Is Seitan Healthy?
So we’re all here to learn how to make seitan, but is it actually healthy?
As it turns out, yes, seitan can be an excellent source of lean protein and makes a great meat substitute, provided you consider a few things:
Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG)
VWG is the the part of wheat flour that remains after the starches have been “washed” out. You can buy it in powder form or make your own by using the “Wash The Flour” method. Though many recipes also incorporate ingredients such as legumes or tofu, gluten is the essence of seitan. Gluten-free seitan may exist in theory, but really that is just another kind of meat substitute all together.
Gluten Allergies and Sensitivities
Some people may be sensitive to gluten, while others with certain auto-immune diseases (such as celiac disease) may need to avoid it entirely. Of course, if you are concerned about allergies or gluten intolerance, please consult your physician.
Glyphosate — the main chemical used in pesticides — is also a reported cause for apparent gluten sensitivity and/or inflammation. If you are looking to avoid this chemical, search for organic brands of VWG or wash your own organic flour. More readily available brands that are non-GMO, such as Anthony’s and Bob’s Redmill, should contain less Glyphosate.
When you read the label on most brands of VWG, you should find it is high in protein, and low in saturated fat and carbs. This makes it a very healthy option as part of a vegan or vegetarian diet. A typical nutritional label for a 1/4 cup serving should look something like this:
Total Fat: 1-2g 1-3%
Saturated fat: 0g
Trans fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg 0%
Sodium: 0-25mg 0-1%
Total Carbohydrate: 4-6g 1-2%
Dietary fiber: 0g 0%
Total sugar: 0-1g 0%
Plus up to 6% iron and 3% calcium.
Based on nutritional value labels, VWG is a protein power-house. But those labels aren’t necessarily telling you the whole story. The human body needs to get 9 essential amino acids from the food we consume. In order for a food to be considered a complete protein, all 9 of those amino acids need to be present. Some studies have shown that you do not need to get them all in one meal, but you should aim to get them all in one day.
There are a handful of plants including soy and quinioa that fall into the complete protein category, though VWG only brings 8 of 9 to the table. It’s low on the amino acid Lysine, but there are a variety of ways you can easily introduce this to your seitan dishes:
- Chickpea Flour – Very often you’ll see this ingredient in addition to VWG in recipes. It works to not only help break up some of the gluten strands in your mix for a slightly softer texture, but also brings with it lots of Lysine, making your seitan a complete protein.
- Pea Protein – Almost a complete on protein on it’s own, though relatively low in the essential amino acid Methionine. However, it does complete the protein profile when added to VWG and works just as chickpea flour to soften the texture of your end result.
- Quinoa – You can cook it in a flavored broth to add a textural element to your wet mix, or serve it on the side of your seitan for a complete protein meal.
- Lentils – Great in beefy dishes, lentils can add a savory, and sometimes peppery note to make any seitan dish a high- and complete-protein meal.
- Beans – Add chickpeas for chickun, white beans to your sausages, and black beans to your beaf, and you’ve got a texturally-superior, complete protein mix. Or just crumble your seitan and toss it into a soup or chili with some kidney beans and peppers for a protein-packed punch.
- Soy Milk – Mix soy milk into your chickun dishes, and not only do you get a complete protein meal, you also get a nice, light color which can aid to a beautiful presentation.
- Tofu – Another form of soy often blended into chickun, porq, and even sausages, tofu helps “soften” seitan reducing its chewiness, and it adds a light color just like soy milk. Of course, being a complete protein on it’s own, it also completes the protein file.
- Nutritional Yeast – Considered a complete protein, nooch provides all 9 of the essential amino acids with 8-10g of protein in only a couple of tablespoons. Plus it’s typically fortified with about 7 different B vitamins, including vitamin B12, niacin and folic acid, making it a win-win for adding flavor and nutrition to your seitan dishes.