Nutritional Yeast Is the Answer to Cheese-Loving Vegans’ Prayers—but Is It Healthy?

Photo: Stocksy/Suzanne Clements
When I first encountered nutritional yeast, I was seriously impressed. As a new vegan who was still trying to fight off cravings for cheese, it offered a similar taste with just a few sprinkles. But in terms of health benefits it purports to offer, the flakes seemed too good to be true.

Nutritional yeast—that's "nooch" for short!—is often a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but unlike living yeast that's used to make bread and beer, this variety is deactivated and goes great on popcorn. A single tablespoon contains about 65 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin B12 when fortified and about 4 grams of plant-based protein that boasts all nine essential amino acids. (I've always got a half-empty bottle of Bragg's seasoning in my pantry.)

Once you've tried nooch, you might be tempted to dump an entire cup of it onto a serving of broccoli—but don't! "As with any food, if you really overdo it, you run the risk of exceeding the tolerable upper intake level for the nutrients it contains. A tablespoon or two a day is plenty," explains Amy Gorin, RDN, the owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. "There are no downsides to nutritional yeast if you're eating it in moderation. Per tablespoon, it typically only contains up to 10 milligrams of sodium and provides many nutrients, making it a great option for those who are looking to get a cheesy, savory flavor without the saturated fat content of cheese."

Now that you know why nutritional yeast is worth a shot, what exactly should you put it on? Well, the reason people sprinkle it on everything is that it goes with almost anything! "Nutritional yeast is an especially tasty addition to vegan macaroni and cheese. It's also great sprinkled on mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables," says Taylor Wolfram, RDN, owner of Whole Green Wellness. "If sprinkling it on nutrient-dense foods like veggies gets you to eat more of veggies, then that's certainly a health benefit in itself."

You don't have to be a vegan to fall in love with nooch. Be forewarned, though, that once you've had a taste, you'll never want to give it up.

In the battle of plant-based proteins, which is healthiest: tofu or tempeh? And the next time you're feeling run down, whip up this vegan bone broth in your Instant Pot.

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