Nutritional Brewers Yeast: What You Need to Know before Buying
But why is eating yeast a good idea? Isn’t yeast a fungus after all? Let’s explore this and all the angles surrounding this popular superfood.
What is Brewers Yeast?
True to its name, artisans originally discovered brewers yeast when they realized that the leftover sludge from craft beer making actually contained nutritional value for both people and livestock.
In essence then, brewers yeast is indeed “nutritional” despite its status as a waste product of the beer industry. Over time, both the food and supplement industries developed methods to use it to create products in one of two forms.
The food form is thick and moist. In Australia, this yeasty-smelling, black residue is sold in jars as Vegemite, a popular sandwich spread. The 1980s band Men at Work popularized this cultural tradition with their #1 hit Land Down Under. The comparable food product in the UK is known as Marmite.
The dried supplement form is the most well known. This process changes the state of the yeast. Even when dried at low temperatures, the yeast becomes deactivated. This means it will not contribute to Candida overgrowth in the gut or elsewhere. Manufacturers then package and sell it as a whole food supplement in either powder, flake, or pill form.
Brewers Yeast Nutritional Information
As a whole food supplement, brewers yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins and can be high in the minerals selenium or chromium depending on processing method. These nutrients offer many health benefits as discussed further below.
Many modern forms of brewers’ yeasts are no longer the castaways of the alcohol industry, but are “primary grown.” This means that manufacturers grow it solely for the value of the yeast and its benefits as a supplement.
The subfamily of the cultivated yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the same one found in nutritional yeast flakes and baker’s yeast. This grouping includes many different yeast strains adapted to different purposes: brewing, baking, and nutrition supplement making!
People favor brewers yeast as a (mostly) natural source of the B-vitamin family. The important minerals selenium or chromium are also provided depending on the manufacturer. (1)
Those who struggle with B vitamin status due to gut imbalance or who lack certain nutrients found primarily in animal foods can find these nutrients in both brewers and nutritional yeast.
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
- Biotin (Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H)
- Folic acid or natural folate (Vitamin B9)
- Vitamin B12 (synthetic)
Brewers Yeast Health Benefits
A number of proven health benefits accrue for those who consume nutritional brewers yeast. In fact, the body of scientific research is rather large concerning this popular supplement.
- Regular use improves B vitamin status, which can help improve energy and mood. (2)
- One of the best sources of thiamine which increases appetite for those with little interest in eating. Helps resolve anorexia. (3)
- 1800 mg/day brewers yeast modestly lowers systolic and Diastolic blood pressure in patients with Type 2 diabetes. (4)
- Daily supplementation has modest beneficial effects on glycemic indices in type 2 diabetic patients. (5)
- May help improve the daily activity level for those suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (6)
- An excellent source of selenium, which at 200 mg per day is associated with reduced risk of cancer. (7)
Future research will no doubt uncover additional health benefits for this whole food supplement.
What is Brewers Yeast Used For?
Food and supplement manufacturers process the raw brewers yeast in four steps to produce either food or supplement. These include:
- Drying (supplements only)
Proper completion of each step is crucial for creating a final product that is nutrient rich. For example, many of the nutrients in yeasts are heat sensitive. Thus, how manufacturers process, store and transport it greatly impacts the ultimate benefits to the consumer. The nutrients will either be protected, reduced, or even eliminated completely.
The B vitamin family in particular is notoriously heat and handling sensitive. This is one of (many) reasons people choose to drink unpasteurized milk instead of pasteurized, for instance. Good companies will go the extra mile to preserve these nutrients in the final yeast supplement form. These brands are worth the premium price.
Brewers Yeast vs Nutritional Yeast
You may be wondering if there is any difference between brewers and nutritional yeast. To some extent, there isn’t much to contrast with both manufacturers and consumers using the terms interchangeably.
- Both come from the same yeast family, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, though different strains.
- Nutritional and brewers yeast are inactivated forms of yeast. In other words, the yeast is no longer able to reproduce.
- They are manufactured and processed similarly.
- Both have similar overall nutritional profiles depending on their growing mediums.
But … it hasn’t always been this way!
Differences in Cultivation
Remember that brewers yeast was originally and only a happenchance find that the leftovers from beer making had nutritional value.
Nutritional yeast has always been “primary grown”. This means that companies cultivate it solely for the value of the yeast and its use as a supplement.
Nowadays, most brewers yeast is primary grown just like nutritional yeast, that is, for supplement purposes only. When manufactured this way, it will not have the bitter taste of traditional brewers yeast, nor need debittering.
Nutritionally, both primary and deactivated forms of yeast supplements are similar. So, don’t get hung up on whether you buy nutritional or brewers yeast. The most important thing is the growing medium, processing and handling. The one exception is chromium. Primary grown yeast supplements will be much lower in this mineral, and it may even be absent. (8)
If you prefer one type over the other, or are taking yeast for a specific nutrient, make sure you read labels carefully and ask your source for details! The extreme importance of this step is explained further below.
Low Temp Processing
Primary made brewers yeast closely mirrors the processes used to create nutritional yeast. A description of the method according to the Weston A. Price Foundation is below. This organization recommends Frontier nutritional yeast as having an optimal, low temperature manufacturing process.
The steps for manufacturing dried nutritional yeast veer from traditional methods. Commercial nutritional yeast cultures are grown in large quantities and handled in tightly controlled lab-like environments. Temperature and pH are carefully adjusted to optimize the growing rate of the microorganisms. The strains are also closely monitored for quality, and strict measures are taken to prevent contamination. Once the growing of the yeast is complete, the cultures are dried to render them inactive. This step prevents the yeast from reproducing or fermenting, and also concentrates the nutrients. From here the yeast is rolled into flakes or pulverized into powder for bottling. (9)
Nutritional Yeast Dangers
Aggravation of existing gut problems is one of the most prominent issues with nutritional yeast. Knowing if your gut imbalance warrants avoidance of some or all types of yeast is of paramount importance.
While no doubt a beneficial supplement for some, there are numerous dangers and hidden pitfalls when consuming brewers yeast or nutritional yeast.
It is best to consider each of these risks before including it as part of your dietary regimen. This article on nutritional yeast dangers outlines each concern in detail.
How to Take Nutritional Brewers Yeast
So you’ve managed to source a brand of brewers yeast that is manufactured properly with low levels of glutamate and no synthetic vitamin fortification. It is GMO free and not contaminated with gluten.
If you’ve found such a brand, please let me know because I haven’t found one yet!
But let’s assume one is out there somewhere if not now, then hopefully in the future.
What now? How to use it?
There are several forms of yeast supplements available. As mentioned earlier, nutritional yeast typically comes in a powder or flake form and has a taste that is slightly cheesy. Brewers yeast in comparison can be bitter, though debittered forms are now available.
No debittering is necessary when manufacturers utilize primary grown brewers yeast. Nowadays, most brands follow this method. If not primary grown, brewers yeast is more commonly found in tablet or liquid form due to the inherent bitterness. Mixing the liquid with water/juice or swallowing the tablets whole is the best way consume these.
Foods to Mix with Brewers Yeast
If debittered or primary grown, mixing both brewers and nutritional yeast with a wider variety of foods and liquids works well.
Sprinkling it on popcorn or blending into yogurt or a smoothie are wonderful and tasty ways to enjoy it.
Some people like to bake it with savory dishes such as meatloaf where the slight cheesy flavor goes unnoticed. This is less desirable as the B vitamin complex is heat sensitive. Thus, it is best to add brewers yeast after cooking to glean the greatest benefits.
Brewers Yeast Dosage
One tablespoon per day is the typical dosage. Using more can cause digestive upset. It is best to split this amount in half taking some in the morning and then again in the evening. This is especially helpful at first as it will greatly reduce the chances for gas or other intestinal distress.
In homemade infant and baby formula, removal of the nutritional yeast is one of the first suggestions if baby experiences any spitting up or discomfort.
When combined with salt, brewers yeast helps create that sought after, savory flavor, This is known as “umami,” or the fifth taste. It is this flavor that makes slowly simmered stews, bone broths and to a lesser extent meat stocks, and other such dishes so delicious to our senses and stomachs.
How to Find the Best Nutritional Brewers Yeast
Given the costs and concerns around brewers (and nutritional) yeast, and the availability of grass-fed organ meats, especially liver, it makes sense to stick with nutrient dense animal foods or other 100% natural animal and plant based supplements as much as possible over a possibly contaminated albeit “natural” supplement like brewers yeast.
If you do choose to use these supplements, the best nutritional brewers yeast has the following characteristics.
- Contains no gluten or GMOs.
- Has no added/synthetic B12.
- Contains only natural folate (no folic acid, aka synthetic folate).
- Is manufactured, processed, and handled to preserve the heat sensitive nutrients.
- Packaged to protect the yeast from light (such as using drum drying instead of spray drying).
- Low temperature processed to minimize glutamate (MSG) content.
- Is free of any other fillers or additives (rice flours, etc.).
What will you decide … to yeast or not to yeast?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.