Whether you are vegan, plant-based, or omnivore, I find most people (especially in developed Western cultures) are constantly searching to increase their protein intake. Whether it’s with a specific diet trend or the fear mongering messaging that we need more protein and “more is better.”
More is not necessarily better (especially when it comes to protein), but I can understand and relate to the desire to find ways to add protein into you diet. For example, protein when combined with fiber helps increase satiety and satisfaction with meals and snacks. Protein at breakfast can improve focus and concentration. Protein after an intense workout can help repair and rebuild muscle. I get it. I totally get it…I mean, heck, I didn’t spend 6 years of schooling and sitting through hours of Biochemistry and Medical Nutrition Therapy for nothing. Paradoxally, Protein is important but protein can also be easily consumed with some underrated vegan and plant-based protein sources.
So if you come here as a vegan, vegetarian, or an omnivore who wants to add more plant-based protein to your world, you’re in luck.
I’m going to share with you the most unnderrated plant-based protein. It’s shelf stable. It’s inexensive. It’s a total nutrient powerhouse. It’s also vegan, kosher, soy free, and gluten free friendly. What in the heck am I talking about?
Peanut Butter? Nope.
Yep, you heard me, nutritional yeast is the hidden gem of the protein world and honestly in the nutrition world as a whole. Let’s dive in and you can see what I mean…
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast. It’s produced by culturing a specific yeast microorganism for several days. Unlike the active yeasts used in baking or beer and wine fermentation, the yeast culture for nutritional yeast is deactivated with heat and then washed, dried, and packaged.
Is Nutritional Yeast the Same as Brewer’s Yeast?
No. Nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are not the same. Brewer’s yeast is a beer making by-product and has the tendency to be quite bitter while nutritional yeast has a subtle, savory, cheesy-like flavor.
Benefits of Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is best known as a source of vegan Vitamin B12. It’s important to note that nutritional yeast does not naturally contain Vitamin B12 but it is commonly fortified as nutritional yeast “houses” Vitamin B12 well.
B12 is a crucial vitamin responsible for several brain and nerve functions in the body and is mostly found in animal products. Humans cannot absorb the Vitamin B12 we produce because production occurs south of the absorption site (aka production happens in the colon versus absorption in the small intestine). Therefore, we must consume Vitamin B12 in the diet.
If you are vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based, you’ve likely heard about the importance of Vitamin B12 but honestly, even if you eat an omnivore diet, Vitamin B12 is important to be mindful of. I found many patients in the hospital to have low Vitamin B12 levels. Because this is such an important vitamin, do make sure to consume a source(s) of Vitamin B12 regularly…like fortified nutritional yeast!
it’s an important vitamin as low levels can still happen (after working in hospitals, I actually think it happens more than we realize) and a B12
Other B Vitamins
It’s not just Vitamin B12, Nutritional Yeast is high in a slew of other B vitamins that can help promote sustained energy levels, healthy nail and hair growth, and can help prevent birth defects. Any metabolic process in the body requires B vitamins and nutritional yeast provides a power punch in a very small amount.
The protein content of nutritional yeast as in only one tablespoon there’s at least 3 grams of protein (sometimes more). Do you know how small a tablespoon is?? It’s tiny! For that serving size to have 3 grams of a complete plant-based protein that also happens to be high in fiber, nutrients, and low in sodium/calories, it’s just amazing. Truly amazing.
1 Tablespoon of Nutritional Yeast has 3 grams of Protein. That’s about the same as:
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (3.5 grams of protein)
- 1/2 oz of almonds (3 grams of protein)
- 1/2 oz of peanuts (3.5 grams of protein)
- 1/4 cup of tofu (3.5 grams of protein)
- 1 large egg white (3.6 grams of protein)
You never hear about nutritional yeast being a source of plant-based protein but when we stack it up against other vegan and non-vegan protein sources, you can see that it’s incredibly nutrient dense and protein rich. The best part (which we’re about to get to!) is that it can easily be added to plant-based meals for a nutrition and protein boost without cooking, worry about safe cooking temperature, or safe refrigeration as it’s shelf stable and ready to go out of the package!
sold in small flake form that has a distinctive nutty, cheesy-like flavor that adds depth and creaminess to dishes. It’s mostly used in plant-based cooking to create a cheesy vibe or as a condiment to increase the nutritional profile. Nutritional yeast has about three grams of protein and one gram of fiber per tablespoon serving making it exceptionally nutrient dense. Hence nutritional yeast. A lot of varieties on the market are fortified with B vitamins including vitamin B12.
Buying Nutritional Yeast – What Aisle Can You Find Nutritional Yeast In?
There are 2 main places you’ll find nutritional yeast:
- In the Bulk Bin Aisle – If your grocery store has a bulk bin section, you can frequently find nutritional yeast here. Buying a small amount to test it out or buying a larger amount if you use it frequently can be a great way to save money and avoid wasting product and packaging. One caveat – not all bulk bin nutritional yeasts varieties are fortified with Vitamin B 12. If the nutrition label is on the lid, check it out. If you do not see Vitamin B12, I would encourage you to buy a packaged form of nutritional yeast that you know is fortified with nutritional yeast.
- In the baking/flour aisle (and sometimes with the condiments) – If you’re looking for a packaged form of nutritional yeast, head to the natural section of your grocery store first if the natural section is separate from the rest of the store. If the products are all intermingled, head to the baking and flour aisle first. Nutritional yeast is usually kept on the top shelf regardless of the aisle – so look high! If it’s not there, head to the condiment section. If you still can’t find it, congrats on getting your steps and ask an employee. 🙂
Storing Nutritional Yeast – Where Do I Keep Nutritional Yeast?
I like to keep nutritional yeast in the pantry – where it’s cool and dark. Some people keep it in the fridge or freezer (similar to a flour) but it is shelf stable and does not need to be refrigerated.
Using Nutritional Yeast – What is Nutritional Yeast Good For?
Nutritional yeast provides a unique umami flavor that is slightly savory but still provides depth in taste and tastes cheese like when mixed with lemon juice or sprinkled on pizza. There are infinite uses of nutritional yeast, but I’ll give you my top ten favorite ways of including nutritional yeast in my day:
- Sprinkled on a super seeded whole grain toast in the morning with avocado or Earth Balance and Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Seasoning
- Hefty dose added to scrambled tofu (eggs work too!) for breakfast, lunch, or dinner
- Quick Baked Potato in the microwave with Earth Balance, Nutritional Yeast, Salt and Pepper
- Dusted on top of your favorite soup
- Stirred into cooked chili at serving time for a cheesy flair without the cheese
- Mixed into hummus (this prevents a nutritional yeast dust mess when eating) and eaten as is or in a wrap, etc
- Topped on Pizza (a must!)
- Sprinkled on pasta and Italian dishes
- Mixed with coconut oil and tossed with popped popcorn
- Cheese based sauces with cashews and lemon juice (let me know if you need recipes!)
Welp, there you have it folks….the most underrated protein source that also happens to be vegan, affordable, shelf stable, gluten-free and all the things. I say it’s underrated because nutritional yeast is likely not on your radar (hopefully it is now!). Because there are 3 grams of protein in only 1 tablespoon and a ton of B vitamins, it makes a nutrient dense powerhouse in a tiny package! How will you use nutritional yeast? Or do you already use it? What’s your favorite way of eating it? Let us know and share the goodness!