Hungry Haley

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Nutritional Yeast: What's The Deal?

Haley HansenComment

What's that yellow stuff I'm always sprinkling on my bowls and salads? It's called "nutritional yeast" and it's been one of my favorite toppings/additions to just about anything since I went vegan. I know, I know - "nutritional yeast" sounds anything but appetizing. However, its flavor and versatility hooked me at first bite. One year later, here I am, sprinkling (read "pouring", "dumping", etc.) it everything I can. 

Of course, everyone asks, "What is that?" and "Why do you eat it?" Besides its high vitamin B12 content, I haven't been able to give much more of answer as to its health benefits and roots, so I've done my research and I'm ready to explain myself... 

What is it? 

  • Nutritional yeast is an inactive (or deactivated) form of yeast made from sugar cane and beet molasses. It's not the yeast used to make bread - that's the active form. "Nooch" can be sold as powder or flakes. That's about it!

Why do I need it? 

  • Nutritional yeast caught my eye with all its boasting of vitamin B12 - an essential nutrient found mostly in animal products. After elimination those from my diet a year ago, I needed to find another dietary source of it to ensure my body would produce red blood cells, synthesize DNA, and keep my nervous system functioning properly (detailed functional description here). Deficiency can lead to anemia - lack of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body's tissues, resulting in fatigue, shortness of breath, and eventually potential menstrual problems and muscle weakness. 

So, why nutritional yeast and not animal products? 

  • Health - Animal products include eggs, dairy, and meat, but let's begin with meat. One of the number one reasons meat is such a staple is because of its protein content. When the body digests protein, the kidneys must filter out the excess protein because the body cannot store infinite amounts of this nutrient. Filtering out excess protein, over time, can exhaust the kidneys - a term called "intraglomerular hypertension" - and potentially permanently damage them. Read what Dr. McDougall has to say about kidneys and animal-product protein.  
  • Taste - Say cheeeeeeeeeeeese! No other plant-based food "says 'cheese'" as loud nutritional yeast. This flavor is well known as "umami", a component characteristic of rich, satisfying, salty dishes. Use it to make vegan cheddar, parmesan, nacho, and other cheeses! 
  • Cost/convenience - Find nutritional yeast at almost any health-food grocery store, or do it like me and order it through Amazon! I buy the 2-pack for just over $10, and with a Prime membership, my package is on my doorstep in 2-3 days. Once I open it, nutritional yeast goes on just about everything savory I eat - pasta salads, sandwiches, veggie bowls, and more. Mix it into hummus for a quick and easy "cheese" sauce, or check out this veggie-packed recipe from Simple Vegan Blog. 

I hope this helped explain my love for nutritional yeast, and maybe even sparked some interest in you. Give it a try and don't let the strange name freak you out - it's delicious, packed with essential vitamins for both vegans and non-vegans, inexpensive, and easy to add to any meal. As always, if you have any other questions/comments/suggestions, leave them below or send them over in an email. Thanks for reading!