Nutritional yeast is a funny one. For those of us who have tried it, or been using it for years, it has somewhat of a cult following. It's no doubt graced your beloved bowl of popcorn, or dusted your pasta, or been added to your favorite homemade "cheesy" sauce. But ever tried introducing it to someone who hasn't heard of it? Their face morphs into a terrified "you want me to eat what?!" look. And you come off feeling like a weird mix of patchoulis-wearing hippie and just plain crazy...that is until they try it and love it! Or maybe you don't tell people about it out of fear they'll think you're weird. Whatever your approach, today, I'll give you some details behind our cult favorite crack powder. If you're in the camp of never having tried it, I encourage you to keep an open mind. And I'll give you my favorite recipe for using it, and probably most people's go-to - popcorn!
So what exactly is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is grown on mineral-rich molasses or sugar beets and is pasteurized (or heated) at the end of the growth period which de-activates it. Meaning this isn't the kind of yeast that will make dough rise. This is also why it's so important to buy non-GMO varieties - because the sugar beet is a GMO crop (and extra chemicals, herbicides and pesticides that are present in GMO crops are major beauty busters, not to mention health busters!).
The yeast, which is a single-cell organism that converts it's food and is known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, does so in a process where each cell divides about twenty times before it dies. In this process the yeasts require many of the same vitamins and amino acids needed by humans. In other words - as they divide they need to manufacture their own food. This is what makes them so nutrient-dense and beneficial for us when we consume them. (2)
If this seems weird or gross to you, consider that mushrooms are also a fungus, which simply means they are an organism that feeds off organic matter.
And how is it different from Brewer's Yeast?
Yeast can be made in two ways - when recovered as a by-product of beer making, which is typically grown on a grain like barley. This is what we know of as Brewer's Yeast. It's typically bitter and unpalatable. The second way of making it is when it's grown as sugar beets, which quickly absorb the nutrients from the soil, and thus, transfer those nutrients to the Nutritional Yeast.
Side note: this is why quality beers actually do have some health benefits, and why they have been consumed for centuries (and sediment from beer used to even be given to babies!). Throughout history their lower-in-alcohol versions were cloudy because of the yeast sediment and rich with essential B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. (2)
What you're really wondering - Will it give me a yeast infection?
Nutritional yeast is wheat-free and gluten-free and is not the same as the live yeasts we use in baking. Active yeasts can continue to grow in our digestive tracts and actually use up our store of B vitamins (1). However the yeast we are talking about is the non-leavening kind that will not ferment. So, in short, no it will definitely not give you a yeast infection. However, keep in mind that nutritional yeast is slightly acid-forming, similar to nuts and seeds, so we don't want to go crazy with it.
Why is it good for our skin?
First of all - sometimes the beauty-busting foods we aren't consuming are as important as the beauty-enhancing foods we are consuming. In the case of nutritional yeast, it is a great replacement for cheese, fake seasonings, and MSG - all big time skin food no-nos.
SIDE NOTE: I'm not advocating an outright ban on dairy. Although if you are consuming it, make sure it's coming from non-GMO-corn-fed cows (buying organic will ensure this). However, I will say that dairy is a common allergen or irritant to our system, placing strain on our digestion and taking away that energy away from achieving our most beautiful, healthy selves both inside and out. Dairy is also a common source of added hormones and an area where questionable sourcing is a concern (think cows not being fed their natural diet, developing metabolic disease and essentially being sick while producing milk for us, gross!). I personally have noticed a HUGE difference in my skin by reducing dairy consumption. And now when I do consume it, I'll quickly notice how it effects my skin - usually in the form of zits (ugh!), or sometimes just a general less even and smooth tone.
And the second way nutritional yeast is good for our skin is what is in it - it is rich in skin-supporting B complex vitamins, eighteen amino acids, and the trace mineral chromium aka the glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which regulates blood sugar. Because of these components, nutritional yeast is great at clearing acne, and giving the body the nutrients it needs to brighten and smooth your complexion.
Nutritional yeast helps lower triglycerides and raises the levels of HDL (good cholesterol), while reducing LDL (bad cholesterol).
*while nutritional yeast is not a common allergen, as with any new food, it is advised that you try a small amount at first to see if any adverse or allergic reaction occurs.
(makes about 5 cups popped corn)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. avocado oil
- 1/2 cup heirloom or organic popcorn
- 2 Tbsp. ghee butter (from grass-fed cows)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (make sure it's organic or non-GMO)
- sea salt to taste
Pour popcorn and avocado oil into a medium-large sauce pan (make sure you have a lid for the saucepan), over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt ghee over low heat.
The kernels will begin to pop, as they do, shake the lidded saucepan to prevent burning. Keep over heat until most kernels have popped - listen for ~5 seconds between popping.
Pour butter over popcorn to coat. Add nutritional yeast and salt. Put in bowl and add a bit of additional seasonings if desired.
Thank you for reading day three of my Inside Out Beauty Foods blog series. I hope you enjoy! Please let me know your favorite ways to use this beauty food, in the comments.
For another recipe using nutritional yeast, see my blog post on "Cheesy" Kale Chips.
1. The Beauty Detox Solution, 2011. Kimberly Snyder, C.N.
2. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005. Michael Murray, N.D.