Q&A: Does Debittered Yeast Have Chromium?

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Q: Does “debittered” brewer’s yeast contain chromium?

A: Nope.

It’s that simple. The de-bittering process takes out chromium from brewer’s yeast. Other strains of yeast (they are all basically the same species of one celled fungus.)

Baking yeast isn’t a source of chromium anyway… and is best used for just that, baking. Think of them as Alton Brown’s burping sock puppets on “Good Eats”  (love that show). They are “active”…some of the wee beasties are still alive to ferment your dough. Let them live! And burp! nd make wonderful things in your kitchen.

There is also “nutritional yeast”. It has a stronger flavor, but adds a wonderful cheesy element to soups and sauces without adding the fat and calories of actual cheese – if you are into that kind of thing. It’s a wonderful culinary tool for vegans. I think this is the stuff they use in vegemite and marmite. I’ve never had the privilege of trying either spread, but after having nutritional yeast, I imagine it is actually kind of tasty. They could definitely wake up your morning toast. I’ve used a powdered blend of brewer’s and nutritional yeast in vegetable broth until I could find a non-debittered yeast tablet.  Definitely had a zing to it. I can see where the flavor wouldn’t be for everyone. Brewer’s yeast alone is much milder in my opinion.

“Brewer’s yeast” that you find in health food and supplement stores is a little bit of a misnomer. It is, like nutritional yeast, INactive – the wee beasties have done their brewing duty and expired. It is like harvesting a mushroom. It isn’t alive anymore, but boy does it taste good. I like to think of nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast supplements as itty bitty one celled mushrooms…you know, food. The yeast you actually brew with…in making beer for example…is more of the active burping sock variety. The “brewer’s yeast put into tablets has already done its burping and is now the harvested mushroom kind of thing.

The up side is actual brewers yeast does contain all sorts of lovely trace minerals, like chromium, selenium and others to go along with the B vitamins and iron. The down side is that brewer’s yeast has trace minerals…which can give it a pretty funky flavor. That’s why the debittering process came about in the first place. Originally, most people used brewers yeast as a source of iron, back when meat was only for the wealthy and leafy greens were not available year-round. Back then iron deficiency anemia was more common. The trace minerals were less of a concern and gladly purged to get a better-tasting iron source.

In the first-world nations, where meat, greens and whole grains are now abundant, the chromium in non-processed brewer’s yeast is the part we want. Often marketed as “glucose tolerance factor” or “chromium gtf” chromium in yeast form is easily absorbed, inexpensive, natural and according to several studies effective too. (University of Maryland has an excellent list of supporting research HERE).

So whether you choose dibittered brewer’s yeast or unprocessed brewer’s yeast depends on which part of the yeast you want to use. For iron intake and B vitamin supplimentation, either form will do. For chromium supplimentation, only the NON processed, NON-debittered form will work.

It is a challenge to find this non-debittered form…even some tablets labeled as “natural” are still debittered, since the yeast itself is a natural food and the debittering process is fairly ‘natural’ too. Powders are more likely to be non-debittered than tablets.

BUYER BEWARE! Read, read, read those labels! Reputable manufacturers will list  the trace minerals in their product, so if there is no chromium listed, it is better to assume it is a debittered product. If it has chromium, it should list chromium, and what form the chromium takes.

Be cautious when you see the term “chromium” or “gtf” as well. Non-biological chromium is very abundant, so take care to read. If you are looking for brewer’s yeast, make sure the “gtf” isn’t chromium piccolinate or chromium nicotinate.

MEDICINE TAKERS BEWARE! There are some medicine that can block chromiums absorption and other medicines where chromium changes the medications absorption and action. Please read this fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health for more information.

It seems very easy to process chromium right out of foods, so chromium deficiency may ironically be on the rise in industrialized nations where processed food are a large part of the diet. Brewer’s yeast to the rescue! Just like it used to help with iron deficiency and B-vitamins, now it can safely help with chromium deficiencies.

Broccoli, grapes and whole grains also contain chromium – so eat your veggies and whole grains, and you are less likely to need chromium supplementation in the first place. For those with special needs, like glucose intolerance, extra may be needed. However, those with diabetes or other health concerns should coordinate using chromium suppliments like brewer’s yeast with their doctor.

If you are healthy, though, brewer’s yeast is just wee tiny food with a big health impact.

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