Seitan is a popular meat alternative, used in many cultures and religions that follow vegetarian or vegan diets. It is denser than many other pseudo-meats, making it a great replacement for meat-based dishes. Seitan is created by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving only the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic, taffy-like mass. This mass is then cut into pieces and cooked. There are many health benefits of seitan.
Nutritional Profile of Seitan
Seitan is fairly healthy, with plenty of vitamins and micronutrients your body needs. One three-ounce serving contains just 104 calories and a whopping 21 grams of protein. Other trace minerals essential to the proper function of your organ systems are selenium, iron, phosphorus, calcium, and copper. Seitan is naturally fat-free and cholesterol-free.
Alternative to Soy
For many who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, eating too much soy can cause health problems due to the high concentration of phytoestrogens, plant hormones that mimic the effects of estrogen in the bloodstream. This can lead to PCOS in women and gynecomastia in men and is also thought to increase the risk of certain cancers. Choosing seitan as an occasional alternative to soy can reduce these effects.
It is a Highly Processed Food
Although seitan has many nutritional benefits, it’s still a processed food, and should be eaten in moderation. While it might not be as bad for the body as other processed foods, you should always focus on incorporating large quantities of whole foods, fresh fruits, and vegetables into your diet, and use products like seitan only in moderation.
Not a Gluten-Free Food
Wheat is used to make seitan, so the end product contains gluten. People with Celiac disease, or who otherwise practice gluten-free eating, should avoid eating seitan. Because the gluten in this food is so concentrated, even individuals with intolerances, who can handle small amounts of wheat products, should avoid seitan.
May Aid Weight Loss
Achieving weight loss goals often includes counting calories. Seitan is a low-calorie food and dense in protein. Protein increases satiety — that is, it helps you feel fuller, longer. This helps balance the blood sugar spikes and reduces cravings. Studies also show seitan can reduce the amount of ghrelin in the body, the hormone that produces hunger cues. For those eating reduced-calorie meals, getting the most nutritional bang for your buck is essential.
Versatile Meat Substitute
Although there are several plant-based meat substitutes, the dense character of seitan makes it ideal for recipes that call for cuts of meat like steak or chicken; it even matches the protein content of many lean meats. The composition of seitan also makes it a great grilling option.
Not a Complete Protein
While seitan is a high protein food, it is an incomplete protein, nutritionally because it lacks the essential amino acid lysine. Without lysine, it is difficult for the body to fully realize the muscle-building properties of a protein. Lysine is vital to the growth and development of children, especially. Many vegetarians supplement their diets with lysine-rich foods, such as beans and legumes.
Good to Reduce Cholesterol
The naturally fat-free nature of seitan makes it a good dietary addition for those on low-cholesterol diets. Organically produced seitan contains no cholesterol, so it will not increase cholesterol levels. Many people have found that eating plant-based protein versus animal protein naturally reduces bad LDL cholesterol in the body.
Possible Side Effects of Seitan
Seitan has a high amount of gluten, the wheat protein that can cause leaky gut and other abdominal distress. While those with Celiac disease should steer clear of gluten entirely, others with a mild gluten sensitivity may experience the cramps, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea also. Some studies indicate that even those who typically did not have gluten intolerance may experience the “leaky gut” symptoms.
Incorporating Seitan Into Your Diet
There are many ways to incorporate seitan into a healthy vegetarian diet or use it as an occasional meat substitute for omnivores. Many grocers sell packaged seitan, but be aware that some of these have high amounts of added sodium. You can make your own seitan at home if you choose, and eliminate that concern. Marinate your seitan, cut and sautee it like strips of beef, or grill it with fresh vegetables on skewers. It’s also popular in stews or as a ground beef substitute.