What is nutritional yeast? Nutritional yeast benefits and how to use nutritional yeast for kids.
There was a time when nutritional yeast was like an exclusive secret of the vegan community. But today, it’s gone much more mainstream with the rest of the plant-based food market.
In fact, you’ve probably seen nutritional yeast in your favorite grocery store, no longer hidden in the corner but mixed in with the condiments or baking ingredients.
If you’re curious about adding nutritional yeast to your family’s meals, or wondering whether it’s good for kids, this post is for you!
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast, or “nooch” as it’s sometimes called, is a dried species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
While S. cerevisiae is also the kind of yeast used to make bread and beer, nutritional yeast is an inactivated version. In other words, you’re not going to be making a loaf of sourdough with it.
Instead, nutritional yeast is used as a seasoning and flavoring agent.
When you purchase it, it generally comes in a shaker, a plastic container, or a bag.
It has a slight resemblance to the thin flakes you used to feed your pet goldfish as a kid, with a much more pleasant odor.
Nutritional yeast is yellowish-tan and has a nutty or cheesy taste.
When you get it home, nutritional yeast stores best in cool, dark places. We often keep ours in the refrigerator to extend shelf life.
Nutritional Yeast Benefits
In addition to the cheesy, nutty flavor nutritional yeast brings to soups, sauces, casseroles, and other dishes, it also offers a number of health benefits.
One of the main reasons so many people in the plant-based community love nutritional yeast is because — when fortified — it’s a great source of vitamin B12, among other B vitamins. It also contains fiber, protein, and a little bit of iron.
In just 2 teaspoons of fortified nutritional yeast, you’ll find:
- 3 grams protein
- 0.3 mg of iron (2% of the Daily Value)
- 110 mg potassium (2% DV)
- 3.2 mg riboflavin (250% DV)
- 17.5 mg niacin (110% DV)
- 3.6 mg vitamin B6 (210% DV)
- 7.5 mcg vitamin B12 (310% DV)
You’ll also find some trace minerals in nutritional yeast, like zinc and magnesium.
Note that there are also unfortified versions of nutritional yeast. These will only contain the vitamins and minerals that are naturally occurring in the yeast, without the added benefit of extra B vitamins, like B12, that you’ll get in fortified varieties.
We recommend choosing fortified nutritional yeast, especially if your family follows a predominantly plant-based diet.
And, while nutritional yeast is a great source of vitamin B12, we still recommend that plant-based families use a B12 supplement to make sure needs are met.
Other Health Benefits
Nutritional yeast is also a good source of antioxidants.
Just like antioxidants found in colorful fruits and veggies, those in nutritional yeast offer some protection against cellular damage. This can help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Anything we can do to support our family’s gut health is important, as this also translates to better overall health.
Who Shouldn’t Use Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a safe and nutrient-rich food for most people, including kids.
But there are certain groups that may need to avoid nutritional yeast or choose unfortified varieties.
First, if your baby has an MTHFR genetic mutation, we would recommend using unfortified nutritional yeast.
This is because fortified versions have had folic acid, the synthetic version of vitamin B9, added to them. Having the MTHFR mutation causes an impaired folic acid metabolism.
Kids who have a yeast allergy may also want to avoid nutritional yeast, just to err on the side of caution.
For more considerations around nutritional yeast and babies, see this post.
How to Use Nutritional Yeast for Kids
So what are some ways to offer nutritional yeast for kids? Here are some of our favorites!
- Use it to make vegan mac and cheese
- Sprinkle it over casseroles, pasta dishes, and even mixed green salads
- Blend it into a vegan Parmesan topping
- Use it to make vegan queso sauce
- Include it in a seasoning blend for kale chips
- Sprinkle it over the top of homemade pizza
- Pureed into smoothies (a little bit goes a long way!)
Chime In: Does your family use nutritional yeast? What are some of your kids’ favorite ways to eat it?
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