Originally published February 23 2012
Health basics: What is nutritional yeast?
by PF Louis
(NaturalNews) Nutritional yeast is an excellent vegetarian source of almost all B complex vitamins. Vegetarians and vegans should include it in their diet. It contains an abundance of all amino acids to form a complete protein.
The B vitamins in abundance include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and B9 (folic acid). Nutritional yeast flakes are also a good source of selenium and zinc. A few nutritional yeast products are enriched with B12.
Vegans who eschew all animal products such as dairy and eggs are especially vulnerable to B12 deficiency. This can lead to low energy and anemia, among other ailments. The liver is capable of storing B12 for three to five years, so if it's been that long for you as a vegan without eggs or dairy, supplementing B12 is vital.
Your red blood cells are oxygen carriers that die off every three months or so. They have to be replaced, along with the balancing of B12 with other B vitamins, especially folate B9 (natural folic acid). The B vitamins, also important for neurological health, are water soluble and need to be added often.
What's tricky is that supplemented B12 struggles to get past the stomach. It breaks down considerably due to stomach acids. That's why B12 shots are administered often to those who are anemic or have low energy.
If you live in Mexico or another Latin American country, you can buy syringes and B12 to inject yourself without a prescription. Otherwise, if you're a strict vegan, it's a good idea to go sublingual with B12 supplements even if your nutritional yeast is enriched with B12.
Describing nutritional yeast flakesNutritional yeast is cultivated via beet and cane molasses fermentation for approximately a week, then dried, and packaged as flakes, both large and small. Despite this process, there are no glucose or gluten concerns. But if overheated, there can be some free glutamates released.
Don't confuse deactivated nutritional yeast with brewer's yeast, which is a byproduct of brewing beer, or baker's yeast, which is activated to make bread rise. Nutritional yeast is derived from a single cell organism called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Unlike those other foul tasting yeast forms, nutritional yeast has a light nutty or slightly cheesy taste. Some vegans use it to replace parmesan cheese as a topping. It can be added to just about any food, even popcorn or pizza, adding flavor.
It's easy -- even tasty -- to eat the yeast flakes by the tablespoon with a little water to keep the flakes from sticking to the palate.
This is a food based source of all the B complex vitamins, though occasionally void of B12. Since nutritional yeast is a fungus, like mushrooms but not like Candida, it doesn't produce its own B12, which requires bacteria to create it.
Red Star puts out a B12 fortified nutritional yeast that can be found in some bulk sections. Bob's Red Mill has packaged yeast products fortified with B12 also. Read individual ingredient labels to make sure.
Large flake nutritional yeast is most commonly found in health store bins. Don't let the price per pound scare you. The flakes are very light. Heavier smaller flake versions are available that require less amounts of yeast flakes to deliver the same nutritional value.
For over 5,000 years, yeast has been used in food and beverage production. Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast - it won't froth like baker's yeast, which is active and used as a leavening agent to make bread rise. So nutritional yeast flakes may be okay for those on yeast free diets.
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