The Nutritional Value of Seitan: A Complete Breakdown
When it comes to vegan proteins, soy is usually the star of the show – from tofu to tempeh to soy dogs, it’s a big part of the lifestyle, for better or for worse.
But maybe you’re allergic to soy, or you want to limit your soy intake, or you simply want one more protein in your arsenal to change up your weekly menus and keep things interesting.
Enter the underdog: seitan.
Though you may not have heard of seitan, this high-protein, high-nutrient food made from wheat gluten has a rich history, created by Buddhist monks looking for an alternative to animal proteins.
In this article, I’ll focus on the impressive nutritional profile of seitan and its rightful place in a healthy vegan diet.
So what is it that makes seitan such a wonder food?
Ultimately, it comes down to the macro- and micronutrients present in this simple food that make it such an important addition to a vegan diet.
First, let’s look at an overview of seitan’s nutritional value, then we’ll dive down into each category.
Seitan Nutritional Information
per 3-ounce serving
6-8% daily intake
1% daily intake
2% daily intake
2% daily intake
The Macronutrients: Fat, Carbs, Protein
Seitan has a nutrient profile that’s very similar to boneless, skinless chicken breast – a 3-ounce portion of seitan has about 120 calories, 4g of carbohydrates (1g of which is dietary fiber, which your body doesn’t absorb), and a whopping 21g of plant-based protein.
The protein content alone is more than reason enough to incorporate seitan into a vegan diet. With 21g of muscle-building protein in each serving, it is not only a fantastic way to reach your protein goals for the day, but it also feels and tastes like a protein you would get from meat.
With so few calories per serving size, seitan is also considered a low-energy-dense food. The volume of the food and its high protein content will keep you feeling fuller longer for fewer calories – which means more calories in your daily allotment for other tasty foods!
At only 2g of fat and 3g of digestible carbohydrates, seitan is a rare protein choice that is perfect for basically any diet or eating lifestyle, whether someone needs to watch their fat intake, or is trying to eat fewer carbs.
The combination of a low-calorie count, minimal fat and carbohydrates, and an insane amount of protein per calorie makes seitan a perfect protein for athletes, dieters, and people who are just looking to lead a healthy lifestyle.
As I’ve covered in another article, seitan is not a complete protein on its own. However, because it does contain 8 of the 9 essential amino acids by itself, it’s pretty darn easy to combine it with other foods to make up for the missing amino, lysine.
By combining seitan with healthy foods that are high in lysine, you can turn it into a complete protein.
Luckily, lots of foods that are high in lysine are also foods that are already popular in a vegan diet – cooked legumes like lentils and peas, soy products like tofu, and dry roasted almonds are all great sources of lysine in the vegan diet and happen to pair wonderfully with seitan.
However, remember that you don’t need every single bite of food throughout your day to be a complete protein – the emphasis is that you should take in enough variety to meet all your amino acid needs throughout the day.
If you’re eating a vegan diet rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean proteins like seitan, you won’t have anything to worry about when it comes to your protein intake.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps transport life-giving oxygen throughout our bodies.
Providing 6-8% of the recommended daily intake of iron, a single serving of seitan is a rich source of iron in addition to all its other benefits.
It’s honestly no wonder this food has been given the nickname “wheat meat” – it comes with all the nutrients found in meat, with none of the sufferings!
As noted in my list of top vegan iron sources, iron is best absorbed by our bodies when it’s paired with foods rich in vitamin C.
To squeeze every last bit of iron of your serving of seitan, try combining it with broccoli and bell peppers in a stir-fry (strips of seitan crisp beautifully in a wok), or serve your seitan cutlets with a side of kale sautéed in a little garlic and olive oil.
One of my favorite ways to maximize the iron content of seitan is to top rotini pasta with a simple tomato sauce, wilted dark leafy greens, and coins of cooked Italian-style seitan sausage.
A delicious, easy meal that’s high in protein, iron, and vitamin C, this simple combo is delicious and checks off a handful of nutrients for the day.
Sodium tends to get a bad reputation, and a lot of foods are villainized for their sodium content. However, when it comes down to it, sodium – in the right amount – is essential to the body for regulating blood pressure, maintaining the proper fluid balance, and transmitting nerve pulses.
The average person under 50 years old should consume anywhere from 1,500-2,300mg of sodium a day, while those over 50 should take in 1,200-1,300mg (Source).
Of course, this number varies if you have higher blood pressure, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your intake if you have certain health requirements.
Vegan diets, on the whole, especially those based mostly on whole, nutritious foods instead of packaged products, tend to be low in sodium. A lower-sodium diet will keep blood pressure in a healthy range and will decrease a person’s risk for heart disease.
The sodium content of seitan will vary somewhat depending on a few factors – whether or not the seitan is packaged or homemade, what brand of ready-made seitan, what you season or marinate it with, etc.
A 3-ounce portion of seitan can have anywhere from 170-320mg of sodium, but you can keep this on the lower side by making your seitan at home and choosing to use lower-sodium ingredients, or by reading the package and picking a lower-sodium variety.
Ultimately, it’s the total intake for your day that matters.
Seitan is a great addition to a healthy diet because of its impressive nutritional profile and micronutrients, but you’ll want to keep an eye on your daily intake to make sure you’re in a healthy sodium range for the day – your heart will thank you!
Contrary to what you might think, bananas don’t hold the monopoly on potassium.
This essential electrolyte helps maintain a normal water balance between the cells and body fluids – that’s why it’s touted as an addition to sports drinks for athletes.
A diet high in potassium also keeps your heart healthy by lowering blood pressure and keeping your heart beating. It’s recommended that the average person consumes about 4,700mg of potassium.
A 3-ounce portion of seitan has a pinch of potassium – about 30mg or ~1% of your total potassium intake for the day.
However, like lots of nutrients, you don’t have to focus on getting a huge amount of potassium all at once.
The small amounts of potassium will add up throughout the day, so when you combine seitan with high-potassium foods like beans and potatoes, you’ll get that much closer to your daily recommended intake of this electrolyte.
If not from milk and cheese, where do vegans get their calcium?
The dairy industry would have you believe that you can only get strong, healthy bones and teeth through the consumption of milk products, but the truth is, plant-based sources of calcium are just as effective.
In fact, a study on the bone differences in people who consumed dairy vs. plant-based calcium found no differences in the strength and structure of bone between the two groups. You can read a full study about calcium balance in vegan diets here.
Our standard 3-ounce portion of seitan provides about 2% of your daily recommended intake of calcium. Combine seitan with dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and fortified pasta and grains to up your calcium intake while getting a hefty dose of protein from the seitan.
Two percent of your intake may not sound like much, but like iron, calcium is most efficiently absorbed in small doses throughout the day rather than flooding your system with it all at once.
Your portion of seitan will be just a piece of the entire intake for the day.
Potassium has bananas; fiber has whole grains, but it seems like no one has found a way to make poor magnesium popular.
Despite its B-list treatment in the food world, magnesium is an important nutrient for human health, and many health professionals argue that it is the single most important nutrient.
What makes magnesium so essential? It’s a key part of over 300 chemical reactions taking place in your body, from maintaining energy to maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels.
Magnesium has also been shown to slow progression of pre-diabetes and can help people protect themselves against the disease.
A hard working nutrient for the little spotlight it gets!
Our 3-ounce portion of seitan contains about 2% of your daily intake of magnesium. Eat it with whole grains, nuts, or sesame seeds to up the magnesium content of your meal as a whole.
If seitan needed a tagline, it would probably be something along the lines of “come for the taste and protein, stay for the nutrients!”
Seitan is more than just a chewy, meaty texture and a good source of protein – each portion is also bursting with lots of the essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
Next time you’re bored of tofu, are looking for a protein that will impress your meat-loving uncle, or are looking to get healthy protein, vitamins, and minerals for just a few calories, reach for seitan!
It truly is a wonder food for vegans and non-vegans alike.