The health benefits of nutritional yeast are almost as rich as its cheesy, nutty flavor. 

By Betty Gold and Kimberly Holland
Updated October 24, 2019
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Nutritional yeast has lots of health benefits, including boosting energy, protecting against cell damage, lowering cholesterol, and more. It’s also a nutty, savory seasoning that incorporates well in dishes like tofu scramble and enchiladas.

A type of inactive yeast, nutritional yeast is popular in vegan and vegetarian cooking because it's a rich source of vitamin B12, a nutrient that’s typically only available in animal products like milk and eggs. Likewise, one of the most surprising health benefits of nutritional yeast is that it is also a high-protein food.

Read on to learn more about this umami-rich seasoning and why it might be worth adding to your daily diet.

Nutritional Yeast Benefits

Nutritional yeast is a great source of many vitamins, minerals, and important nutrients. While this food might be prized for its nutty, cheesy flavor, it should also be vaulted for its rich nutritional value.

In one tablespoon, nutritional yeast can have as much as:

  • 560 percent of daily recommended thiamin
  • 520 percent of daily recommended riboflavin
  • 233 percent of daily recommended niacin
  • 440 percent of daily recommended B6
  • 133 percent of daily recommended folate

These trace minerals and nutrients are vital for a variety of healthy body functions, including protecting DNA, regulating metabolism, and strengthening immunity.

Additionally...

1. Nutritional Yeast Boosts Energy.

Nutritional yeast is typically an incredibly rich source of B12, a vitamin that’s essential for energy, red blood cell creation, and metabolism. When your B12 levels are low, you may experience greater fatigue. When they’re sufficient, you may have more natural energy and tire less easily.

Many nutritional yeast brands add synthetic vitamins to their yeast during production. These fortified nutritional yeast products often have more than a day’s worth of nutrients like B12. Indeed, one tablespoon of some nutritional yeasts can serve up more than six times your daily value of B12.

Nutritional yeast is also one of the only plant sources of vitamin B12. This vitamin is typically only found in animal foods like milk, fish, and eggs. In one study, vegans who supplemented their daily diet with one tablespoon of nutritional yeast were able to restore their B12 levels if they had previously been deficient.

Lastly, nutritional yeast is a good source of high-quality protein. For vegans and vegetarians, it’s an especially good option as just one tablespoon has more than five grams of protein (one egg has six grams). Protein provides energy and stamina.

2. Nutritional Yeast Is Good for Your Skin, Nails, and Hair.

One nutritional yeast benefit may be seen instead of only felt. Nutritional yeast, research suggests, may help combat hair, skin, and nail problems, such as thin, weak nails and acne.

The 2015 study looked at various types of nutritional yeast, with different groups of synthetic supplements, and found that many could prevent skin problems, hair loss, thinning hair, brittle nails, and more. Skin benefits are prominent in adolescents while nail and hair benefits are possibly stronger in mature women.

3. Nutritional Yeast May Help Lower Your Cholesterol.

Nutritional yeast contains two predominant types of carbohydrates: alpha-mannan and beta-glucan. Research suggests beta-glucan can lower cholesterol.

In one study, men who consumed 15 grams of nutritional yeast (that’s about 1½ tablespoons) every day saw their total cholesterol level fall by six percent. In a 2009 animal study, mice that fed on beta-glucan from yeast had significantly lower cholesterol levels after just more than a week of eating the food.

A type of beta-glucan similar to the one found in nutritional yeast is also found in oats, and the connection between eating oats and reducing cholesterol is well established. More research is needed to confirm if nutritional yeast has the same protective effects as oats.

4. Nutritional Yeast May Protect Against Cancer.

Every day, your cells are under attack from free radicals, molecules that can damage and ultimately destroy the healthy cells in your body. Certain antioxidants can bind with free radicals when they enter your body and destroy them. Nutritional yeast is a rich source of antioxidants.

Selenium is one such antioxidant, and nutritional yeast is a rich source of this nutrient. One study suggests that poor selenium levels may increase a person’s risk for cancer, in particular men. However, eating selenium-rich plant foods, such as nutritional yeast and whole grains, may help combat free radicals and prevent the development of cancer cells.

5. Nutritional Yeast Strengthens Your Immune System.

Nutritional yeast is made from the yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Research suggests this yeast strain may be able to support your immune system, reduce inflammation, and help ward off intestinal ailments.

Indeed, one study found that nutritional yeast has a probiotic-like effect on the intestines. It may help prevent some gastrointestinal infections like E. coli and Salmonella. More research in humans is needed to verify these protective effects and to better understand how nutritional yeast stimulates immune cells.

6. Nutritional Yeast Supports a Healthy Pregnancy.

Folic acid, a type of B vitamin, is commonly added to fortified nutritional yeast products. Folic acid is vitally important for women, especially those who may become pregnant. This vitamin helps protect growing fetuses against congenital defects, such as spina bifida.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions recommends women of reproductive age get at least 400 micrograms of the vitamin each day. Most nutritional yeast products deliver more than a day’s worth. Be sure to tell your doctor if you use nutritional yeast as a folic acid supplement.

If you’re not pregnant (or don’t intend to be), folate and folic acid still play an important in many vital body functions, including cell production and repair of genes.

Are There Any Risks of Consuming Nutritional Yeast?

While nutritional yeast is largely considered safe, it is not suitable for everyone. In fact, researchers recommend that people who have glaucoma, hypertension, or irritable bowel disease (IBD) avoid nutritional yeast. Likewise, people who are allergic or sensitive to yeast should avoid this nutty, savory seasoning, and anyone who is frequently diagnosed with a yeast infection should also avoid it.

Bottom Line: Nutritional yeast is a nutty, savory, “cheesy” ingredient that gets a lot of praise for its unmistakable flavor, as well as its bounty of health benefits. For vegans and vegetarians, this highly nutritious food is almost irreplaceable in the daily diet. For people who just like the rich, umami flavors, it’s a bonus that it brings with it so many wonderful benefits. If you'd like to give it a try, look for Bragg's—it's the OG nutritional yeast brand and the most widely available.