It's naturally occurring
Nutritional yeast has been increasingly popping up in conversations about cooking and healthy recipes, but what even is it? Contrary to initial assumptions, it's not just yeast that's been modified to improve your diet. In fact, it's completely naturally occurring, and comes in the form of flakes or yellow powder. "Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast made from sugarcane and beet molasses," says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, at the NY Nutrition Group. Does that mean it's kind of like sugar? Not at all.
It's full of protein
"Nutritional yeast is a powerhouse, especially for vegans, as it's a complete source of protein that those who don't eat meat may be lacking," says Moskovitz. Just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains 9 grams of protein. That's more than a large egg (6g) or one ounce of beef (7g). With such highly concentrated amounts of protein, nutritional yeast can help non-meat eaters rack up enough body-boosting protein. Here are other top plant-based protein sources.
You can use it as a cheese substitute
Thanks to its texture and umami flavor, nutritional yeast can stand in for cheese in cooking. "You can sprinkle it on popcorn or veggies, or stir it into brown rice or whole wheat pasta," Moskovitz says. Believe us when we say that just about any recipe that calls for cheese will work with nutritional yeast instead—even the cheesiest foods like lasagna, pizza, or macaroni and cheese!
It's great for your hair, skin, and nails
Even if you're not a vegan or vegetarian chasing down extra protein or trying to find a suitable replacement for cheese, nutritional yeast is rich in many B vitamins, which benefit healthy hair, skin, and nails. With nutritional yeast in your diet, you can reduce signs of skin aging by improving your age spots, skin elasticity, and discoloration. The niacin found in nutritional yeast can also benefit your skin by helping to minimize chronic acne.
It's ideal for those with high blood pressure
Unfortunately, most of today's restaurant fare and even many home-cooked meals are loaded with salt. If you're trying to watch your blood pressure, nutritional yeast can be your go-to salt swap. Nutritional yeast has zero sodium in it but plenty of flavor, so you can sprinkle it onto foods you'd normally salt, such as eggs or broccoli. These are the signs you could be getting too much salt in your diet.
It has antibacterial properties
Yeast expert Seymour Pomper, PhD, found that nutritional yeast actively supports the immune system and is one of the best remedies for chronic candida symptoms, a specific type of yeast infection. It has also shown profound effects on salmonella and E.coli.
It won't blow your calorie budget
You've been warned that the cheesy and nutty taste of nutritional yeast is addicting, but don't worry. Unlike chips or pretzels, this savory topping isn't going to dash your diet. "Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes has only 45 calories, but a whopping 4g of fiber, 9g of complete protein, and is an excellent source of B-vitamins, as well as zinc," says Moskovitz. Now that is what we like to call diet gold.
It's totally gluten free
Regardless of why you're watching your gluten intake, there's no need to avoid nutritional yeast the way you might stay away from yeast-containing foods like bread. "Those who are gluten-intolerant can safely consume nutritional yeast," Moskovitz says. This is great news for anyone who must avoid the protein found in wheat products. If you have other dietary restrictions, you'll be happy to know that nutritional yeast is also soy and dairy-free. (Check out these other gluten-free foods nutritionists swear by.)
It's a valuable ingredient for pregnant women
Nutritional yeast is chock-full of folic acid, which makes it "especially important for women out there trying to get pregnant," says Sara Seinberg of mindbodygreen.com. "Folic acid is known to prevent spina bifida and other major birth defects. For those not planning to get pregnant, folic acid is still important for its role in cell maintenance and production," Seinberg adds. So if you're looking to conceive or already pregnant, sprinkle some nutritional yeast on your spaghetti or over broccoli today.