Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Better known as wheat protein, wheat meat, vital wheat gluten, or even wheat seitan, seitan looks just like meat once it is cooked. Seitan or vital wheat gluten is a commonly used meat replacement that is nowadays being used across a variety of cuisines. Seitan is used as a meat substitute and is the only meat substitute that remains completely free from soy. Seitan also has a high content of protein, is very versatile - allowing it to be cooked in many ways, and is also able to retain and take on other flavors while being cooked. Many Asian, vegetarian, and even Buddhist dishes are now using seitan as a staple ingredient. Roughly translated, seitan means 'made of proteins', and is actually created by washing the dough of wheat flour with water till the time all the starch granules are removed. What is left behind is sticky and insoluble gluten - that looks like an elastic, taffy-like lump or mass. This leftover mass is then cut up into pieces and cooked. While it is being hailed as the latest meat replacement option, how healthy is seitan? Today we try and uncover the truth about seitan or vital wheat gluten.

What is Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten?

Seitan or vital wheat gluten has emerged in recent times as a very popular vegan substitute for meat. Made from wheat gluten and water, seitan is frequently promoted as being rich in protein and low in carbs, a preferred alternative to animal protein. However, many people have often raised concerns about whether or not seitan is actually as good as it is made out to be. There are also questions being raised about whether or not a food that is completely made out of pure gluten is healthy?

How is Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten Made?

Seitan is made from pure vital wheat gluten. The starch is washed off completely from the whole wheat dough and the leftover mass is known as seitan. The texture of seitan is chewy and stringy, similar to meat, which is why it is considered to be a good vegan alternative for many recipes.

Where Can We Buy Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten?

Seitan is available for purchase from the frozen sections of many grocery stores. It is also possible to make seitan at home by combining vital wheat gluten with water.

Pros and Cons of Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten

Let us look at the pros and cons of seitan to determine whether it is healthy or not.

Pros: Seitan is Nutritious- High in Protein, Low in Carbs & Fat

Made entire from wheat gluten, seitan is considered to be a high-nutrition food. Seitan or vital wheat gluten contains high amounts of protein and minerals, and at the same time is low in carbohydrates and fat. Nutrient Content of One Serving of Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten Is As Follows:

  • Protein - 21 grams
  • Calcium - 4% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Copper - 3% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Iron - 8% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Phosphorus - 7% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Selenium - 16% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Calories - 104

Seitan also contains very low levels of carbohydrates as the starch from the wheat flour gets washed away at the beginning itself, while seitan is being made. A single serving of seitan actually contains only 4 grams of carbohydrates.

The other advantage of seitan is that it is almost fat-free as wheat grains hardly have any fat content. In fact, one serving of seitan or vital wheat gluten only contains about 0.5 grams of fat.

If you are buying seitan from the store, then you have to consider that these products may have additional ingredients added to increase the flavor and texture. Thereby, the nutritional profile may vary accordingly.

Pros: Seitan is High in Protein Content, But Low in Lysine

Seitan is made completely of gluten, which is the primary protein present in wheat. This is why seitan or vital wheat gluten is an excellent protein option for vegetarians and also vegans. To determine the exact amount of protein present in seitan, you have to first find out if any other proteins, such as legume flour or soy, were added during the production process. However, on a general level, a 3-ounce serving size of seitan typically has between 15 to 20 grams of protein - almost equal to many animal proteins.

However, while seitan or vital wheat gluten has a high content of protein, it does not have sufficient amount of lysine, an amino acid that is required by the human body. Humans need to get lysine from food sources and since seitan has low levels of lysine, it is, therefore, considered to be an incomplete protein. If you are vegan or a vegetarian, then you can solve this issue by increasing the consumption of other lysine-rich foods such as lentils, soy milk, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, legumes and beans, in order to meet the daily lysine requirements of your body.

Pros: Other Health Benefits of Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten

Apart from the high protein content and low carbs and fat content of seitan or vital wheat gluten, there are some other health benefits also associated with this meat substitute. These include:

  • Seitan has more protein than steak and beef (per calorie basis).
  • Seitan or vital wheat gluten has lesser fat content than even a grilled chicken breast.
  • There are no heterocyclic amines present in seitan. Heterocyclic amines are the carcinogens that are present in some meat.
  • As seitan or vital wheat gluten is completely plant-based, it is also completely cholesterol free.
  • Seitan contains high levels of vitamin B6.
  • Seitan or vital wheat gluten is a filling food if you want to lose weight.
  • Seitan or vital wheat gluten is sugar-free and non-GMO.
  • Seitan is also a good option for vegans who may be having soy allergies.

Cons or The Drawbacks of Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten?

Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten is a Highly Processed Food

There is no doubt that there are many nutritional benefits associated with seitan or vital wheat gluten. However, the fact remains that seitan or vital wheat gluten is also a highly processed food. It is called as a processed food because it does not exist naturally on its own form in nature. The final product has to be made by washing away all the starch content from the kneaded wheat flour dough. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that seitan is a processed food, it still does not contribute to obesity as it has low-fat content. So this makes seitan or vital wheat gluten an ideal food choice for those who want to lose weight. However, if you are already having a high amount of processed food on a regular basis, you may want to reconsider making seitan a part of your diet.

Cons: Seitan is Not For Everybody

As seitan is made from wheat flour, it should be avoided by individuals who are allergic to wheat or gluten. Even people who have gluten intolerance or sensitivities related to gluten or who suffer from celiac disease, need to avoid seitan. Seitan or vital wheat gluten can cause a serious reaction in such people.

Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten is Bad For The Gut

Being made from pure gluten only, many experts often express concern that seitan or vital wheat gluten could be bad for your gut health. Several studies have shown that consuming too much gluten can increase the permeability of your intestines, allowing larger food particles to pass through, causing an increased risk of inflammation, food allergies/sensitivities, and even autoimmune diseases. While more research is required to understand exactly how gluten causes this and how it affects some people more than others, there are other side effects associated with gluten that are also unpleasant. These include: diarrhea, bloating, gas and joint pain. If you are experiencing any such symptoms, try to stop seitan or vital wheat gluten for a month and see if these symptoms disappear on their own.

Other Side Effects of Seitan or Vital Wheat Gluten

Some other side effects associated with seitan or vital wheat gluten may include:

While it is not necessary that these side effects are only caused from having seitan, if you are experiencing these signs and symptoms, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor and also stop having Seitan or vital wheat gluten for at least a month to see if any of the symptoms disappear within that time. This may also indicate that you have gluten sensitivity or allergy.

Conclusion

Seitan or vital wheat gluten has become a popular option for vegetarians and vegans in a short span of time. Seitan or vital wheat gluten is high in protein and low in carbs, making it ideal for people wanting to lose weight. However, if you are aware that you cannot tolerate gluten or wheat, then it is better to avoid seitan as it may lead to some serious side effects in people who have gluten intolerance problems. There are also some concerns about just how good seitan is for our body. If you are in doubt, you can always consult a dietitian to get a clearer idea of whether or not you should start having seitan and make it a regular part of your diet.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: June 25, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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