Because there are so many hidden sources of gluten in the food supply, following a gluten-free diet can be tricky. If you have Celiac disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, it’s incredibly important to be aware of gluten-containing foods and seasonings. Nutritional yeast is a seasoning that is growing in popularity in vegan and plant-based circles, but is nutritional yeast gluten-free?
I’ll discuss what we know about the gluten-free status of nutritional yeast and whether vegans need to include this unique ingredient in their diet.
What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast (often called “nooch” for short) is a seasoning made from deactivated Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. The yeast is dried into flakes or powder and is popular in vegan and dairy-free diets due to its surprisingly cheesy flavor.
Is nutritional yeast gluten-free?
Rest assured; nutritional yeast is naturally gluten-free since the only ingredient is yeast. Gluten-containing ingredients such as wheat, barley, and rye are not used to make nutritional yeast. Fortified nutritional yeast contains added vitamins as well, which are also gluten-free.
Supporting this, a 2020 study1 tested multiple yeast products for gluten and found that all nutritional yeast products tested contained less than 20 ppm (parts per million) gluten. This is the threshold for gluten-free foods set by the FDA that is considered safe for people with Celiac disease.
Benefits of nutritional yeast for vegans
Even when highly motivated, one food that many people transitioning to a vegan diet find most challenging to give up is cheese. This is a huge reason for the popularity of nutritional yeast, which has a naturally delicious “cheesy” flavor and can be added to many plant-based dishes.
Because it can add depth of flavor and cheesiness to meals, nutritional yeast is a valuable ingredient for adding variety and interest to a vegan diet.
Nutrition and health benefits
The nutrition profile of nutritional yeast varies based on whether a product is fortified or unfortified. Fortified nutritional yeast contains additional B vitamins, which usually include:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Of these, vitamin B12 is of particular importance for vegans. Including fortified nutritional yeast and other B12-fortified foods can help vegans get enough of this vitamin and prevent the potentially serious neurological complications that can result from vitamin B12 deficiency.
Recently, there have been some concerns about the high amount of folic acid present in fortified nutritional yeast. Diets too high in folic acid can actually mask signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, leaving it undiagnosed for too long. A single serving of many fortified nutritional yeast varieties contains far more than the daily requirement for folic acid, which is 240 micrograms. Bob’s Red Mill nutritional yeast flakes, for example, contain 1,076 micrograms of folic acid in ¼ cup.
Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue since B vitamins are water soluble and any extra in the body is removed through urination. However, this example is just above the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for folic acid2, which is set at 1,000 micrograms per day by the Institute of Medicine.
Interestingly, though, the UL was set at 1,000 micrograms as a way to make sure people avoid getting 5,000 micrograms of folic acid per day. This is the actual amount shown in previous studies to lead to the masking of a B12 deficiency2. This 5,000 microgram limit is known as the Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL), or the lowest tested dose of a nutrient shown to cause health issues.
So, what does this mean? Is nutritional yeast safe to eat despite its high levels of folic acid? I would say yes, as long as you’re sticking to a ¼ cup serving or less per day — which shouldn’t be too difficult, as ¼ cup is more than you’d normally eat at one time. With this amount, your meal or snack would have an unpleasantly powdery texture. Even when combined with folate from food in your normal diet, the total amount of folate/folic acid would be nowhere near 5,000 micrograms. So enjoy your nooch, but don’t go overboard!
If you know that your vitamin B12 levels are adequate and you’re regularly taking a vitamin B12 supplement and/or getting enough B12 from fortified foods, however, you may be able to safely eat more nutritional yeast than this since there is no B12 deficiency present that could be masked by excessive folic acid.
Regardless of whether your nutritional yeast is fortified, it still provides a nutritional punch. Different brands vary slightly, but a standard ¼ cup serving of nutritional yeast provides about:
- 5-8 g complete protein
- 2-4 g dietary fiber
- 275 mg potassium (6% Daily Value)
- 1 mg iron (6% Daily Value)
For such a small serving size, nutritional yeast provides a great amount of these nutrients! It’s a simple way to add an extra gram of iron to meals, which can be especially useful for vegans who struggle to include enough iron-rich foods in their diet.
Nooch is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids in optimal amounts for human health. The body can’t produce these amino acids themselves, so it’s important to get them from a variety of plant-based foods.
Do vegans need to eat nutritional yeast?
If you don’t like nutritional yeast, no worries – vegans don’t need to include nooch in their diet in order to be healthy.
While fortified nutritional yeast can be a helpful source of vitamin B12 and other B-vitamins, these can be consumed in other ways. B vitamins are plentiful in whole grains, enriched grain products like breakfast cereal and pasta, leafy greens, legumes, and seeds.
Vitamin B12 is present in:
- Fortified non-dairy milks
- Fortified non-dairy yogurt
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Some vegan meat alternatives (e.g., Beyond Beef, Impossible burger)
- Vitamin B12 supplements
Nutritional yeast is also a great way to add more protein to meals, but vegans can certainly get enough protein without it. Regularly eating beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, high-protein plant-based milks, grains, nuts, seeds, and high-protein meat alternatives can provide more than enough protein for most people.
How to use nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast has a wonderfully “cheesy” flavor, but simply dumping it on top of a meal may leave you regretting your decision as it is dry and powdery by itself. To get the most delicious results, use nutritional yeast in these creative ways:
- Blended into “cashew cream” sauces for pasta and sandwiches
- Blended into “cashew queso” to top tacos, burrito bowls, and enchiladas, or to eat with chips
- Sprinkled on popcorn
- Stirred into creamy soups
- In tofu scrambles
- Mixed into filling for stuffed peppers
- Ground with hemp seeds into vegan “parmesan”
- In rice casseroles
Nutritional yeast is a gluten-free seasoning used to add a cheese-like flavor to plant-based, dairy-free dishes. Nutritional yeast is gluten-free since neither the yeast itself nor the vitamins added to fortified nutritional yeast contain gluten.
It’s a nutritious and helpful seasoning for vegans since it can increase the protein and iron content of meals. Fortified nutritional yeast is also a great source of vitamin B12. It may be best to stick to a ¼ cup serving or less per day, however, in order to prevent excessive folic acid consumption and the potential masking of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Is nutritional yeast anti-inflammatory?
There aren’t many studies that have tested nutritional yeast directly for its anti-inflammatory potential, but it may help reduce inflammation thanks to its beta-glucan content.
Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber found in the type of yeast used to make nutritional yeast. In a 2017 study3, beta-glucan isolated from Saccharomyces cerevisiae had anti-inflammatory properties and reduced oxidative stress, although it’s important to note that human studies are limited.
Is nutritional yeast bad for IBS?
According to a 2017 meta-analysis4, taking Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the strain of yeast used to make nutritional yeast) improved abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, and stool consistency in people with IBS compared to a placebo. While more research on nutritional yeast is needed, people with IBS may not need to avoid it and may actually feel better when consuming it.
Notably, nutritional yeast is low-FODMAP when consumed in standard serving sizes. Of course, individuals can react differently to certain foods. If you notice worsened gastrointestinal symptoms after eating nutritional yeast, it may be best to avoid it.
Is Bragg’s nutritional yeast gluten-free?
Yes, Bragg’s nutritional yeast is gluten-free. The yeast used for nutritional yeast does not contain gluten, and neither do the vitamins that Bragg’s adds to their product.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Allred LK, Nye-Wood MG, Colgrave ML. Analysis of Gluten in Dried Yeast and Yeast-Containing Products. Foods. 2020;9(12):1790. Published 2020 Dec 2. doi:10.3390/foods9121790
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Folic Acid Safety, Interactions, and Effects on Other Outcomes. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs/faqs-safety.html. Accessed July 5, 2023.
- Bacha U, Nasir M, Iqbal S, Anjum AA. Nutraceutical, Anti-Inflammatory, and Immune Modulatory Effects of β-Glucan Isolated from Yeast. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:8972678. doi:10.1155/2017/8972678
- Cayzeele-Decherf A, Pélerin F, Leuillet S, et al. Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-3856 in irritable bowel syndrome: An individual subject meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(2):336-344. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i2.336