What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast, meaning the yeast cells are killed while being processed and the inactive yeast is the final product. It is generally available in powdered form or as flakes. It has a nutty and cheesy flavor making it a popular vegan cheese (non-dairy cheese) substitute. It is a valuable part of many diets. Nutritional yeast is a great source of vitamins, minerals and complete proteins like those found in animal products. For this reason, it is ideal for vegans, vegetarians and anyone who wants to cut back on meat consumption. Complete proteins help in tissue repair, nutrient absorption and prevention of muscle loss. It is low in calories and high in fiber, making it ideal to maintain healthy digestion and a healthy body weight.
The benefits of nutritional yeast outweigh the side effects. Nutritional yeast is safe for most people and negative side effects are extremely rare. It can cause issues for those who are sensitive to yeast products or those who are on certain medications. Therefore, while taking any kind of medication, it is advised to consult with a doctor to ensure there are no negative reactions between the medications and nutritional yeast. In general, the negative side effects of consuming nutritional yeast are not common and rarely occur if consumed in large amounts. If side effects do occur, they are usually not serious and can be resolved.
Possible side effects of nutritional yeast
- Digestive problems: Nutritional yeast contains a high amount of fiber. Too much nutritional yeast added too quickly to one’s diet can cause problems with digestion, such as abdominal cramps and diarrhea. A high-fiber diet is good for digestive health. However, the fiber should be added gradually and the amount of yeast should be increased slowly, enabling the body to comfortably adapt to higher fiber consumption. Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains approximately 5 grams of dietary fiber, which is about 20 percent of the recommended daily intake.
- Yeast intolerance and inflammatory bowel disease: Though rare, some people may not be able to digest nutritional yeast. This is usually seen in those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease. Nutritional yeast can trigger or worsen symptoms associated with IBD.
- Trigger headaches or migraine attacks: Nutritional yeast may trigger migraine attacks in some individuals with migraine susceptibility because of the presence of tyramine (derived from the amino acid, tyrosine).
- Facial flushing: Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of niacin (Vitamin B3), which is essential for body functioning. Consuming large amounts of niacin (usually over 500 mg) may cause facial flushing. Consuming such high doses of niacin can usually happen when it is taken as a supplement.
How can nutritional yeast be used?
Nutritional yeast should be stored in a cool, dark place to preserve its nutritional value and in an airtight container. If safely stored and kept away from moisture, it can last up to 2 years.
Nutritional yeast may be used in the following ways
- Sprinkled over popcorn, salads or pasta similar to cheese
- Stirred into soups
- An alternative to cheese flavoring in vegan or vegetarian sauces, such as pasta sauce, salad dressing or dips
- As a thickener for soups, gravies and sauces
- It can also be used in pet food to provide extra nutrients because it’s safe for animals to consume
Medically Reviewed on 11/23/2020
Huntington College of Health Sciences