There are lots of small tweaks you can make to the foods you eat on a regular basis that will improve your diet. I love parmesan cheese sprinkled on tons of my favourite dishes, but I’ve stumbled across something that tastes just as good and has loads of health benefits.
Nutritional yeast (a.k.a. “nooch”) is all the rage these days. This yellow, flaky substance is a deactivated form of yeast. Vegans are obsessed with it, and now non-vegans want in on the action too. And for good reason—this stuff is super tasty. Its claim to fame is as a topping on popcorn, but there are lots of other ways to use it. Substitute it anywhere you would normally use parmesan cheese. It adds a cheesy, nutty, umami flavour to any dish.
Why use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan?
The protein content varies by brand, but as an example, 2 tbsp of Bob’s Red Mill nutritional yeast packs in 4g of protein. Not only that, but it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all the amino acids the body needs (most plant-based proteins don’t). An excellent source of B vitamins, a serving of nutritional yeast is fortified to contain more than your daily requirements for thiamin, folate (key for women who may become pregnant as it prevents neural tube defects), niacin and riboflavin, which are all important in metabolizing energy, as well as various other functions.
Vitamin B12 is the showstopper nutrient as far as a vegan lifestyle is concerned, because the only dietary sources of B12 come from animal-based foods. Vitamin B12 is key for DNA production, making red blood cells and keeping nerves working properly. A deficiency in B12 can result in low energy, pale skin and nerve cell damage. This vitamin is also important for the elderly and those with GI complications.
Per serving (2 tbsp), parmesan does provide some protein (2.8g) and nutrients (9% of your daily calcium, 6% vitamin B12). But nutritionally speaking, it just doesn’t pack the same punch.
Nutritional yeast is low in calories, has no fat, cholesterol or sodium, and is a friendly option for the lactose-intolerant. It’s also shelf stable and relatively cheap, so you can stash it away for flavour emergencies. (In an airtight container it will keep for up to a year.)
How to use nutritional yeast
Sprinkle nutritional yeast on anything you’d normally top with parmesan, or add it to sauces, soups and dips. You usually need about half the amount of nutritional yeast as you would parmesan—just taste as you go.