Brewer’s Yeast vs Nutritional Yeast: Which is Better for You?

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Confused about the difference between brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast? You aren’t alone. We’ll walk you through how each is made, why they're good for you, and how to use them.

Nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are both popular health supplements. Both types of yeast contain plenty of necessary macro and micronutrients. And both are made of the same strain of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

So, what exactly is the difference between these two superfoods? And, maybe more importantly, which one is better for you?

To answer both of these questions, we’ll need to take a closer look at how these two products are made, what’s in them, and how they are used.

Primary Difference Between Nutritional Yeast and Brewer’s Yeast

Brewer’s yeast is a live active yeast used for brewing beer that is then heat-killed and turned into a dietary supplement. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast grown solely for its nutritional content and sold as a health food.

Both products are made using Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of single-celled fungus more commonly known as yeast. Unlike baker’s yeast, these microorganisms are both deactivated before being sold, which means there is no chance they can cause yeast infections or overgrowths in the body.

Even though both nutritional and brewer’s yeast products are derived from the same species, they have surprisingly different nutritional profiles. The reason for this lies in how each product is made.

How Are They Made?

Propagating yeast of any kind requires creating a nutrient-dense, sugary medium that the yeast cells can grow and multiply on. As the cells break down glucose and other molecules, they bring about fermentation, causing the release of alcohol and carbon dioxide into the substrate.

Different kinds of yeast products are grown on different types of substrates.

Brewer’s Yeast

As you can guess from the name, brewer’s yeast generally grows on a medium of malted barley or other grains used to produce beer. Once the beer has completed fermentation, the yeast is separated from the liquid and dried using rollers. This process deactivates or “kills” the yeast cells.

FXQuadro|Shutterstock

Because of the substrate used, these beer-making yeast tend to taste more bitter than nutritional yeast. Many products go through a “debittering” process to make them more palatable. Brewer’s yeast is sold as a powder, as flakes, or in capsule form.

Brewer’s yeast products are often sold as supplements in health food stores.

Nutritional Yeast

Unlike brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is always “primary grown,” which means it’s created specifically for the purpose of producing a dietary supplement.

Nutritional yeast in a wooden spoon
Nutritional yeast flakes on a wooden spoon — ©NedoB/Bigstock

The most common mediums for growing nutritional yeast are beet or cane sugar molasses. Both are cheap byproducts of the sugar industry and provide plenty of glucose for the yeast to eat.

Often, additional synthetic nutrients are added to the substrate to produce a more robust, nutritionally-dense final product.

Nutritional yeast flakes and powders are generally sold as a food flavoring.

Nutrition Profile

The vitamins and minerals present in yeast depend largely on the medium on which the yeast was grown. Because brewer’s and nutritional yeast are “fed” different diets, they each have something a little different to offer.

Brewer’s Yeast

Like all yeast, brewer’s yeast is high in certain B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. It’s also loaded with protein and fiber, with only trace amounts of fat.

While both brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast naturally contain fair amounts of magnesium, overall, brewer’s yeast has a much higher concentration of many trace minerals. Both selenium and potassium are found in relatively high amounts, as is chromium, an important mineral for cell health and blood sugar regulation, and zinc.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is also naturally high in some B vitamins, protein, and fiber. Products that are produced using simple glucose mediums are limited to these nutritional benefits.

However, most nutritional yeast supplements include the addition of synthetic nutrients to the growth substrate. Yeast grown this way have much higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals.

The exact makeup of the added nutrients will determine the nutritional composition of the final product, but in general, these nutritional yeast products contain many of the minerals naturally found in brewer’s yeast.

Additionally, these fortified products contain vitamin b-12, an essential vitamin that vegans can’t get in their diet unless they take a supplement. This important nutrient is not found in brewer’s yeast.

Health Benefits

Because each of these yeast products has a slightly different nutritional makeup, they each offer different health benefits.

Brewer’s Yeast

With plenty of naturally occurring chromium, brewer’s yeast can be beneficial for diabetics. Chromium helps lower blood sugar levels by enhancing insulin activity and improving insulin sensitivity. 

Chromium is also likely one of the reasons brewer’s yeast has been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels. Supplementing with brewer’s yeast can help lower bad, LDL cholesterol while raising good, HDL cholesterol.

Other studies have shown that brewer’s yeast can have a positive impact on the immune system and help reduce the frequency of cold and flu bouts. It also appears to help with acne and may even reduce a person’s chance of developing skin cancer.

Nutritional Yeast

Like brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast appears to help boost the immune system while improving cholesterol levels. Fortified products with high levels of chromium may have a similar effect on blood sugar as brewer’s yeast does.

Nutritional yeast also contains a high number of antioxidants, including glutathione and selenomethionine, which can help reduce oxidative stress in the body, reduce inflammation, and help eliminate heavy metals and toxins.

Fortified nutritional yeast products contain B12, an important vitamin for immunity, cell health, energy metabolism, and the creation of red blood cells.

If you suffer from chronic fatigue or other low-energy related issues, supplementing with nutritional yeast could reduce those issues and help you feel more energized.

How Are They Used?

Because they have different taste profiles, these two supplements are frequently used in different ways.

Brewer’s Yeast

Brewer’s yeast is often found in capsule form to be taken with water like any other traditional supplement. This type of product has typically not gone through the debittering process since the consumer doesn’t taste it.

Debittered products, on the other hand, are available in both fine powders and thin flakes. Both forms work well for adding to smoothies, juices, and protein shakes. But be warned, even these less bitter forms have a bit of a funky, “wet-grain” taste.

Using smaller servings or pairing these products with other overpowering flavors is recommended when mixing into drinks.

There are some products that come pre-sweetened and/or flavored that tend to be more appealing. But these products are not as pure and may not provide the same nutritional benefit.

Nutritional Yeast

While nutritional yeast can be added to smoothies and shakes for a nutrient boost, this product is most often used as an ingredient to make meals taste better.

Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, umami flavor which makes it the perfect replacement for dairy cheese in many recipes. When combined with cashews, garlic, and water, it creates the perfect cheese sauce for pasta and steamed veggies.

Many fans use it in place of parmesan and other shredded cheeses and sprinkle it on top of spaghetti, sauteed vegetables, and even salads. By including a teaspoon or two on or in your dinner each night, you can easily turn this supplement into a tasty condiment.

Which Is Better?

Now that you know how nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are different, the question still remains: which is better?

Pure brewer’s yeast products are always natural and contain no added synthetic vitamins or minerals. For those looking to avoid manufactured nutrients, this is a huge plus. It also means that the nutrients that are present all come prepackaged with the right enzymes and amino acids to help your body use them most effectively.

However, the fact that most nutritional yeasts contain B12 is also a big positive. If you are a vegan and you aren’t supplementing with B12, odds are, you aren’t getting enough in your diet to meet your body’s needs.

Your body stores B12 for years, which means you may be two years into your strict plant-based diet before you notice any issues. This timing means people often fail to blame their diet for their symptoms.

The bottom line is if you are eating a primarily vegan diet, you need to supplement with B12, and what better way than with a tasty, cheesy topper?

In the end, which product is better really depends on what you are hoping to get out of the supplement. Our recommendation? Use both!

Sara Seitz

About the Author

Hi and thank you for wanting to get to know me and my passions.

I’m a professional freelance writer with decades of experience learning about and living a green, clean life.

I grew up in Colorado under the influence of three generations of knowledgeable women who knew their way around the garden. I graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor of science in biology and a minor in English. A year before graduation, my life was upended by an unexpected diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.

Facing the reality of living with an incurable autoimmune disease I left to reflect hard on my lifestyle. While this type of diabetes cannot be cured or treated with diet, I was certain that focusing on her health and fueling her body with clean food would help her better manage her condition. As a lifelong animal lover, it wasn’t difficult for me to transition fully to a vegan diet.

Inspired by the changes I felt after going vegan, I sought out a community of like-minded plant-based eaters, gaining knowledge and experience that would fuel my future career.

In 2018, I brought my daughter into the world. Wanting the opportunity to be home to raise her, I decided to pursue a career as a freelance writer, starting my own company in 2019. http://penandpostwriter.com

Today, I’m lucky to have a long list of clients who pay me to write about my many passions. At the top of that list is gardening and eating a clean diet for the sake of my health, the planet, and all the animals I love.

When I’m not constructing articles for clients, you can find me wrist-deep in dirt in my vegetable garden, hiking with my dogs, or back in front of the computer creating imaginative worlds in my quest to become a published fiction writer. More articles by Sara.

sara@cleangreensimple.com