Is Seitan a Complete Protein?

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Seitan, a dense, chewy vegan protein made from wheat gluten, has an impressive nutritional profile – at nearly 20g of protein per 3 oz portion, it is often compared in taste and nutrition to lean meats.

However, one cannot live on seitan alone – while insanely delicious, seitan by itself is not a complete protein.


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What Do You Mean “a Complete Protein”?

Protein itself is made up of building blocks called “amino acids” – there are 20 of these amino acids that make up the whole protein, 11 of which our awesome bodies can create on their own.

The other nine are referred to as “essential amino acids”, since we must consume them through food, and include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Food (or a combination of foods) that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids is referred to as a complete protein, and we hear a lot of buzz about complete proteins when people talk about plant-based nutrition.

However, what’s usually misunderstood about complete proteins is that you don’t need every single bite of every meal to be a complete protein – much like protein intake in general, what matters is your amino acid intake per day.

So, while seitan isn’t a complete protein on its own, it’s no cause for concern – it can be combined with other foods to make up for the missing amino acids, or simply as part of your amino acid intake for the day.

Which Essential Amino Acids Does Seitan Have?

Lucky for us, seitan contains 8 of the nine essential amino acids, and only requires the addition of lysine to turn it into a complete protein.

One measly amino acid to fill in – does it get any easier than that?

A Little About Lysine

The average human needs 13.6mg of lysine per pound of body weight per day – so, a 150-pound person needs around 2,045mg daily.

Lysine plays a key role in converting body fat to energy, absorbing calcium, and producing collagen.  Lucky for us, many popular vegan foods are also excellent sources of lysine and, even better, they go great with chewy, meaty seitan.

A cup of cooked lentils provides 1,247mg of lysine – that’s over half the recommended daily amount for a 150-pound person!

Similarly, a half-cup of firm tofu clocks in at 582mg of lysine, and a quarter-cup of crunchy dry-roasted almonds provides 411mg of lysine.

Tasty Complete Protein Combos

With its savory flavor and meaty texture, seitan is a delicious vegetarian protein that will satisfy your needs for a hearty meal. It’s easy to create simple combinations with seitan that will ensure you’re getting all the necessary amino acids for a healthy body.

Here are just a few ideas for seitan-based complete proteins:

  • Combine cubed seitan with cooked lentils, mushrooms, carrots, and vegetable broth for a warming beefy stew to eat over potatoes or rice.
  • Slice seitan thinly and cook in a pan with thinly sliced tofu, peppers, onions, and spices for vegan “mixed grill” fajitas.
  • Stir fry strips of seitan with broccoli, roasted almonds, and soy sauce. Serve over piping-hot rice.

With the addition of only a single amino acid needed to turn seitan into a complete protein, it’s easier than you think to make sure you’re getting all the essential amino acids on a vegan diet.

As you research, cook, and eat, remember that if you’re eating a plant-based diet full of colors and variety, you’re more than likely to be reaching all your amino acid needs for the day.

However, if you want to take out a little insurance and ensure you’re getting a complete protein at each meal, try one of the hearty combinations above to delight your body as well as your taste buds.

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