Plus, the health benefits of nutritional yeast and how to use this "vegan cheese" dupe on food, snacks, recipes and more.
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You've seen nutritional yeast sprinkled on salads and roasted veggies, mixed into the TikTok-famous Green Goddess Salad dressing, and you might have heard nutritionists telling you to make it a regular addition to your plate — but what is nutritional yeast, exactly, and what health benefits does it offer?

Here, Jennie Miremadi, M.S., licensed functional medicine nutritionist, sheds some light on this superfood — or should you say, super flake?

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a type of deactivated yeast powder that is used as a food seasoning. Often nicknamed "nooch," nutritional yeast is an inactive form of yeast (the saccharomyces cervisae strain, to be specific). It's grown on other foods, like sugarcane and beet molasses, and then processed (harvested, washed, pasteurized, dried) so it's ready to eat, says Miremadi. Surprisingly, though, it doesn't have any sugar or a sweet taste, despite its origin on foods that have naturally occurring sugar.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. "Nutritional yeast has a rich, nutty, cheese-like taste that can enhance the flavor of many savory vegan dishes," says Miremadi. And because it comes in yellow flakes or a powder form, it's super easy to "dust" onto meals to kick the flavor and health benefits of your food up a notch. (More: TikTok's Grated Egg Avocado Toast Adds a Wow Factor to a Breakfast Classic)

Nutritional Yeast Nutrition Facts

Nutritional yeast is packed with many different nutrients and vitamins, including B12 and protein. Nooch packs an impressive amount of fiber and protein for such a small serving, making it a great way to bump up the nutrition on meals lacking either nutrient.

Here are the nutrition facts for 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, according to the United States Department of Agriculture:

  • 34 calories
  • 5 grams protein
  • 0 grams fat
  • 3 grams carbohydrate
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 5mg calcium
  • 1mg iron
  • 189mg potassium
  • 25mg sodium
  • 7mg Thiamin
  • 7mg Riboflavin
  • 39.4mg Niacin
  • 8mg vitamin B6
  • 33.8 µg vitamin B12

Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

Boost Energy

Nutritional yeast is usually fortified with B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6 and B12 — all of which help convert food into fuel so you get through the day feeling energized, says Miremadi.

Vitamin B12 is particularly important for vegans and vegetarians. "They can have a hard time getting a sufficient amount of the vitamin in their diets because it's naturally present in animal products like fish, beef, liver, and milk products, but it's generally not naturally found in plant foods," she adds. The National Institutes of Health recommends 2.4mcg of B12 per day, so sprinkling just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast on roasted veggies is an easy way to meet your daily minimum. (More: How to Optimize Your 'Energy Trifecta' To Beat Burnout)

Support Immune Health

Bonus: Nutritional yeast is also a good source of selenium and zinc, which is an important mineral for supporting immune function, according to Miremadi. "Zinc supports the immune system by regulating the function of several key components [in the body], such as macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and T-lymphocytes," Sandy Younan Brikho, M.D.A., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of The Dish on Nutrition previously told Shape. All these parts of the immune system help work to fight off foreign invaders that can make you sick. (Here's how Sleep Boosts Your Immune System, According to Science)

Keep Blood Sugar Balanced

Nutritional yeast packs an impressive amount of protein and fiber for a relatively small serving size (as noted above, 2 tablespoons has 10 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber). Fiber is one of the most important nutrients to get enough of, since it helps support healthy digestion, weight maintenance, and helps stabilize your blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar in check is key to preventing hanger (aka extreme highs and lows in blood sugar) and more importantly, for preventing type 2 diabetes. The protein also helps you maintain your muscle mass, and also promotes satiety, Cynthia Sass, R.D., a performance nutritionist and Molly Kimball, R.D., previously told Shape.

Potential Risks of Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a healthy addition to many snacks and recipes, and should not cause issues for most people, but there are few things to know. Because nutritional yeast does contain a considerable amount of fiber, if someone eats a lot of it, they could experience digestive issues from increasing fiber intake too quickly, as Sarah Mattison Berndt, R.D. previously told Shape. For most people, eating 45 grams of fiber or more per day could cause gas, bloating, or abdominal pain, and nutritional yeast packs 4-5 grams of fiber per 2 tablespoons. Although the symptoms from eating too much fiber are annoying, they are not serious risks, but helpful to note if you're not used to eating a lot of fiber.

Nutritional yeast also contains a good amount of niacin (39mg, the amount of niacin in 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, is 197 percent of the daily recommended amount), so if you eat a lot of it, you could experience niacin flushing. Niacin flush — your face or skin becomes warm, red, and itchy — is a side effect of taking high amounts of niacin, but it is not a cause for concern and should go away within an hour, as Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Chicago-based internal medicine physician, previously told Shape.

If you're prone to migraine, nutritional yeast may contain a potential known trigger. Sometimes nutritional yeast contains tyramine (which is found in tyrosine, an amino acid). Tyramine is known to trigger migraines or headaches for some people who are sensitive to it.

How to Use Nutritional Yeast

Thanks to its cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast is a great non-dairy substitute for those who can't or choose not to eat dairy, says Miremadi. "It's an easy way to replicate the cheese flavor that doesn't taste super fake," she says.

Need some inspiration? Because vegetables don't have vitamin B12, try adding it to veggie-based meals, sides, and snacks to get a more well-balanced bite, she says. You can also pump up your popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast-just toss with olive oil and salt, or turn roasted broccoli into a cheesy roasted side dish by topping the veggie with nutritional yeast before baking. Try: Braggs Premium Nutritional Yeast (Buy It, $14, amazon.com). Some brands make different flavors too, like Frontier Co-Op Which makes a Nacho Spice Nutritional Yeast (Buy it, $18, amazon.com) and Dill and Vinegar (Buy It, $18, amazon.com).

If you just want to try this food trend and don't have an intolerance to dairy, you can mix some into a cup of Greek yogurt (vegans can use unsweetened coconut yogurt) for an interesting savory-sweet-tart flavor combination, says Miremadi.

Easy Nutritional Yeast Recipes

For a tasty snack, try these nutritional yeast recipes for "Cheesy" Roasted Chickpeas and "Cheesy" Kale Chips.

"Cheesy" Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. can chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas and dry with a paper towel.
  3. Toss chickpeas with olive oil, nutritional yeast, and smoked paprika.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until crunchy and golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and let cool. Enjoy!

"Cheesy" Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews soaked for 4 hours, then drained
  • 4 cups kale, chopped
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • Pinch Himalayan or sea salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Add kale to a mixing bowl with olive or coconut oil and use hands to coat the kale with the oil.
  2. Add soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and cayenne pepper to a blender or food processor and pulse into a finely ground mixture.
  3. Add cashew mixture to kale and use hands to coat the kale, making sure all leaves are covered.
  4. Spread kale on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Use a spatula to toss kale leaves and bake for an additional 7-15 minutes, or until kale chips are crispy and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool before eating.