Seitan: Good Or Bad?

October 16, 2012

Seitan is becoming increasingly popular in today’s cuisine. It’s no longer only vegans and vegetarians who are eating it. Its resemblance to meat paired with its high palatability makes it an appealing choice to almost everybody. Brown in color and chewy in texture (but not weird chewy), seitan easily absorbs flavors and seasonings.
I try it in several different recipes, and there’s no denying that it tastes pretty good, especially if cooked right.
However, the fact that it’s basically 100% made of gluten puzzled me a bit. So I asked myself: is it healthy to eat seitan?
I did some research, and here’s what I discovered.

Seitan


What exactly is seitan?

Seitan, also known as wheat gluten, wheat meat or gluten meat, is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat.
It is produced by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass, which is then cooked before being eaten.
In other words seitan is basically 100% gluten.

Nutritional profile

A serving of seitan (3.5 oz) has around 118 calories, 3 grams of carbs, 24 grams of protein and is almost completely fat and cholesterol free.
You would expect a product made from wheat to be higher in carbohydrates, but seitan is made by removing all of the starch from the wheat (the source of carbs) leaving only gluten, which is mainly protein.
Notwithstanding the high protein value, due to its low content of lysine (one of the essential amino acids), seitan is not generally considered a source of complete protein.

The good about seitan

“Supporters” of seitan, praise it for being nutritionally a powerhouse. In particular, for being an excellent source of plant-based proteins, with almost no fat and no cholesterol.
Another major feature of seitan is its versatility in the kitchen, as it can be quickly and easily prepared in a variety of ways.

The bad about seitan

The main concern about seitan it that it’s just plain and pure gluten.
In this respect some claim that the human body can easily become over-saturated with gluten, leading to gluten intolerance (aka celiac disease).
The fact is that the human body can process gluten, but if over-consumed it can prompt inflammation, and ultimately intolerance.
I’ve searched quite extensively and besides the danger of gluten oversaturation, I couldn’t find any other major health danger about seitan.
However, it should be noted that since gluten is found in many foods available on the market, one should be considerate when adding a food that is 100% gluten to his/her diet.

Considerations

I was kind of surprised about how little research has been conducted on seitan. Truth is, there’s no published study regarding seitan.
On the other side, there’s a lot of literature on gluten. This should come as no surprise at all, since the number of individuals suffering from celiac disease has increased exponentially in the last of decades.
All in all gluten is not unhealthy but I wouldn’t base my diet on it. I seldom eat it, and will likely continue to do so even in the future (being an omnivore I don’t really need meat substitutes).
However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, I would recommend not to exceed with seitan consumption, just to avoid the potential development of gluten intolerance.

23 comments:

  1. I've never tried it but it really doesn't appeal to me! I think it's one thing I will be happy to never try!

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  2. I'm 100% with you on this. I tried it and kind of like it BUT I'll eat just sometime...

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  3. Ahhh,keep an eye out for the seasoned seitan, gyro and sausage, by Taft! Delicious and I promise, it looks nothin' like that photo.

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  4. Actually humans are not real omnivores, our body can just digest meat that is all. All the Gluten you can eat is not as dangerous as cow milk, red meat, fish, eggs and so on.
    And no one eats seitan so much it becomes too much, just like no one eats red meat every meal of the day.

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    1. I totally agree with you. As far as I was taught in anthropology (and we know facts often change but this made sense to me) humans ate meat in severe survival situations, I'm speaking of pre ice age type of survival. Meat is not easily digested by humans at all and kills a good many and good riddance I say. Its purely gluttonous addiction. One heart, one soul, we are one.

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  5. My comment is a little bias (I just finished eating some seitan tacos), but who ever commented about not having it every day like red meat is absolutely correct. Just like everything else, it's in moderation. I love seitan because of its versatility. If anything, it just adds texture. If you haven't tried it, I would recommend it. I make it in so many different ways, but if you're good at making tacos, I'd just substitute your meat or tofu with seitan and give it a try. I think you'll be surprised.

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  6. I love Seitan, but that photo just looks rank!!! LOL, once cooked it actually looks quite yum. I've fed it to plenty of omnivores who have liked it

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  7. I usually use it for things like making taquitos. It's generally easier to handle and roll than bean taquitos and the flavor is easier than marinating tofu. It's just an ease factor that I keep it on hand. If I make it more than twice a month that would be a lot. So I doubt I'll ever over eat it. Just a handy item to keep on hand when tired after a long hard day of physical work.

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  8. I'm not a vegan, nor am I a vegetarian, however lately I've gotten into making my own seitan from scratch as a cheap protein. I use soup broth instead of water, followed by frying it up like I would fry chicken, with a little dijon mustard - I love it and think it's delicious, but don't think that overeating it will be a huge concern, being as any food can grow old on a person. Definitely don't knock a food before giving it a try.

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  9. A few corrections: Eating too much gluten does not cause Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetic issue, and eating gluten triggers the effects. There's some studies that suggest very early exposure to gluten increases risk of Celiac disease, I haven't seen any (credible) evidence that going on a gluten bender will cause you to get the disease. Also... gluten intolerance and celiac disease are two different things.

    That said... seitan is good stuff. I had a seitan 'rueben' today. No reason not to try it.

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  10. Can you please tell me - how much is too much?

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  11. I adore seitan... my favourite recipes are 'pepperoni', 'bacon' and 'steak' (the last two are made in the bread machine - just press a button and it's done at the fraction of the price). Generally I'll cook up a batch at the weekend, wrap it in clingfilm and slice a bit off each day during the week. I estimate I eat 100g a day.

    The nutritional content is awesome! Yes you do need to include other protein sources to get a balance of amino acids, but it's also a good source of iron and calcium, and made up with yeast flakes and flax seed oil (as most of my recipes do) it's also good for Omegas and B vitamins.

    Like you I'm intrigued... everything I read on gluten health studies seems to be based on the health impacts of wheat, or other foods *containing* gluten. None have actually looked at pure gluten (or seitan) alone. So how can they pinpoint that gluten is the problem?

    Indeed I've found studies debunking gluten research, showing that people diagnosed with NCGS (non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity) had their symptoms relieved by excluding Fodmaps, which are found in wheat, some fruits and yoghurt. So it could well be that gluten has been getting all the bad press that should have been targeted at fodmaps.

    I certainly don't see any benefit from excluding pure gluten from my diet and recommend it to anyone with an interest on reducing their impact on the environment / saving money / keeping fit / getting creative in the kitchen :-P

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    1. What are your recipes as I am learning to make it from scratch and would like different recipes to try!

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    2. I have tried to post, but not sure if it's working. Do you have something me recipes for the above mentioned? I am learning to cook from scratch and would love to try to make it!

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    3. The Gentle Chef has done a book on making seitan - his recipes if you Google are amazing! Also he is on Fb.

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  12. one of the many reasons vegainsm stopped making sense to me as the cure-all health diet they bill it as. once while eating out for brunch i had a giant hunk of seitan, aka pure gluten, masquerading as "chicken fried steak" while my husband ate poached local eggs, fennel-orange slaw and wild salmon. couldn't really rectify in my mind how my superior vegan diet was supposedly healthier at that moment.

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    1. Vegan is good health-wise...and ethically and environmentally. do it for the 150 BILLION animals killed to satiate human's need for flesh. Not superior...compassionate.

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    2. Not to be a troll but you ordered an unhealthy dish and your husband ordered a healthy one so therefore veganism is unhealthy? Chicken fried steak is chicken fried steak, vegan or not.

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    3. You ordered fried chicken and you were surprised when you actually got it....? Come on, girl. Fried anything isn't healthy. Your husband chose an actual healthy dish and here you are comparing oranges and apples. Veganism CAN be enormously healthy when you base your diet off of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and, well, you know, things that aren't fried or slathered in sugar. Vegans can be unhealthy as well, given that many unhealthy products we consume today (sugary drinks, non-dairy ice creams, fried stuff) is also qualifiably vegan. Veganism shouldn't make sense only because you want to lose weight or be healthy - veganism should make sense because the environment is suffering enormously for our choices, because animals are suffering enormously for our choices, and because your health can suffer enormously from your choices - especially if you're constantly on a diet high in butter, processed meats, etc.

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  13. We make our own seitan and include chicke peas or beans and nutritional yeast in it. I haven't met anyone that doesn't like it. Even my brother, who is rabidly against vegetarianism, likes my seitan burgers. We eat it in waves. We might eat a bunch in one week and then skip it for a month or two. I haven't noticed and difference in my health or my son's health. I think everything in moderation is the key. I've been a vegetarian for +10 years and seitan was a welcome addition to our list of foods we enjoy. Great texture and very satisfying. Plus it's easy to change its flavour.

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  14. I love the stuff! I like the texture better than tofu and there's so many things you can make with it.

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  15. I know this a really old article, but your nutrition facts are waaay off - 3.5 oz (100 grams) of seitan has 75 grams of protein, 14g carbs, and 350ish calories.

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  16. Where did you get your information? Thank you

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