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Seitan: Not Just A Clever Name



It looks like meat, has the texture of meat, and  apparently, with enough flavour enhancers, tastes like meat — but it’s not actually meat. It’s the sticky goo that most of us work on eating less of. If you’ve ever tried mock chicken, pork or beef, often shown on vegan menus surrounded by quotes (“tuna” salad, anyone?), you may already have eaten it.

Affectionately known as wheat meat, seitan (pronounced say-tahn — perhaps not by coincidence) is a meat replacement made entirely out of gluten (pronounced glue-ten — also perhaps not by coincidence). I repeat, a “food” made entirely out of gluten. It’s prepared by mixing flour with water, then kneading and rinsing the dough to remove the wheat starch until all you’re left with is stretchy gloooooooooten.

At that point, aparently, you’re supposed to treat it just like meat — deep fry it, barbecue it or make yourself a tasty bowl of gluten-based “duck”, pictured below.Mock Duck Seitan

Let’s back up the trolley here for a minute and talk a little bit about why gluten shouldn’t be invited to the dinner table in the first place.

What’s Wrong With Gluten, Anyway?

  • Gluten is a glue-like protein that holds breads and baked goods together. Picture mortar, the stuff used to hold bricks together — it’s thick, clumpy and difficult to digest.
  • It’s estimated that 1 in 133 Canadians suffer from celiac disease, a medical condition where the small intestine is damaged by gluten, resulting in anemia, chronic diarrhea, cramps, bloating and more. But non-celiac gluten sensitivity is estimated to be six to 10 times more prevalent than celiac disease.
  • Studies have shown that eating gluten may contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, obesity, diabetes,  along with inflammatory conditions, auto-immune disease and conditions of brain degeneration.
  • There’s no nutritional value in gluten — you risk nothing by cutting it out, but you stand to gain better digestion, pain-free mobility, mood stability, more energy and less junk in your trunk.
  • Wheat has always contained gluten, but modern varieties of wheat contain a whole lot more of it than they used to. According to the book Wheat Bellywe’ve bred our wheat to contain so much gluten that our immune systems no longer recognize it as food. And since wheat is in so many of the foods we eat (think cereal, pasta, crackers, muffins…), we’re eating a lot more gluten than we used to, even without turning it into a main course.

Needless to say, a meal made entirely out of gluten isn’t doing your digestive system any favours. But there’s a bigger issue at hand here.

I know there are many people who disagree with the gluten theory. Those who believe that a little isn’t bad if they show no signs of sensitivity may still want to try eliminating it, just to see. The massive amount of scientific research being done around the world, from Israel to Italy to the USA, about the connection between gluten and the influx of degenerative diseases has me thinking that what we may not feel today, will show up one day. And as I always say, if in doubt, keep it out.

There will never be a cause for the health benefits of gluten. Eating more gluten will never make us healthier.

Check out this interview between two functional medicine practitioners , Josh Gitalis and Dr. Thomas O’Bryan.

With all the amazing, delicious, whole food protein sources available for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans, turning to any sort of mock anything for dinner (let alone one made entirely out of gluten) just isn’t needed.

Let’s take a quick look at the ingredients in popular fake meat product BOCA Original Vegan Burgers:

water, soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten, contains less than 2% of methylcellulose, salt, caramel color, dried onions, yeast extract, sesame oil, hydrolyzed wheat protein, natural and artificial flavor (non-meat), disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate. contains: soy, wheat, sesame.

Just a glance at these scary ingredients reveals wheat gluten (see seitan, above), yeast extract (read: MSG), artificial flavours (read: poison), soy (no doubt GMO) and a whole pile words I can’t pronounce.

Though many believe these mock-meats make for an easier transition, I can’t help but wonder what the transition is to. If our goal is to eat less meat, let’s do that. Let’s add in more vegetables and some plantiful proteins and, little by little, meal by meal, eat less meat. There’s no need to pass through the meat-plasticine phase to get there.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s not about following an abstract set of rules, only focussing on what you can’t have and trying to find a convenient replacement. This isn’t about eating meat or not eating meat, but about doing the best for ourselves. Can we forget the labels and make sure every bite we eat is simply fresh, real, health-supportive, delicious, and ideally not surrounded by quotes?

For more about gluten, check out:

For more about fake meat:

What’s the weirdest mock food you’ve ever come across?

7 responses to “Seitan: Not Just A Clever Name”

  1. Valerie says:

    LOVE Meghan!! Just love. So freaking true. Resorting to fake anything is not a healthy solution. There are so many real food substitutions to take advantage of.

  2. Marilene says:

    It’s so crazy that you wrote about this. Back in university when I was first transitioning to a vegetarian diet, I actually made seitan at home! I had the right idea in wanting to make it from scratch but now I realize that I was concocting an unhealthy ball of constipating, tummy aching stuff.

  3. Tarquin says:

    Love your mission to live a healthy, positive life Meghan! Really I do. I think you have a lot of valuable points and information. I was given your cookbook from a friend who thought I would enjoy it because of my lifestyle.
    …And I like that you are also open to discussion.
    There are certain things, like this article, that are spoken of with such conviction, that are well…simply untrue. Blanket statements like “Seitan has no nutritional value so skip it” is simply false, is just ONE of the things that I feel are misleading. I appreciate nature, but also science.
    It is exactly as you said, the “protein” left, tons of it, not to mention Iron and calcium to boot. People have eating seitan for centuries as part of a healthy and spiritually satisfying diet. Part of. With the veggies etc. of course. Seitan is low in the “bad fats” associated with meat, (Meat is not a better alternative) and that brings me to my last point…this IS about eating meat or cheese, no mater how the “happy farmers” want to healthwash that one.

    In your book you say there are “happy cows” who love to give milk. No. Please, please please don’t propagate that myth, with stories of gingham curtains and rolling hills with happy farm animals. Please.
    That milk is produced for calves. Not humans. Pasteurized or not. How do they keep farmers profitable? I won’t get into details, but it is against their will, it is brutal, and it is slavery. And it also produces cortisol. It is stressful. And then it is eaten. And you know what happens to those calves that cows must produce every year? It is ugly.

    Seitan over meat any day.

    Exercise, eat well, think positively, and don’t harm anything unless there is no choice. And there is always a choice. :)

    Thanks for listening, and hope to see more vegan-happy meals only!

    • Meghan Telpner says:

      Hi Tarquin, this isn’t and has never been a vegan blog. I am not a vegan-specific nutritionist as it’s not up to me to decide the right diet for everyone in the world. I write from an evidence-based nutritional perspective. It’s possible we’re just not the right fit for each other but I’d encourage you to remain part of this community and see what inspiration comes your way.

  4. Sebastian says:

    Could you show some of the research you are citing about the scarry effects of gluten? I am a Pediatric Gastroenterologist in training and I would appreciate the education.
    The research I know does not provide clear evidence for those links. While gluten is a plant based protein and no doubt we can live without it, why would we if we don’t have to. The whole western civilization has thrived on gluten containing products for thousands of years.
    Here are some British guudelines for IBS and they say that no recommendation can be made in regards to gluten based on the best research available: British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence-based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults (2016 update).

  5. Camille says:

    Thank you for this. I bought some seitan 2 days ago. This morning I had to cancel my appointments so I could stay close to my own bathroom. Now I know it was the gluten. I don’t think I have celiac probably just a sensitivity. I have bread once in a while and don’t have a problem. I think this was just overload because I made it into a sandwich two days in a row. After this experience and your article. I will look for gluten free where possible and continue to indulge in bread sparingly as I don’t think gluten free flour products are all that healthy. It is probably a good idea to stay away from gluten in condiments like soy sauce as gluten in condiments is not necessary.

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