Food Is Seitan Healthy? Experts Share Everything You Need to Know About the High-Protein Meat Alternative

18:20  02 november  2021
18:20  02 november  2021 Source:   prevention.com

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My vegetarian family and I have been ordering the same dish from our favorite local Thai restaurant for years—it’s a tangy curry filled with “mock duck.” The chunks of braised seitan standing in for duck are so chewy, tasty, and, well, duck-like, that we have asked the waitstaff several times, “Are you sure this isn’t real meat?”

Seitan is a plant-based meat alternative that’s similar in texture to chicken and steak. But is seitan healthy—and what is it exactly? Experts explain. © Ivan - Getty Images Seitan is a plant-based meat alternative that’s similar in texture to chicken and steak. But is seitan healthy—and what is it exactly? Experts explain.

And while the answer is always yes, it leaves us wondering: What is seitan? And is it really healthy?

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Indeed, seitan is one of the plant-based meat alternatives that comes closest in texture to chicken, duck, or steak. Unlike some of the newer, more highly processed “fake meats,” such as Impossible and Beyond, however, seitan has been around for centuries, and it is created from nothing more high tech than wheat flour.

But unlike tofu, which is commonly known to vegans, vegetarians, and even carnivores as a soy product, there is a bit of mystery around seitan. Here, nutritionists answer all your seitan questions:

What exactly is seitan?

Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan, it rhymes with spray tan) has been used as a meat substitute in Chinese cuisine for centuries, where it is known as mianjin, and was prized by Buddhists who practiced a vegetarian diet (it picked up the Japanese-derived name “seitan” in the 1960s). “Seitan has long been a plant-based meat swap for vegans and vegetarians,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., the author of The Flexitarian Diet. “Another name for it is ‘wheat meat,’ because it’s made from one of the main proteins in wheat, gluten.”

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Yes, you read that correctly. Seitan is made from gluten, the protein in wheat that, when mixed with water, becomes stretchy and elastic. Because it’s made of gluten, people with celiac disease should avoid seitan at all costs, as well as people with a gluten sensitivity. For those who can tolerate gluten, however, it is a tasty and versatile low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb source of plant protein.

“Seitan has a very lean texture, and you can add seasonings and spices to the actual gluten itself, and then make recipes with it to mimic chicken or other meats,” says Brooklyn-based nutritionist Shanon Whittingham, R.D.N., who adds that seitan is easier to customize to the texture and flavors that you love than tofu. Blatner adds that it’s a great option for vegetarians who sometimes miss meat, because it’s “dense and chewy, and mimics the texture of meat really well.” In fact, many of the meatless meats you’ll find in the vegan section of your local supermarket are made with seitan, such as Gardein Chick’n Strips, Field Roast Celebration Roast, and Lightlife Smart Bacon.

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Is seitan healthy?

The answer is, yes!—as long it’s part of a well-rounded diet. A 100g serving of seitan has about 141 calories and 25 grams of protein, making it comparable to the amount of protein in chicken or beef. Because the starches are removed from the wheat when seitan is made, it has very little fat and carbs. In addition to protein, seitan contains the nutrients selenium, iron, phosphorus, and calcium. It is also a great option for vegans and vegetarians who have an allergy to soy or nuts.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that seitan is not considered a“complete” protein, says Blatner. “It’s low in the essential amino acids lysine and threonine,” she explains. “That doesn’t mean it’s not a good protein source, it just means you have to eat a varied diet of foods that do have those missing amino acids, like beans, lentils, and quinoa.”

While you can buy easy-to-use prepackaged seitan from brands such as Upton’s Naturals and Sweet Earth, those tend to contain higher levels of added sodium, says Whittingham. Her suggestion if you're watching your salt intake? Make your own at home. “You just take some wheat flour and add some water and soak it and massage it continuously, until all of the starch comes out,” says Whittingham. (Another way to make your own—buy a bag of vital gluten and mix with water or vegetable broth and spices; Bob’s Red Mill Vital Gluten Flour comes with a recipe right on the bag.)

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What’s the best way to eat seitan?

You can substitute seitan into any recipe that calls for shredded chicken or pork, such as pulled-BBQ sandwiches, stir-fries, or fajitas, says Blatner. Whittingham likes to make her own seitan and then infuse it with herbs and spices and shape it into a burger patty or breakfast sausage, or use it as a filling in tacos or burritos. She is also a big fan of using the air fryer to give seitan a crispy finish. “I often shape the seitan into a steak, sauté it in a cast-iron pan, and then finish it off in the air fryer for the last 5 to 10 minutes for extra crispness,” she says.

For more delicious ways to prepare seitan, check out our Mock Peking Duck, Delish's Extra Lemony Seitan Piccata, and Seitan Lomo Saltado, Simple Vegan Blog's Pasta With Peppercorn Sauce and Seitan, and Vegan Maple Breakfast Sausage Links from Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen.

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This is interesting!