
  • 60 calories
  • 3 g of fiber
  • 9.70 mg of vitamin B2 or riboflavin
  • 17.60 mcg of vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B3, calcium, potassium, and iron are also included.

Here are the health benefits of consuming nutritional yeast:

It helps prevent the deficiency of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, so it is good for vegans to supplement their diet to avoid becoming deficient. This vitamin B12 is suitable for a healthy nervous system, energy metabolism, DNA production, and the creation of red blood cells.

People placed on a vegan diet can consume nutritional yeast to help prevent the deficiency of vitamin B12.

A study involving 49 vegans show that consuming a teaspoonful of fortified nutritional yeast daily restored vitamin B12 levels in people who were deficient. It was discovered that the nutritional yeast contained 5 mcg of vitamin B12 per teaspoon, which is slightly more than double the daily recommended amount for adults.

Vegans are advised to look for fortified varieties of nutritional yeast to make sure sufficient amounts of B12 are in the product.

Boosting the immune system

A study shows that Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the strain of yeast in nutritional yeast, can boost the immune system and reduce inflammation that arises from bacterial infection. It may also be suitable for treating diarrhea.

Nutritional yeast contains two major carbohydrates, such as beta-glucan and alpha-mannan. Research shows that adding beta-glucan and alpha-mannan to animal feed can lower your chance of being infected from pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and Escherichia coli in pigs, as well as reduce the formation of tumors in mice.

Alpha-mannan and beta-glucan help protect your body against infection in several ways:

  • They help boost immune cells, making them more effective at fighting infection.
  • Help stop pathogenic bacteria from attaching to the lining of your intestines.
  • They attach to some types of toxins that yeast can produce in food crops and lower its harmful effects. However, animal studies are common but more research is needed to ascertain the effect of beta-glucan and alpha-mannan in humans.

Vegans and vegetarians should take particular care to consume enough vitamin B12, as its main dietary sources are eggs, meat, and dairy.

Helps improve energy

Although some manufacturers fortify nutritional yeast with vitamin B12, not all of them do so and it’s advisable you check the label. Vitamin B12 may help improve energy, as a deficiency of this vitamin can bring about fatigue and weakness.

The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 for adults should be 2.4 mcg. Consuming a 1/4 of a cup of nutritional yeast provides more than seven times this amount.

Boosting glucose sensitivity

More studies are needed to confirm that nutritional yeast improves glucose sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

Consequently, some research on chromium-enriched yeast, which is usually brewer’s yeast, deduced that this particular yeast could reduce fasting blood sugar (FBS) levels and cholesterol in an animal model.

Highly nutritious

This fungus is a good source of B vitamins, protein, and trace minerals.

Fortified nutritional yeast has more B vitamins than unfortified varieties, as extra amounts are added during manufacturing processes. But unfortified nutritional yeast can still contain a moderate amount of B vitamins, which form naturally as the yeast grows.

The following are the major nutritional benefits of consuming nutritional yeast:

It has complete protein: This fungus contains all nine important amino acids that humans must derive from food. A teaspoon contains 2 g of protein, making it an ideal way for vegans to add high-quality protein to diets.

It contains several B vitamins: A tablespoon of nutritional yeast has 30-180 percent of the required daily intake (RDI) for B vitamins. If it’s fortified, it is rich in riboflavin, vitamin B6, niacin, thiamine, and vitamin B12.

It has trace minerals: Usually, a tablespoonful of it contains 2-30 percent of the required daily intake for trace minerals, like selenium, zinc, molybdenum, and manganese. Trace minerals are suitable for gene regulation, metabolism, growth, and immunity.

You are advised to always read labels to find the variety that meets your needs as exact nutritional values may vary between brands.

If you’re considering using nutritional yeast as extra vitamins and minerals in your diet, get fortified varieties with higher amounts of added nutrients.

If you’re using this fungus mainly for its flavor, you may be less concerned about whether it’s fortified or not.

It has powerful antioxidants

These powerful antioxidants gotten from our diets help protects our body from damage caused by free radicals.

Some studies show that nutritional yeast contains powerful antioxidants selenomethionine and glutathione.

These antioxidants protect your cells from damage caused by heavy metals and free radicals and also help your body get rid of environmental toxins.

Also, when you consume foods rich in antioxidants, like fruits, nutritional yeast, whole grains, and vegetables, they can help improve your antioxidant levels and protect your body from chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration.

It may help reduce cholesterol levels

The presence of beta-glucan in nutritional yeast helps lower your cholesterol levels with ease.

A particular study deduced that men with high cholesterol who consumed 15 grams of beta-glucan derived from yeast daily for eight weeks had their total cholesterol levels reduced by 6 percent.

Another study discovered that mice fed beta-glucan from yeast had their cholesterol levels reduced after only 10 days.

You can also get beta-glucan from foods like seaweed and oats.

Furthermore, extensive research shows that the beta-glucan from oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels.

However, the chemical structure of beta-glucan in oats is slightly different from that of yeast but data suggests that they have similar cholesterol-lowering effects.

Although no studies have investigated whether consuming nutritional yeast in its whole form has similar effects, so further research is needed.

It helps improve skin, nail, and hair health

Research shows that nutritional yeast can help treat brittle nails and hair loss. It may also help prevent acne and improve other common skin problems, especially among teenagers.

Boost healthy pregnancy

According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force, women who are planning a pregnancy should take 400-800 mcg of folic acid a day to prevent congenital abnormalities and support the growth of the fetus immensely.

Most manufacturers do fortify nutritional yeast with folic acid, which can make it a useful supplement for pregnant women.

You are advised to consult your doctor before using nutritional yeast as a supplement as some brands of it may contain more than a standard serving of folic acid.

Side effects of nutritional yeast

May bring about unpleasant digestive side effects if introduced too rapidly

Although nutritional yeast is low in calories, it’s packed with fiber.

Consuming just 2 teaspoons (usually about 21 grams) of nutritional yeast flakes may provide about 5 grams of dietary fiber which is about 20 percent of the recommended intake.

Although a high-fiber diet can promote bowel regularity, it’s vital to increase your fiber intake gradually.

When you consume too much fiber too rapidly, it can bring about abdominal discomfort like cramps or even diarrhea especially if you are not familiar with consuming high-fiber foods.

You are advised to begin slow and adjust servings as your body adapts to the higher fiber consumption since nutritional yeast contains a lot of fiber in one serving.

When increasing your fiber intake, you are advised to consume enough fluids to help maintain optimal digestion.

May bring about facial flushing

This fungus is an excellent source of niacin.

Consuming 11 grams (usually a tablespoon) of nutritional yeast flakes may provide over 38 mg of niacin in your body which is more than double the daily recommended value for both men and women.

This vitamin B3 also known as niacin helps boosts several processes in your body like enzyme function and metabolism.

Also, consuming large amounts of niacin may bring about facial flushing. This condition involves a flush of red on your skin, which may be accompanied by a burning and itching sensation that occurs within 10-20 minutes after consuming niacin in high doses.

Although this condition may be uncomfortable, it may subside on its own after 1-2 hours.

Similarly, facial flushing does occur after ingesting extremely high doses of niacin like 500 mg or more which can usually only be found in supplement form.

Another study shows that consuming high doses of niacin can cause other, more dangerous side effects like liver failure. But this is rare.

Have in mind that facial flushing caused by nutritional yeast won’t occur after consuming only a few servings. And it can surface after ingesting very large doses of it.

Brings about headaches or migraine attacks

Notwithstanding, this fungus is an excellent source of several minerals and vitamins, like vitamin B12 and zinc but some yeast products do contain compounds such as tyramine. This compound tyramine may trigger migraine attacks in some people.

What is tyramine?

Tyramine is a compound derived from the amino acid tyrosine and is present naturally in nutritional yeast and concentrated yeast products like vegemite.

Most people can enjoy tyramine-containing foods without having any side effects. But some studies show that tyramine may trigger migraine attacks in certain individuals.

Migraine is a condition accompanied by recurring, often debilitating, headaches that begins with a moderate to severe pain.

More studies are needed to completely understand how tyramine instigates migraine attacks.

Also, it appears that tyramine may attack the central nervous system (CNS). It gets rid of various hormones, which may bring about an increase in blood pressure and eventually causes a headache.

Inflammatory bowel disease and yeast intolerance

Some people may be intolerant of nutritional yeast but it’s relatively uncommon.

This condition may be rampant among individuals with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) like Crohn’s disease.

Some studies deduced that yeast may trigger an immune response in certain individuals with inflammatory bowel disease and it may also worsen symptoms.

However, more studies are needed to ascertain the role of dietary yeast in the development of IBD.

Read Also: Stomach Cancer: New symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

How to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet

Make sure you store nutritional yeast in a cool and dark place to preserve its vitamins. It should also be tightly sealed to prevent moisture from entering it. If properly stored, it can stay up to two years.

Here are the few ways you could use nutritional yeast:

  • Can be mixed into a nut roast or stuffing
  • You can sprinkle it over pasta or popcorn
  • Use as a “cheese” flavoring in vegan sauces
  • You can mix it into risotto instead of Parmesan cheese for optimal taste
  • Can be added to pet food for extra nutrients
  • You can add it to a tofu scramble or scrambled eggs
  • Stir it into soups for an umami flavor
  • Can serve as a thickener for sauces and soups

Different manufacturing companies have different serving sizes but may not be more than 2 tablespoons.

A large amount of nutritional yeast is needed to exceed the recommended upper intake levels (UL) for the various minerals and vitamins it contains.

People who have issues metabolizing folic acid (synthetic vitamin B9) should endeavor to read labels carefully before consuming nutritional yeast. Others may want to choose unfortified nutritional yeast whenever possible.

Summary

You are advised to inculcate yeast slowly into your diet and adhere to lower doses of supplements to reduce your chance of experiencing undesired side effects.

Studies have shown that people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), hypertension, and glaucoma should refrain from consuming nutritional yeast because it could worsen their symptoms. Also, if you know you’re allergic to yeast make sure you avoid being exposed to nutritional yeast for your optimal health.

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