There’s a reason comfort food is called comfort food. Eating things like cheesy mashed potatoes, savory pasta and creamy soups just makes us feel good, even if they aren’t always the healthiest meal options. But a growing nutrition trend — supported by top research and experts — is showing how to enjoy comfort foods while still reaping powerful health and weight-loss benefits. Turns out, a simple ingredient found in the grocery-store spice aisle can transform comfort foods into health-benefiting foods. We’re talking about nutritional yeast. Michael Crupain, MD, author of The Power Five and a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, says, “Nutritional yeast can enhance your cooking while cutting calories down, which can help weight loss and health goals.” One woman we spoke with lost 127 pounds by seasoning her food with nutritional yeast (see her story below). Keep reading to learn all about how nutritional yeast benefits your overall health.
What is nutritional yeast?
When you hear the word yeast you might think of the activated form of yeast that makes bread rise. Or you might think of the “bad” form of yeast that can overgrow in the body and cause health problems. But nutritional yeast is a different, third type. It is an inactive form that is often grown on molasses or sugar beets to be harvested and used as a food seasoning. You can find it in grocery stores sold as flakes or powder in spice shakers or bags.
How does nutritional yeast taste?
This seasoning has a subtle nutty, cheesy flavor that can easily be blended into soups, sauces, scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes. The most common way people use nutritional yeast is to mimic Parmesan cheese, for example by sprinkling it over popcorn or pasta. Forever Strong author Gabrielle Lyon, DO, an osteopathic physician, says, “Nutritional yeast can be a delicious little bonus.”
Importantly, this nutrition swap doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor. In a Penn State University study of nearly 10,000 adults, researchers took 10 beloved American comfort-food recipes and found that people liked them as much, if not more, when some fattening saturated fat and sodium were removed and replaced with flavorful spices.
How nutritional yeast benefits your health
This little seasoning provides big health perks. It is low-calorie and fat-free, plus it delivers protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, making it a healthy addition to any diet. It’s also classified as a “complete protein,” containing all nine essential amino acids needed to support the body. Nutritional yeast is also naturally free of gluten, sugar, soy and dairy, so it is an easy option for people with food sensitivities. Let’s take a closer look at how eating nutritional yeast benefits your health:
1. It helps build muscle
As mentioned, nutritional yeast is rich in protein, which builds and supports lean muscles in the body. Just 2 Tbs. adds 8 grams of protein to a meal. Eating plenty of this macronutrient is especially important as people age and depletion of muscle mass begins to accelerate. A Purdue University team found that people who boosted protein intake at meals lost more belly fat than those who under-ate protein. No wonder, Dr. Crupain says, “Nutritional yeast is a great ingredient for women.” (Click through to learn how another protein add-in helps with weight loss.)
2. It improves heart health
Using seasonings like nutritional yeast, especially as a swap for dairy cheeses, can cut fat and sodium from the diet. These moves are linked to powerful cardiovascular benefits like lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
3. It supports the thyroid
Nutritional yeast is rich in minerals like iron, zinc and selenium, which have been shown to boost the production of energizing thyroid hormones in as little as 10 days. Experts often refer to the thyroid as the body’s “master metabolism gland.” This gland is more likely to become faulty in women than men. And while postmenopausal women don’t run the same risk of iron shortfalls that they did before menopause, Raphael Kellman, MD, author of Microbiome Thyroid, notes, “Iron is a common deficiency in women with hypothyroidism, especially Hashimoto’s.” (Click to read about the link between low thyroid and weight gain.)
4. It boosts energy and mood
Nutritional yeast contains rich stores of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-6, known to boost energy and mood. Plus, many brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with feel-good B-12. (Click to read how to overcome a B-12 deficiency.)
5. It gets cravings under control
Nutritional yeast ranks high in umami, a Japanese term for a food’s savory taste and texture. (Parmesan cheese has it too.) In fact, high-tech scans show that foods with umami flavor stimulate the brain to calm hunger cravings up to 42%. Study author Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, PhD, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, explains, “Our study suggests people at high risk of obesity may benefit most from eating umami-rich foods.”
How nutritional yeast helps with weight loss
One of the biggest health benefits for nutritional yeast comes with weight loss. Credit goes to a type of fiber called beta-glucan. One study on beta-glucan–rich foods showed they help dieters lose weight 672% faster than normal.
Who uses nutritional yeast?
Millions of fans call this seasoning “nooch.” Vegetarians have enjoyed nooch for years. Plant-based eater Gregory Hammer, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, raves, “I eat lots of nutritional yeast. It’s full of flavor and not fat. It’s like having a secret ingredient!”
Still, some experts say nutritional yeast is an underutilized health and weight-loss tool. In fact, many meat eaters have never heard of it. Registered dietitian Sarah Williams, MS, RDN, tells followers on TikTok @NutritionalSarah, “I feel like it’s one of those ingredients not a lot of people know about.
How to use nutritional yeast to benefit your health
Since nutritional yeast contains fiber, slowly introduce it into your diet to give your digestive system time to adjust. Experts recommend building up to about 2 Tbs. per day. Nutritional yeast can be found at the grocery store in two forms: flakes and powder. Some people like using flakes for the texture on popcorn or pasta; others like to dissolve the powder in soups and sauces.
Aim for non-GMO options
Some health experts point out that nutritional yeast is often grown on genetically modified sugar beets. To ensure the one you use isn’t, simply read labels. “Any kind of yeast labeled ‘organic’ is generally grown on non-GMO media,” assures Dr. Hammer. For added peace of mind, look for the “non-GMO” icon on the packaging. One brand to trust: Bragg Premium Nutritional Yeast Seasoning, which is non-GMO–verified (Buy on Amazon, $13.49 for 12 oz.).
Look for fortified brands
Nutritional yeast is naturally rich in many B vitamins, but if the ingredient label includes B-12, you’ll know it has been fortified with this extra energy booster.
6 easy ways to nosh on ‘nooch’
- Sprinkle on popcorn
- Blend into guacamole
- Toss it into trail mix
- Mix into dips
- Stir into scrambled eggs
- Hide it in soup
Nutritional yeast before and after: Angel Grier, 52
“Your husband’s chances of having a heart attack are 9.5 out of 10,” the cardiologist explained. Angel Grier, PhD, couldn’t believe what she was hearing. In that moment, she vowed, I have to find a way to get us both healthy.
Angel wanted to help her husband, Terry, but knew her own health was in bad shape. “I was a walking time bomb.” She had high cholesterol and chronic back pain that required epidurals. She was also anemic and needed B-vitamin infusions.
Desperate for a healthier path, Angel adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet and recalls, “For the first time in my life, I had to start eating more food.”
To add protein and flavor to dishes, Angel used nutritional yeast. She reveals, “I’m from an Italian family and learned I could still enjoy all our traditions.” This time, she made plant-based ricotta and queso dip and sprinkled nutritional yeast on fries, pasta and “zoodles.”
Angela today: pain free and 9 sizes smaller
Within two weeks of healthier eating, Angel’s pain was gone. “It took away my inflammation. It was a miracle.” Over time, her sleep and mental clarity soared. In all, Angel lost 127 pounds. She also helped Terry get off cholesterol meds in just five weeks and lose 30 pounds. Now he says, “My wife saved my life!”
The couple’s entire health transformation stemmed from love. So today, Angel and Terry inspire other people on their Plant Based Love website and YouTube channel. They also have a smart phone app called Plant Based Love —and so, 31 of their recipes contain nutritional yeast. Angel, whose clothing size dropped from a size 20 to a 2, now says, “As I age, I feel better and better!”
For more healthy foods that help women lose weight, keep reading:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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