Have you ever been to the health food store and seen “nutritional yeast” and wondered “what in the world is that?” Then lucky for you, you are about to know more about this delicious and nutritious food called nutritional yeast. By definition a yeast is a microscopic fungus consisting of a single cell that reproduces by budding, or fission, and is capable of converting, or fermenting, sugar, or carbohydrates, into alcohol and carbon dioxide. First understand, the most common forms of yeast you will hear about when discussing food are brewer’s yeast, bakers yeast, and nutritional yeast (sometimes called “nooch”). Brewer’s yeast is a type of yeast grown from hops, and a by product of producing beer. Nutritional yeast is typically grown from sugar cane, beet molasses, or wood pulp, and has been heated and made inactive; because nutritional yeast is heated, or killed, it will not activate and grow, or froth; like the other kind of yeast used in baking. Bakers yeast is what is typically used to make bread rise. Since yeast feeds on sugar, but needs vitamins and amino acids, yeast is capable of manufacturing its own amino acids and vitamins.
Right now someone is saying “I thought yeast was bad for you”; and you are right to some degree. Anyone who has taken a course of antibiotics and after suffered a yeast infection knows what some yeast can do to your health. Our body has yeast in oral cavities, in the digestive tract, and on our skin. Having “good” bacteria helps keep the “bad” yeast under control; hence when antibiotic treatment is used, harmful and “good” bacteria are killed and thusly upsetting the balance of good bacteria and bad yeast on the body. This is one reason why it is so important to replenish the good bacteria during and after antibiotic treatments with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha tea, and probiotic supplements. The most common bad yeast you will hear about is Candida; Candida albicans infection can lead to many symptoms including: tiredness after eating, constipation, diarrhea, mood swings, brain fog, sugar cravings, anal itching, skin infections, night sweats, food allergies, vertigo, increased susceptibility to fungal infections like jock itch or athletes foot, asthma, food allergies, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, and much more.
Nutritional yeast is full of great nutrition with one serving of 16g, or about 2 tablespoons, containing 45 calories, 8g of protein, 4g of fiber, and 1g of sugar with a glycemic load of 1; generally any food below a glycemic load of 10 is considered low and good. Nutritional yeast packs some great nutrition like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, B12, Pantothenic acid, magnesium, zinc, chromium (which some studies have shown to help people better control blood sugar), amino acids, minerals, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, phosphorous, and is 71% protein by weight (a great source of lower fat protein for those who eat vegan or vegetarian). These B vitamins in their whole food form are important for energy and brain function, amongst many other essential usages in the human body. Keep in mind that B vitamins are depleted with stress, anesthesia, and digesting carbohydrates. Remember that the B vitamin complex is a water soluble vitamin and if you consume more B vitamins than your body can utilize, it will be excreted in your urine; so don’t be surprised at the bright yellow color following a meal with nutritional yeast.
Despite nutritional yeast’s unappetizing name and unappealing appearance, it could be one of the best things you add to your diet in terms of taste and nutrition. Its appearance can be described as crispy golden flakes, while its flavor has been described as a nutty, cheesy flavor. Typically nutritional yeast can be found in flakes, but also in powder. Try adding nutritional yeast to salads, soups, and Italian food for a cheesy flavor. One of the most amazing things is to use a combination of cashews and nutritional yeast and make a vegan “cheese” for nachos or macaroni and cheese; sounds weird but it is quite tasty. So venture out, try something new like nutritional yeast, who knows you might like it? I know I do.