It gets its name from the protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it contains.

Studies have shown it has a wide range of potential health benefits, ranging from lowering cholesterol to protecting the body from free radical damage.

This article explains what nutritional yeast is, reviews its health benefits and suggests creative ways to use it.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

It is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer.

While brewer’s, baker’s and nutritional yeasts are technically made from the same species of yeast, they are very different products.

  • Baker’s yeast: Baker’s yeast is purchased alive and used to leaven bread. The yeast is killed during cooking but adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to bread.
  • Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast can be purchased alive and is used to brew beer. The dead yeast cells leftover from the brewing process can be consumed as a nutritional supplement but have a very bitter taste.
  • Nutritional yeast: This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.

To produce nutritional yeast, S. cerevisiae cells are grown for several days on a sugar-rich medium like molasses.

The yeast is then deactivated with heat, harvested, washed, dried, crumbled and packaged for distribution.

There are two types of nutritional yeast — unfortified and fortified.

  • Unfortified: This type does not contain any added vitamins or minerals. It only contains the vitamins and minerals that are naturally produced by the yeast cells as they grow.
  • Fortified: This type contains synthetic vitamins added during the manufacturing process to boost nutrient content. If vitamins have been added to the yeast, they will be included in the ingredients list.

Fortified nutritional yeast is the most common type available for purchase.

Nutritional yeast is sold as flakes, granules or powder and can be found in the spice section or bulk bins of health food stores.

Nutritional yeast is a versatile food that works with nearly any type of diet or eating style. It is naturally low in sodium and calories, as well as fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan.

It Is Very Nutritious

Nutritional yeast is a great source of protein, B vitamins and trace minerals.

Fortified nutritional yeast contains more B vitamins than unfortified varieties, as extra amounts are added during manufacturing.

However, unfortified varieties still contain a moderate amount of B vitamins, which form naturally as the yeast grows.

Some of the main nutritional benefits of nutritional yeast include:

  • It is a complete protein: Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids that humans must get from food. One tablespoon contains 2 grams of protein, making it an easy way for vegans to add high-quality protein to meals.
  • It contains many B vitamins: One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 30–180% of the RDI for B vitamins. When fortified, it is especially rich in thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
  • It contains trace minerals: One tablespoon contains 2–30% of the RDI for trace minerals, such as zinc, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. Trace minerals are involved in gene regulation, metabolism, growth and immunity.

Exact nutritional values vary between brands, so always read labels to find the variety that meets your needs.

If you are using nutritional yeast to add extra vitamins and minerals to your diet, look for fortified varieties with higher amounts of added nutrients.

If you are using nutritional yeast simply for its flavor, you may be less concerned about whether it is fortified or not.

Helps Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Vegans

Vitamin B12 is needed for a healthy nervous system, DNA production, energy metabolism and the creation of red blood cells.

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products, so vegans must supplement their diet to avoid becoming deficient.

Consuming nutritional yeast can be an effective way to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency while on a vegan diet.

One study including 49 vegans found that consuming 1 tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast daily restored vitamin B12 levels in those who were deficient.

In this study, the nutritional yeast contained 5 mcg of vitamin B12 per tablespoon, which is slightly more than double the daily recommended amount for adults.

Vegans should look for fortified varieties of nutritional yeast to ensure that adequate amounts of B12 are in the product.