Vegans swear by nutritional yeast. What is it?

Cheese-based recipes without the cheese? Vegans swear by adding nutritional yeast to their recipes for a cheesy flavor — minus the dairy.

Nutritional yeast, which is typically sold in powder or flake form, is often a diet staple for vegans “because it’s loaded with B12, a nutrient that’s hard to get enough of without animal products,” registered dietitian Miranda Galati tells USA TODAY.

Looking to add nutritional yeast to your diet? Here’s what experts want you to know first.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a cousin to the kind of yeast you use for baking, but this one is most commonly used as a seasoning to top your food, rather than an ingredient during the cooking process. The pale yellow or gold yeast is also gluten- and dairy-free.

What does nutritional yeast taste like?

Galati says she loves the “cheesy flavor” of nutritional yeast. So do many vegans, who swap in nutritional yeast for recipes that typically call for cheese.

You can use it in a vegan cashew “cheese” dip recipe, sprinkle it on top of pasta with red sauce or add it to popcorn for some extra flavor.

What does nutritional yeast do to you?

On top of enjoying the flavor, nutritional yeast has an “impressive nutritional profile,” Galati adds.

She notes that a quarter cup serving contains eight grams of plant-based protein and three grams of fiber. That’s about the same amount of protein as two tablespoons of peanut butter and the same amount of fiber as a banana.

For context, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends people eat about 28 grams of fiber based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

When it comes to protein, the USDA’s Recommended Dietary Allowance says you should consume 0.36 grams per pound. For a person who weighs 150 pounds, that’s 54 grams of protein daily. But some dietitians including Galati note that recommendation can differ depending on other factors, and that it may be more beneficial to eat 0.7 to 0.9 grams per pound.

Nutritional yeast also contains “well above your daily requirements for B12 and other B-vitamins,” Galati notes.

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Who should not eat nutritional yeast?

Some research has suggested that nutritional yeast may be irritating to those with Crohn's disease and other types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

In general, adding too much fiber to your diet too quickly can cause issues like gas, bloating and cramping, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s best to slowly introduce more fibrous foods and allow your body to adjust, experts say.

Galati also warns that not all nutritional yeast is created equal — so consumers should be smart about what they’re hoping to get out of their purchase.

“The micronutrient profile can differ between brands because some varieties are fortified while others are not, so pay attention to the nutrition label if you’re looking for any specific nutrient,” she says.

Looking for the healthiest diet? Here are three dietitian-backed tips to get you started.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is nutritional yeast? Taste, health benefits and risks explained