Nutritional yeast is generally considered safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Most brands of nutritional yeast are naturally gluten-free, as they are made from yeast cultures grown on sugar beets, sugar cane, or other gluten-free media. However, there is a small risk of cross-contamination during processing, so those with celiac disease should look for nutritional yeast that is certified gluten-free. Overall, nutritional yeast can be a good source of B vitamins and protein for those avoiding gluten, as long as a reputable gluten-free brand is selected.
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is sold as yellow flakes or powder. It has a cheesy, nutty, and savory flavor. Nutritional yeast is grown on a carbohydrate source, then harvested, washed, heat-treated, and dried to deactivate it. The main types of nutritional yeast include:
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae – Grown on sugarcane or sugar beets
- Torula – Grown on beet molasses or wood pulp
Nutritional yeast is used to add flavor to foods and recipes due to its umami, cheesy taste. It also provides some nutritional benefits:
- High in B vitamins like folate, thiamine, and vitamin B12
- Source of protein and fiber
- Provides some minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron
Nutritional yeast should not be confused with brewer’s yeast or active yeast used in baking. It will not make bread rise.
Is Nutritional Yeast Naturally Gluten-Free?
Most nutritional yeast is naturally gluten-free, meaning it does not inherently contain gluten. Here’s why:
- It is grown on sugar beets, sugarcane, molasses, or other gluten-free media.
- The yeast organism itself (S. cerevisiae or torula) does not produce gluten proteins.
- The manufacturing process does not introduce any gluten-containing ingredients.
Major brands of nutritional yeast like Bob’s Red Mill, Bragg, NOW Foods, and Hoosier Hill Farm confirm their products are gluten-free through testing.
So in its pure form, nutritional yeast does not naturally contain gluten. However, there is still a risk of cross-contamination during processing and packaging if it shares equipment with gluten-containing products.
Is All Nutritional Yeast Gluten-Free?
While nutritional yeast starts out gluten-free, not all brands on the market are guaranteed or tested to be gluten-free.
Cross-contamination can occur if:
- It is processed on shared equipment with gluten-containing foods.
- It picks up traces of gluten from transportation or packaging.
One study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition tested 70 samples of nutritional yeast purchased from various commercial brands. While the majority of samples had less than 5 ppm of gluten, 4 samples tested higher:
- KAL – less than 5 ppm
- Frontier Natural Products – less than 5 ppm
- Bob’s Red Mill – 5-20 ppm
- Bragg – 5-20 ppm
- Twinlab – 5-20 ppm
- NOW Foods – 5-20 ppm
- Hoosier Hill Farm – 49 ppm
- Solgar – 53 ppm
- Anthony’s Goods – 140 ppm
While less than 20 ppm is considered “gluten-free” by FDA standards, those with celiac disease are often advised to look for under 10 ppm just to be safe.
So unfortunately, not all nutritional yeast brands available are as gluten-free as the raw product itself. Contamination can occur, especially among brands that don’t regularly test.
Is Nutritional Yeast Safe for People with Celiac Disease?
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the risk of cross-contamination means caution should be used with nutritional yeast. There are a few factors to consider:
1. Purchase Certified Gluten-Free Brands
To reduce the risk of contamination, purchase brands of nutritional yeast that are certified gluten-free or have thorough testing protocols in place:
- Bob’s Red Mill – Tests at less than 5 ppm
- Bragg – Tests at less than 5 ppm
- NOW Foods – Tests at less than 5 ppm
- Hoosier Hill Farm – Tests at less than 5 ppm
- Anthony’s Goods – Tests at less than 5 ppm
- KAL – Certified gluten-free
- Red Star – Certified gluten-free
Reputable manufacturers that regularly test their products for gluten are the safest bet. Calling the company to ask about their testing protocols can be helpful too.
2. Check Labeling
Get in the habit of reading nutritional yeast packaging carefully and looking for:
- “Gluten-free” claims
- “Produced in a gluten-free facility”
- Certification labels (GFCO, NSF)
Reputable gluten-free brands will proudly display this information. Be wary of ambiguous labels like “may contain gluten.”
3. Know How Sensitive You Are
Those with celiac disease react to trace gluten differently. Factors include:
- How damaged your intestines are
- How recently you were diagnosed
- How well you adhere to the gluten-free diet
Someone recently diagnosed or with a lot of gut damage may react to amounts under 10 ppm, while others can tolerate up to 20 ppm. Know your unique sensitivity level when choosing nutritional yeast.
4. Use Sparingly If Extra-Sensitive
If you know you are highly sensitive, using nutritional yeast in moderation can reduce potential issues. Limit to a sprinkle on dishes here and there rather than relying on it as a daily nutritional supplement. Pay close attention to any possible symptoms after consuming.
Finding Gluten-Free Nutritional Yeast
Here are some tips for finding reputable gluten-free nutritional yeast:
Shop At Natural Food Stores
Health food stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Earth Fare, and Natural Grocers carry a wide range of gluten-free specialty products including nutritional yeast. You can find brands that advertise gluten-free right on the label. Smaller natural grocers also tend to vet products thoroughly.
Check Co-ops and Online Stores
Food co-ops and online stores focused on gluten-free/celiac diets often have a dedicated gluten-free section. For example:
These retailers avoid brands if there are any questions about gluten safety.
Call Manufacturers Directly
If you don’t see gluten information on the label, consider calling nutritional yeast brands directly. A customer service representative can provide up-to-date test results and information on how they avoid cross-contamination in facilities.
Stick With Trusted Brands
Once you find a brand of nutritional yeast that works for your sensitivity level, consider sticking with it for simplicity and peace of mind. Bob’s Red Mill, Bragg, and NOW Foods are examples of brands with rigorous gluten testing.
Nutritional Profile of Nutritional Yeast
Here is an overview of the key nutrients found in nutritional yeast, per 2 tablespoon serving (14 grams):
Vitamins in Nutritional Yeast
|240 mcg DFE
Nutritional yeast is one of the few vegan sources of vitamin B12. It also provides a range of B vitamins that support energy, brain health, and red blood cell production.
Minerals in Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast contains a variety of minerals, including magnesium for bone health, zinc for immunity, and selenium as an antioxidant.
- Protein: 8 grams per serving, providing all essential amino acids
- Fiber: 5 grams per serving
- Healthy Fats: 2 grams, mostly polyunsaturated fats
So in addition to vitamins and minerals, nutritional yeast offers a vegan source of complete protein and gut-healthy fiber.
Benefits of Nutritional Yeast for Celiacs
Here are some of the top benefits that certified gluten-free nutritional yeast can provide to those with celiac disease:
1. Nutrient Replacement
Celiac disease can lead to deficiencies in iron, folate, B12, and zinc due to damaged intestines. Nutritional yeast can help replace these nutrients thanks to its nutrient-dense profile. The iron in particular may be better absorbed than non-heme iron from plants.
2. Digestive Support
The prebiotics in nutritional yeast support the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut microbiome. This is especially useful after the microbiome is disturbed from celiac damage. Nutritional yeast may help restore healthy digestion.
3. Energy Boost
Nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins involved in energy production like vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6. These can help counter the fatigue that often occurs with celiac disease.
4. Appetite Stimulation
The umami, savory flavor of nutritional yeast may help stimulate appetite in those turned off by food after being diagnosed with celiac. Sprinkle it on allowed foods to make them more palatable.
5. Protein Source
Nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of complete protein per serving. This can help celiacs meet protein needs on a gluten-free diet, especially if also avoiding dairy.
6. Vitamin B12 for Vegans
For celiacs eating gluten-free and vegan, nutritional yeast provides a plant-based source of the important vitamin B12. Very few vegan foods offer B12.
How to Use Nutritional Yeast
Here are some simple ways to use gluten-free nutritional yeast:
Sprinkle on Popcorn
The cheese-like flavor takes popcorn to the next level.
Stir into Soups
Whisk into potato soup, tomato soup, vegetable soup or lentil soup.
Toss with Roasted Veggies
Sprinkle on veggies before or after roasting – try cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli.
Mix into Mashed Potatoes
Adds savory flavor to plain mashed potatoes.
Coat Mac and Cheese
Mix into dairy-free cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese.
Blend into Hummus
Adds a savory kick to smooth hummus.
Use in Gravy
Whisk into gluten free mushroom or onion gravy.
Shake on dairy-free pizza for a parmesan-like effect.
Roll tofu in nutritional yeast before baking for a “cheese” crusted effect.
Sprinkle on Avocado Toast
Take avocado toast to the next level.
Potential Side Effects
Nutritional yeast is generally well tolerated, but there are some potential side effects to be aware of:
- Allergic Reactions – Yeast allergies are rare but possible.
- Headaches – Can occur if consuming too much initially. Limit to 1-2 Tbsp daily at first.
- Gas or Bloating – Due to its fiber content, some people experience minor GI upset.
- Gluten Exposure – Improperly tested products could contain trace gluten.
Those with yeast allergies or who experience headaches or digestive issues may choose to avoid nutritional yeast. Be sure to purchase from reputable gluten-free brands and watch for any symptoms.
The Bottom Line
Most nutritional yeast is naturally gluten-free, but not all brands are as safe due to the risk of cross-contamination. Those with celiac disease need to take care in choosing certified gluten-free products that are tested to under 10 ppm. When appropriate brands are used, nutritional yeast can be a nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet thanks to its vitamins, minerals, protein and bold flavor. Start slowly and pay attention to any adverse symptoms after trying nutritional yeast. Always read labels carefully and contact manufacturers directly with any questions regarding gluten safety. With some careful sourcing, nutritional yeast can be a healthy part of an elimination diet for managing celiac disease.