Over the past 5 years, I have used food to help combat stress, anxiety, and heartburn. While my quest has been extremely successful in many regards, I still have constant battles, which led me to take a food sensitivity test to get to the crux of the matter. Wouldn’t you know that I actually have a moderate intolerance to bakers and brewer’s yeast?

To be honest, I’d never really thought about yeast, but once I started reading, a whole new door into health-related symptoms opened.

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I discovered that yeast is a fungi protein that is used to get bread and baked goods all fluffy and puffed up. It’s also used in those gut-friendly fermented foods. What else is yeast included in? The list is extensive including most condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, and anything that uses vinegar. For those that have recently found out they have an intolerance, have known for some time, or think they may, here’s a little information to help you manage it!

What is Yeast?

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Fungi are “living organisms that are distantly related to plants, and more closely related to animals, but rather different from either of those groups.” Basically, they’re related to both plants and animals but aren’t exactly either. They are characterized by five distinct features: they have nuclei with chromosomes, they can’t photosynthesize, they absorb food, their bodies are spreading networks of filaments called hyphae, and they reproduce via spores.

Yeast are single-celled fungi – only visible under a microscope — and “they are related to the other fungi that people are more familiar with, including edible mushrooms available at the supermarket, common baker’s yeast used to leaven bread, molds that ripen blue cheese, and the molds that produce antibiotics for medical and veterinary use.”

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Humans have used yeast for centuries. Yeast naturally digests “food to obtain energy for growth” and its favorite food is sugar. This is why yeast is essential for baking and fermentation processes. As yeast digests sugar it releases carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol, which makes dough rise and grains to ferment into alcohol.

Wild Yeast versus Commercial Yeast

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Due to the need to mass produce foods to meet the growing demand of population growth, yeast that once was produced in the wild has been turned into a commercial product. The difference between commercial and wild yeast is wildly different. Some people intolerant of yeasts find they can actually still consume wild yeast.

Wild yeast was used thousands of years ago to leaven bread and ferment foods. Instead of containing a single strain — such as baker’s yeast — wild yeast is a combination of strains. It has a higher nutritional value and doesn’t react as negatively with our bodies. In fact, some wild yeast products are actually still gluten-free, depending on how the cook uses it. With wild yeast, “leavening comes from the air and the grain, not from a store-bought packet.”

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In the mid-1800s, this leavening agent was actually identified and first seen under a microscope, which led to the creation of commercialized baker’s yeast. Specifically, baker’s yeast is an isolated “single strain of yeast from [a] wild yeast culture.” This single strain yeast offered a quicker leavening process and added flavor, which met the demands of the commercialized bread industry. Baker’s continued to change bread making by adding sweeteners and sugars, which not only made bread more appealing, but it also sped up the baking process.

With that said, the more we messed with the wild form of yeast, the more our bodies reacted to it. Hence yeast intolerance.

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What is Yeast Intolerance

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There are three types yeast reactions: yeast buildup — when yeast accumulates into a fungal infection — yeast allergy — a reaction that affects “the entire body, leading to skin reactions, changes in mood, and widespread body pain,” — and yeast intolerance — the less severe reaction “with symptoms largely limited to gastrointestinal,” tract. With that said, a yeast intolerance may manifest as abdominal swelling, digestive tract discomfort (gassiness and constipation or diarrhea) and even joint pain.

An intolerance to yeast is similar to any other food intolerance accept the fact that yeast isn’t necessarily seen. As a microscopic fungus, yeast is included in many products and food processes. Therefore, knowing how yeast is used (as mentioned above) and the most common yeast-based products (mentioned below) is the best way to reduce yeast intake. It’s also important to deduce the type of yeast that affects you the most. For instance, some people react to commercial yeast products, but can still consume wild yeast — baked goods versus fermented foods.

Common Plant-Based Yeast Products

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The list of yeast products is fairly long. Yeast is used in bread and baked goods, alcohol (beer, wine, and ciders in particular), some cereal products, vinegar (this also includes vinegar products such as salad dressing), tofu, and fermented foods (such as olives, sauerkraut, kimchi, soy sauce, miso, and tamarind). Yeast is also naturally present in many plant-based foods including mushrooms, citrus foods (think citric acid), certain fruits (blackberries, grapes, strawberries, and blackberries, in particular), and pretty much all dried fruit.

Just because you have an intolerance to yeast doesn’t mean you’ll react negatively to all of these products. Try out an elimination diet. This means cleansing your system with a bland yeast-free menu for a few weeks and then add in one yeast-based food at a time to see what you react to.

With that said, before embarking on any new diet (even an elimination diet), it’s important to consult with a nutritionist or doctor to make sure you do this safely!

Yeast-Free Plant-Based Foods

Quick and Easy Salad with Chickpea Dahl/One Green Planet

It may seem that with a yeast intolerance you’re relegated to munching on nuts and celery, but there is actually an equally long list of yeast-free tasty foods that are safe for you. Whether you’re looking to embark on an elimination diet or seeking to reduce your yeast intake, here are a few plant-based foods that are great to incorporate!

With that said, when it comes to purchasing packaged or canned versions of any of these foods (such as broth), make sure to look at the ingredients label for added yeast and avoid using dried versus fresh vegetables and fruits!  

Green Vegetables

Mediterranean-Style Rainbow Chard/One Green Planet

There’s just something magical about green vegetables. Many of them — such as kale — act as a kind of neutral food meaning they rarely cause allergic reactions. Plus, there are lots to choose from! Some of the most nutrient-rich green vegetables include microgreens — “immature greens produced from seeds of vegetables and herbs” — collard greens, spinach, swiss chard, — Mediterranean-Style Rainbow Chard — cabbage, beet greens, watercress, — Watercress Soup — romaine lettuce, — Quick and Easy Salad With Chickpea Dal — arugula, and turnip greens.

Squash

Roasted Squash with Mushroom and Spinach Risotto/One Green Planet

If you haven’t experimented with squash, this is your time to begin! Squash is a great plate filler. It’s got that soft thick texture that mimics certain meats and you can pretty much find a perfect match for your palate from the different varieties. A few of these include zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, spaghetti, —South of the Boarder Spaghetti Squash (do not include optional “nutritional yeast”) — acorn, — Stuffed Acorn Squash with Bulgur Pilaf — red kuri, — Roasted Squash with Mushroom and Spinach Risotto (do not include optional “nutritional yeast”)— buttercup (not to be confused with butternut), butternut, delicate, and kabocha — Kabocha Squash Lentil Curry. Almost all squash offer a variety of nutrients and zero yeast!

Potatoes

Fingerling Potato Rounds/One Green Planet

If squash just isn’t your jam, but you’re seeking out yeast-free, plant-based plate fillers, try out potatoes. There are just as many varieties of potatoes (around 200) including sweet potato, — Cinnamon Turmeric Sweet Potato —russets, yams, — Chipotle Black Bean Stuffed Yams — fingerling, — Fingerling Potato Rounds (do not use optional “nutritional yeast”) — red bliss, and Yukon Golds. Plus, potatoes won’t break down as easily as squash, making them diverse ingredients for almost any recipe including stews and soups, stir-fries, bakes, burritos, and even simple sides such as fries, hash browns, and mashed potatoes.

Beans

Colombian Black Bean Stew/One Green Planet

Beans are not only a great plant-based source of protein, fiber, and B vitamins, but they are also yeast-free. This globally appreciated food is also one of the best plant-based meat-replacements. Along with potatoes and squash, there are different varieties, each offering its own distinct flavor and texture. The most popular and healthiest options include kidney beans, — High Protein Kidney Bean Burrito — black beans, — Colombian Black Bean Stew — pinto beans, — Slow Cooker Spicy Pinto Beans — and navy beans.

Grains

Almond Millet Kheer/One Green Planet

When it comes to grains, get picky! The safest bet is to stick with pseudo grains such as quinoa, 100 percent buckwheat, and amaranth. With that said, many gluten-free grains are also yeast-free such as millet, — Almond Millet Kheer — teff, — Toasted Turmeric Milk Oat and Teff Porridge — corn, and brown rice — Basic Brown Rice. Also, you can purchase gluten-free oats such as Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats.

Don’t let a yeast-intolerance get you down! Instead, get creative with plant-based, yeast-free recipes! We highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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