Nutritional yeast is often used by vegans and vegetarians as a source of B-vitamins, protein, and iron. It’s also used by vegans to get a cheese-like taste and texture in certain recipes, being it’s not an animal byproduct. Some people even use nutritional yeast on a daily or weekly basis to boost their vitamin/mineral levels. However, you might not be aware of the fortification process and heavy refinement that goes into making nutritional yeast. This leads to the so-called ‘nutrition’ to be dead or synthetic. Both of these forms have nothing to offer your body.
What is it?
Nutritional yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a deactivated yeast. That means this strain of yeast will not help raise dough or brew any kind of beverage. This commercial food product has small amounts of some vitamins and minerals but is only a significant source of B-complex vitamins. Most brands are fortified with all of these vitamins and minerals, so none of them are dietary and exist naturally in the yeast.1 B12 is not naturally found in nutritional yeast, synthetic B12 is added in. Only bacteria can grow vitamin B12, which can be absorbed by yeast in nature. So, because nutritional yeast is produced in a monitored, controlled setting, this bacterial interaction will not occur, unless synthetic B12 is added. Many vegans and vegetarians add yeast to foods for the sole purpose of getting B vitamins. Particularly vitamin B12, however they don’t realize the B vitamins in nutritional yeast are synthetic.
Synthetic B vitamins
Folic acid is an ingredient found in most nutritional yeast brands, and this is essentially a fake vitamin B. Folic acid is an oxidized B vitamin, not to be confused with Folate. Folate is naturally found in fruits and vegetables, Folic Acid is not. Because Folic Acid is synthetic, you’re only getting an isolated vitamin. If you give your body folate from produce, you’ll be getting an overwhelming number of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Whole leafy greens, beans, lentils and cauliflower are all high in folate. Synthetic vitamins can even lead to health issues in the long term.4
Pro tip: Read our blog post folate vs folic acid to learn more about the difference.
Not so ‘nutritional’ yeast
This strain of yeast contains free glutamic acid,2 which isn’t harmful as it’s naturally occurring. But during the pasteurization, the glutamic acid will likely be killed off. Which means in some cases, MSG is added for flavour as well as an extra preservative.3
MSG is added to food as a flavour enhancer to a lot of pre-packaged foods, restaurant food, bread, milk and it naturally exists in some vegetables and cheeses. So it’s safe to say most of us get enough MSG in an isolated sodium salt from glutamic. MSG has been linked to obesity, brain damage, and other horrifying side effects.3 Another issue with Yeast is it’s used to thicken and stabilize foods. This means it may be hidden in a lot of the pre-packaged foods you may already consume. So it’s safe to say most of us get more than enough MSG already. It should also be noted that many brands of this yeast also contain GMO’s.1
Yes, nutritional yeast does contain some iron and fibre, but it’s probably killed off during the refining process of being heated at very high temperatures and then being milled down to powder. It’s also not uncommon for some brands to use spray drying methods to preserve the yeast. This involves quickly drying the nutritional yeast with hot gas.1
You should be going for unrefined foods to get vitamins and minerals, this will ensure proper absorption, no ingestion of chemicals or additives plus you don’t have to worry about all of the vitamins being ‘killed off’ so long as your produce is from a high quality, organic source.
For B vitamins we recommend our PureFood B. It only contains organic fruits, vegetables and superfoods, so you know the vitamins and minerals are bioavailable and exist naturally in that specific food. Due to our soft production process, all of the enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals are alive. We only use water, air and light to turn the organic produce into powder and nothing is ever heated above 40 degrees Celsius.
Everyday foods that are high in B vitamins and iron: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soaked nuts, seeds and naturally fermented foods are our recommendations for getting those essential B vitamins, iron and fiber. These will be pure food vitamins, not synthetic, manufactured ones.
For simple flavour substitutes, you can try ground dry mustard, chickpea flour or grinding up raw cashews. Feel free to enjoy nutritional yeast in moderation, but by no means should you be relying on it for nutritional supplementation purposes.
How to look for it on packaging
Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the Latin name for nutritional yeast. If you’re finding that ingredient listed on the products you’re buying, you should reconsider. Especially if brands are stating the vitamins in their products are derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, because as you now know, there will be synthetic vitamins.
Whether you’re a vegan/vegetarian or neither, nutritional yeast should not be a natural way for anyone to get vitamins/minerals nor should it be a vitamin or food replacement. Synthetic vitamins have little to offer your body, and products high in nutritional yeast should fit under the junk food category along with other highly refined, low in plant-based natural nutrition. Remember, the less the product is refined, the better it is for your body. Go to your garden first.
Do you have any questions about nutritional yeast, B vitamins or pure food vitamins? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about whole food vitamins, live nutrients and how to avoid synthetic or dead nutrients, check out these blog posts:
4 See D, Gurnee K, LeClair M. An In Vitro Screening Study of 196 Natural Products for Toxicity and Efficacy. J Am Nutraceutical Assoc, 1999;2(1):25-41