What Is Nutritional Yeast? Uses, Benefits & Side Effects


You might have heard a few friends extolling the virtues of nutritional yeast, or seen it featured in recipes online. As plant-based diets grow in popularity, interest in nutritional yeast has also risen, with newcomers discovering what many vegans have known all along – nutritional yeast is delicious!

But what is nutritional yeast? And why are so many people so excited to eat something that, as far as you know, is used to make bread rise?

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast, sometimes affectionately nicknamed “nooch”, is a strain of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Though the same species as the yeast you might use to bake bread or brew beer, nutritional yeast is treated quite differently, as it is grown specifically as a food product.

During the fermentation process, additional nutrients are often added to the yeast, boosting its health benefits. It’s then harvested, dried, and rolled into flakes that can be sprinkled over just about anything. The drying process essentially makes the yeast “inactive” – if you were baking or brewing, you’d need “active” yeast instead.

With more people considering vegan and vegetarian options, nutritional yeast is easier to get hold of than ever, and you’ll have no trouble finding it in the health food aisles of most supermarkets.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy flavour, making it a perfect choice for vegans looking for a Parmesan substitute.

How to use nutritional yeast

One of the most common ways to use nutritional yeast is to sprinkle it over pasta or roast veggie dishes in place of Parmesan cheese. It’s also becoming popular as a popcorn topping too – toss it with salt and olive oil for a great way to gently introduce the savoury flakes into your diet.

Vegan versions of meals that are usually cheese-heavy – such as mac and cheese, risotto, or enchiladas – will likely use nutritional yeast as a substitute. It’s also great for non-dairy versions of pesto and dips, as an addition to mash potatoes, or as a cheesy dusting for chips.

Have a search online for some inspiration and give a few recipes a try!

It’s also safe for animal consumption, making it a great way to provide your pet with extra nutrients. You will, of course, need to check with your vet first, as some manufacturers may include extra ingredients that aren’t pet-friendly.

What are the benefits of using nutritional yeast?

So, we already know it tastes good and it’s certainly low in calories (a typical quarter cup serving contains around 60 calories), but why else might we want to skip the Parmesan and go for the nooch?


While nutritional yeast can be sold unfortified, it’s the fortified version that gets people really excited. Additional B vitamins are added during the manufacturing process, making it a great choice for those looking to add extra vitamins and minerals to their diet.

B-group vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid, make up 8 of the 13 essential vitamins that your body needs to function at its best. They’re used in many different processes around the body, aiding brain function, DNA production, metabolism, and more. They might also be able to aid with stress and mood management, skin health, and fatigue.

Vitamin B is common in many foods, but certain factors might mean you need a little boost. This could be due to pregnancy, age, medical conditions, or following a plant-based diet. Nutritional yeast could offer the boost you need, in a safe and tasty dosage.

But it doesn’t stop there – nutritional yeast also contains potassium, calcium, and iron!

If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough vitamins and minerals, B or otherwise, take a look at our breakdown of what nutrition is and why it matters.

Great for food sensitivities

Nutritional yeast is gluten, soy, dairy, AND sugar free, meaning it’s a great supplement for people with certain food sensitivities.

Those with severe food allergies should still check the label just in case, as some manufacturers may include extra, unexpected ingredients or may not be able to completely guarantee that cross-contamination hasn’t occurred.

High in protein

A typical serving of nutritional yeast contains around 8g of protein and qualifies as a “complete protein”. This means that it contains all the essential amino acids that animal proteins do.

Protein is made up of “building blocks” called amino acids. Amino acids build and repair muscles and produce hormones and enzymes that keep our bodies going. “Essential” amino acids are the specific 9 that we can only get through our food – and because they’re usually expected to come from animal products, it can be tough for those on plant-based diets to incorporate them into their meals.

This is where nutritional yeast, as an entirely meat-free complete protein, can come in. If you’d like to know more about protein, check out our guide to the 7 essential nutrients our bodies need, and how they’re used.

Energy boost

Because of those added B vitamins, you may find that adding nutritional yeast to your diet reduces fatigue. The extra B-12 is thought to be responsible for this, and because it mostly occurs in animal products, nutritional yeast is a great way for vegetarians and vegans to get that energy back.

Improved digestion

One of the selling points of nutritional yeast is its high fibre content. A quarter cup serving contains around 3g of the stuff, making up a large portion of your daily recommended amount.

Many Australians don’t get enough fibre, and when low-fibre diets have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), haemorrhoids, obesity, constipation, diabetes, and bowel cancer, it may well be a concern for you.

A high-fibre diet can help keep your bowels healthy and your (*ahem*) movements regular, and with nutritional yeast’s high fibre content, it’s a great way to get started.

Supporting the immune system

Remember Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the strain of nutritional yeast comes from? Studies have shown that it can not only help support your immune system, but also reduce inflammation from a bacterial infection.

But wait, there’s more!

Studies and results do vary, but you might also find that nutritional yeast can help with:

Side effects of nutritional yeast

With so many potential benefits, there’s clearly a lot to love about nutritional yeast. But as with any new food, it’s important to be mindful of any side effects.

Vitamin B overdose

Ingesting too much Vitamin B can result in a number of issues. Symptoms of an overdose include skin rashes, insomnia, tingling and numbness, mood swings, abnormal blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues.

Given the high levels of B vitamins in nutritional yeast, this is certainly something to be aware of, though it will usually only happen after ingesting very large doses. Be mindful of mixing fortified foods, such as nutritional yeast, with additional supplements, as this can send your Vitamin B levels rocketing.

Too much fibre

While fibre is good for our digestive systems, introducing too much too quickly can lead to cramps, bloating, and diarrhoea, especially if your body isn’t used to it.

If you’re adding nutritional yeast to your diet, build up your serving sizes gradually and drink plenty of water. This will give your body time to adjust.

Going red in the face

One of the B vitamins present in nutritional yeast is B-3, or niacin. Niacin is used for metabolism and enzyme function, but ingesting it in high doses can cause your skin to flush red. You might also feel a burning or itching sensation.

It subsides fairly quickly, isn’t usually harmful, and likely won’t be triggered by a typical serving of nutritional yeast. That said, it’s still something to watch out for.

Yeast intolerance

It probably goes without saying, but if you have an intolerance to yeast, you should be staying away from nutritional yeast.

It’s a fairly uncommon intolerance and is usually associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s. You may find that nutritional yeast triggers some of the symptoms of IBD.


If you are already susceptible to migraines, the presence of tyramine (derived from the amino acid tyrosine) in nutritional yeast might trigger one. Tyramine is also present in concentrated yeast products, such as Vegemite.

The link between tyramine and migraines is still being explored, but it may be linked to the hormones it releases in the body, which may increase blood pressure and cause headaches.

For most people, the benefits of nutritional yeast will very much outweigh the potential side effects. As with any new food product, the key things are to take it slowly, monitor yourself, and, if necessary, consult your doctor or clinical nutritionist.

So, is nutritional yeast good for you?

Whether you’re looking for a vegan-friendly cheese substitute, planning to supercharge your intake of B vitamins, or just want a new way to spice up your movie night popcorn, nutritional yeast could be the way to go.

Versatile, readily available, and boasting a huge range of health benefits, it’s no wonder that nutritional yeast is on the rise – metaphorically speaking, of course!


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