Nutritional yeast is becoming a more mainstream food for people following all kinds of diets. Here’s what you should know about this popular B12-rich food when it comes to your baby.
Whether you’re a veteran vegan or have been dabbling a bit into the predominantly plant-based lifestyle, it’s no question that you’ve come across nutritional yeast before. But, what is it exactly, what does it have to offer, and is it safe for babies?
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast – often called nooch – is a staple food for many plant-based families. It’s often fortified and sold commercially as a condiment.
Although nutritional yeast is the same yeast species used to make kombucha, bread, or beer – Saccharomyces cerevisiae – it’s a very different product. Nutritional yeast is deactivated. It will not make bread rise.
While nutritional yeast resembles fish food, these aromatic yellow flakes are packed with nutrition and flavor. Many people describe it has having a nutty, meaty, savory, and cheesy taste.
Nutritional yeast can be found in most grocery stores, either sold on shelves in the baking aisle or in the bulk section in some places.
One of the main reasons people consume nutritional yeast is that it’s a concentrated source of protein, fiber, and micronutrients, especially vitamin B12.
Note that not all nutritional yeast products are fortified, so check the ingredient label to make sure it contains what you’re looking for.
The amount of vitamin B12 required is low, but it is an essential nutrient for cell division and blood formation, making it especially important for kids.
Using nutritional yeast is one easy way to help your family get enough, along with other sources like fortified soy milk and B12 supplements.
A 2000 study of 49 vegans published in Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism found that eating 1 tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast per day (which contained 5 mcg of B12) was effective in replenishing vitamin B12 levels of those who were deficient.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 for a 1-3 year old child is 0.9 mcg/day.
Approximately two teaspoons of many fortified nutritional yeast supplies the RDA of 2.4 mg/day for adults, while some brands have over 500% of the Daily Value in one tablespoon.
Hence, just under one teaspoon per day should meet the RDA for children.
However, there is one important thing we want to emphasize. While incorporating foods like fortified B12 and plant milks into your child’s diet, the amounts can vary between brands and servings.
The most reliable way to meet vitamin B12 needs is to take a B12 supplement, and we recommend doing so if your babe is on a primarily plant-based diet.
Can Babies Have Nutritional Yeast?
The bottom line is that we can’t find any significant reason why healthy babies who are tolerating a variety of solid foods should avoid nutritional yeast in moderate amounts.
Generally speaking, nutritional yeast can have a few potential side effects.
- It’s high in fiber, which could cause digestive upset if eaten in large amounts, especially if your baby isn’t used to eating many high-fiber foods.
- It may cause facial flushing in some people, as it’s high in niacin, or vitamin B3. This is considered a harmless side effect and should go away on its own within a couple of hours.
- Some people report that eating nutritional yeast can cause their urine to become a neon yellow color. This, too, is harmless and temporary.
If your baby has a MTHFR genetic mutation, it may be best to avoid nutritional yeast that has been fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9. The MTHFR mutation causes impaired folic acid metabolism.
Lastly, some research suggests that certain commercial food uses of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast may be at heightened risk for opportunistic pathogens.
However, the researchers state that this strain of yeast has an “impeccably good food safety record”, and potential health concerns are more likely to impact individuals who consume large amounts in their overall diet (from numerous sources) and have impaired immune systems, like those with HIV or who have undergone transplants.
Overall, the nature of nutritional yeast gives us very little reason to believe it’s a major food safety concern, even for new eaters.
Also interesting to note, Dr. Michael Greger ordered testing for lead (a developmental neurotoxin and environmental contaminant that can end up in foods) on several popular brands of commercial nutritional yeast in 2015, finding that only three contained any detectable levels. None of them contained lead levels that exceeded California’s Prop 65 strict standards for lead. You can find more information on that testing here.
To preserve the quality and shelf life of your family’s nutritional yeast, store it in a cool, dark place or in your refrigerator.
Chime in: What’s your favorite way to use nutritional yeast?
Interested in more ideas for nutritious baby foods? Check out our E-book, First Bites: The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning for Plant-Based Babies