4 Good Reasons Not to Eat Seitan

June 22, 2017
Seitan - Dr. Axe

Often called “wheat protein,” “wheat meat” or “wheat gluten,” seitan (pronounced say-tahn) has a look and texture shockingly similar to meat when it’s cooked, and its alternative namesakes are quite fitting since it’s made from gluten, the main protein found in wheat. Most of the commonly consumed meat substitutes are made from soy, but seitan does not contain any soy whatsoever. Are you still wondering: What is seitan? It’s literally one ingredient: wheat gluten.

If you have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten leads to significant damage to the small intestine, then you absolutely want to steer clear of seitan. If you’re sensitive to gluten, you’ll also want to avoid it. What about everyone else? Wheat gluten is a highly allergenic protein, which is why I strongly believe that seitan is not truly a health food and should be avoided by not only gluten avoiders, but everyone — and following are four reasons why.

4 Reasons to Not Eat Seitan

1. Gluten City

So again, seitan is the gluten component of wheat. It’s purely gluten. So for anyone who has celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or is just generally looking to reduce the amount of gluten in his or her diet, this is not a food you want to eat.

Gluten-free recipes are super popular these days. Everyone seems to be trying to reduce gluten intake. People are even cutting out food products that have very small amounts of gluten. Well, seitan is atop of the list when it comes to gluten-heavy foods. You literally can’t get more gluten-centric than a meat substitute purely made from wheat gluten.

2. Not a Complete Protein

Seitan and lean meat may have similar amounts of protein, but they’re by no means equatable. Seitan does not contain all of the essential amino acids while meat contains all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need to function. Seitan might be a protein food, but it cannot be classified as a complete protein. (1)

Why are amino acids important? Our bodies require amino acids in order to create proteins that repair body tissue, enable growth and break down food. Amino acids also assist with muscle control, muscle tissue formation and protection of the body’s nervous system. In addition, they increase the production of growth hormones in the body, such as testosterone. It’s clearly highly important that we all consume foods rich in amino acids on a regular basis.

3. Allergy Promoting?

Seitan recently made a recent list of “7 Foods a Nutritionist Would Never Eat.” Many health experts stay away from seitan because, like me, they really don’t believe it to be a healthy form of protein. Wheat gluten is a highly allergenic protein. When you consume most wheat-centric products, like wheat bread, there is naturally going to be a small amount of wheat gluten present. What’s more concerning is when you see “wheat gluten” added to the bread. This definitely means that the gluten content is higher. Commercial bakers typically like to add a lot of extra gluten to their products, especially whole wheat breads, since whole wheat flour has a lower gluten density than white flour.

When it comes to seitan, you just get a mega dose of wheat gluten. There might not be seitan-specific research yet, but it’s hypothesized that eating gluten-heavy foods like seitan may increase gluten allergies and gluten intolerance symptoms. If you don’t already have a problem with gluten or wheat, you certainly don’t want to consume anything to promote one.

Once you have a food allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat, whenever you consume a product containing these ingredients it’s going to trigger inflammation in your body — and as I always try to remind my readers, inflammation is at the root of most diseases.

4. High Sodium Content

Most people who eat seitan probably don’t make it at home. They most likely eat it at restaurants or buy it pre-made at the store. This seitan is almost definitely an ultra-processed food. These highly processed versions are typically hazardously high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and a host of other health problems.

For example, a half cup of one pre-made seitan contains 576 milligrams of sodium. (2) That’s about 25 percent of your daily allowance right there. These overly processed seitans typically contain other filler ingredients that may or may not be bad for your health (like sugar). So unless someone is making seitan at home, it most likely is going to be loaded with unhealthy additives, and that’s not healthy for anyone, especially if you already struggle with hypertension or heart problems.


Four reasons not to eat seitan - Dr. Axe


What Is Seitan + Seitan Nutrition

Seitan is a word of Japanese origin that when roughly translated it means “made of proteins.” It’s created by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving only the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic, taffy-like mass. This mass is then cut into pieces and cooked before being eaten. That’s seitan. It truly is straight-up wheat gluten. It’s quite dense, which makes it more similar to meat than the other meatless proteins, and it has a neutral flavor and tends to absorb flavors well.

Vital wheat gluten is the natural protein found in wheat. It’s commonly used to create seitan. It’s also used in bread recipes — it’s what makes the bread rise. Historically, seitan has been very common in Japan and China as well as other East and Southeast Asian countries. It’s said that wheat gluten came about as an edible product when it was first used as an ingredient for Chinese noodles in the sixth century. (3)

Commercial production of this form of wheat gluten began in 1962 by the Marushima Shoyu Co., which created its seitan product for George Ohsawa and his students. (4) Ohsawa is the founder of the Macrobiotic diet and philosophy. Today, you can easily find seitan in vegetarian dishes in China and around the world. It’s especially popular as a meat substitute for Buddhist vegetarians. 

Unless you make it from scratch, the majority of seitan that you buy in stores or eat out at restaurants contains some other ingredients in addition to gluten. Spices are common ingredients in seitan, which isn’t concerning, but other fillers can be added as well. Some may be healthy, but some may not be so healthy. An example of one product sold as “seitan” contains: water, vital wheat gluten, red beans, sprouted lentils, brown sugar, sea salt, spices and garlic.

Pure vital wheat gluten has one ingredient — wheat gluten— and a quarter cup contains about: (5)

  • 120 calories
  • 4 grams carbohydrates
  • 23 grams protein
  • 0.5 gram fat
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 1.8 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
  • 20 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)

Seitan nutrition is really only impressive for its protein content and decent iron content, but it’s really not a health food, as I’ve laid out.

In addition, one ounce of most vital wheat gluten contains about: (6)

  • 104 calories
  • 3.9 grams carbohydrates
  • 21 grams protein
  • 0.5 gram fat
  • 0.2 gram fiber
  • 11.1 micrograms selenium (16 percent DV)
  • 1.5 milligrams iron (8 percent DV)
  • 72.8 milligrams phosphorus (7 percent DV)
  • 39.8 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
  • 7 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram zinc (2 percent DV)

Better Alternatives to Seitan 

Tempeh is a much better meatless protein source than seitan because it’s actually health-promoting. What is tempeh? It’s a traditional fermented soy food originating from Indonesia. Whole soybeans are soaked, dehulled and partly cooked before going through a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that then binds the soybeans into a cake form. This tempeh cake is then typically cut into slices or cubes before use. Tempeh’s fermentation process and use of the whole soybean give it a higher content of protein vitamins and minerals.

If you come across some delicious-sounding seitan recipes, tempeh can make a great substitute for that glutenous seitan. When you’re considering tempeh vs. tofu, always choose tempeh. Unfermented soy products like tofu are extremely health-hazardous. It’s the fermentation process that can make soy a health food, as is the case with tempeh.

Another better alternative to vital wheat gluten is the fermented soy superfood known as natto. The key this fermented food’s health benefits is that very fermentation. Natto is created by soaking whole soybeans, then steaming or boiling them, and afterward adding the bacteria Bacillus subtilis to the mixture. It’s then allowed to ferment over time. Natto definitely has a smell (like cheese) and a texture (very gooey) that can be hard to get used to for some, but once you do get accustomed to natto’s uniqueness, it can become an excellent source of protein in your next meal.

Traditionally in Japan, natto is a eaten at breakfast along with rice, miso soup and fish. One of the easiest and most common ways to include natto in your diet is to add it to rice dishes after cooking so you don’t destroy the good bacteria. You can also add it to salads and noodle dishes. Natto adds not only vegan-approved protein to a meal, but it also adds a very unique flavor, probiotics, and many vital nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B6.

Final Thoughts on Seitan

Seitan may be free of meat and also free of soy, but it’s made of something else that so many people are trying to avoid for the sake of their health these days: gluten. You can’t find a more gluten-centric food than seitan, which is purely wheat gluten. If you have a wheat allergy, gluten allergy or both, seitan is truly a dangerous choice of protein for you.

If you don’t have these allergies already, seitan might bring them on since wheat gluten is such a highly allergenic food. If you are a meat eater, you’re much better off sticking with high-quality meat like grass-fed beef, which is a complete protein (unlike seitan) providing your body with essential amino acids as well as anti-inflammatory fatty acids. If you don’t eat meat, I really hope you will turn to healthier meatless options like tempeh or natto.

Seitan may provide protein and a couple of nutrients, but it’s way too commonly allergy-promoting and often overly processed to be considered a healthy option.

Read Next: What Is Tofu? 8 Reasons to Not Eat This ‘Healthy’ Vegan Product

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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  1. Erin Glasser on

    Wow. Biased much? No mention of the dangers of soy. No proof that Seitan can cause allergies in people without current gluten allergies. We can’t all eat soy. The most popular brand of Seitan sold in grocery stores, Westsoy, does not have any negative additives that you seem to be trying to scare people with. It could’ve been an informative and helpful article that you used weird scare tactics instead. Crappy journalism

    • Paul on

      I hear ya! This article demonizes an otherwise healthy meat alternative and encourages fear. It’s extremely and unnecessarily negative

  2. Paul on

    Many people thrive on wheat and gluten, the only amino missing in gluten is lysine which is introduced when the gluten is cooked in soy sauce, making seitan a complete protein food. You obviously love soy and hate gluten. I love gluten and hate soy. Soy has a large hormonal impact on humans as I unfortunately have discovered. In short I agree to disagree with you that gluten and seitan are unhealthy. The wheat /gluten hysteria is out of control.

  3. Dee on

    I think it’s really misleading to say that meat is a complete protein when scientific research says the exact opposite. Vegetables are complete proteins. Do some more research love, if you want people to be healthy they shouldn’t eat animal flesh, nor by products, at all.

  4. Jaye on

    Tell you what, I’ll stick to my plant-based diet and you take your pound of dead rotting flesh from the food companies who have a vested interest in the content of your ‘ nutrition’ course.

  5. Michelle on

    You’re actually saying people shouldn’t eat seitan because they might be allergic?? Should we by ear peanuts either? Come on, aside from the very, very few actual celiacs out there, very few people have adverse reactions to gluten and the whole gluten free thing is a fad created by (predominantly) one book. Check your facts instead of writing things like “probably” and “a study”. Who’s study? How many in the cohort group? Seriously, shame shame. How about writing about if it’s not a complete protein here’s how to complete it?

    • PJG on

      I agree this article sucks, but you are full of BS yourself. Check your facts instead of writing things like “the whole gluten free thing is a fad”. Who decided that? You? What corner of your rectum did you pull that “fact” from?? Seriously, shame shame. How about writing about if it’s a fad here’s how you “know” it?

  6. Tony on

    What a ridiculous article. There’s nothing wrong with eating gluten if you don’t have an intolerance to it. Period.

    I get it’s ‘trendy’ to go gluten free for no other reason than because it’s the current food fad. Blogs like this are instilling a nervousness about food that people who don’t know better take as the truth. When it’s not.

  7. Candace on

    Still waiting on reasons why not to eat seitan. Stupidest article I have ever read. Dr. Axe is obviously an uninformed critic, as I see his next article is on why not to eat tofu, both seitan and tofu has been eaten for centuries. He could at least attempt to write a decent article, stating the sparse “facts” twice, one in a colored box with bold font may make the article longer, but only by repetition. Total waste of time.

  8. Bob on

    Did you really just say that seitan was not a complete protein because a lack of amino acids? Then try to infer it’s better to eat meat simply because it has amino acids!? Jeez how bout you mention the hundreds of anti biotics as well as other chemicals that are fed to animals that people then consume? Animals are the number one consumer of gmo foods! Your article on the soybean being the root of all evil specifically says how everyone should avoid gmos! I guess it’s a good mix of rotting animal flesh and chemicals that equal a healthy mix! Fear mongering at its finest!

  9. Jayjay on

    Funny! Autoimmune disorders are often caused by animal products. Inflammation is awful, I agree, however meat and dairy cause inflammation in our bodies. I eat a plant based diet now and my autoimmune disorder is in remission (because they say there’s no cure) and I eat things I once thought I couldn’t, like gluten! I make my own seitan and enjoy it a couple times a week! No more bloating, cramps, or digestive issues! Re-took some tests at my Drs office and she was surprised! She explain that because I had inflammation from meat and dairy my body was overworked trying to fix it that when I ate foods containing gluten it was too much for my body to handle. Wheat and/or gluten is not a problem for me any longer! Also you referenced a article to not eat tofu..not going to bother since it’s most likely poorly written with lack of evidence. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism years ago and was on meds for 10 years and avoided all the bad foods like soy but went plant based and soy is a stable from milk, yogurt, and tofu. Guess what?? I no longer need meds!! My thyroid functions normally now…..wonder why that is?? Dairy contains way more hormones that soy, why not write an article about the dangers of having cow breast milk? I am in no way saying that everyone who eats a plant based diet will have similar outcomes, but overall is the healthiest! My sister reduced her thyroid meds from 125mcg to 88mcg so I wonder is soy really the one that disrupts?

  10. seez on

    So much bullshit misinformation on one page! How about stop being a fucking parasite; leaching the resources of the planet as efficiently as possible and dragging down anyone who suggests otherwise and just let people eat plants?!?

  11. SEAN on

    This is a deceptive article. Seitan is only missing 1 amino acid that is found in meat. Lysine can be obtained from other non meat sources. (Nuts, broccoli, tofu) It doesn’t even need to be eaten at the same meal.

  12. Sandy Weaver on

    Seitan has more than one ingredient. If you buy a clean source of wheat gluten and you don’t have a problem with gluten it’s actually a good clean source of protein introduced by the little known but healing macrobiotic diet. I make my own seitan and I also put with it, among other things, garbanzo bean flour. So you are spreading mis-information about what it really is.

    Soy with it’s estrogenic properties can be cancer causing.

  13. rachel on

    pfff! I totally disagree with this article.
    – eat seitan accompanied by lentils or red beans+ rice and vegetables and you have all the amino acid needed.
    – when there is no allergy to gluten, there is no risk to eat it.
    -you can make your own seitan and it won’t be loaded of bad things

    besides nobody eats seitan on a daily basis, but bread or other things like that yes.
    People can alternate with tofu, legumes (lentils, red beans …), nuts etc …

  14. Doyouknowwhogobloxis Eyewilltellyouwhogobloxis on

    You are fueling the fatty meat eating fires. Most people have no problems with gluten and those who do are full of if

  15. Jim on

    Gee thanks, now I’m off to take out my frustrations from reading your repetitive, fact-free clickbait by eating an extra large portion of seitan.

  16. Ray on

    At least you admit there is zero evidence for these claims and only that “people hypothesize” blah blah blah. And this coming from the guy stating there’s even such thing as “leaky gut syndrome” which doesn’t exist. You really just need to go away.

  17. Olga on

    Sounds like a personal preference.
    I’m mildly intolerant to chicken – does that make eating chicken allergy promoting?
    It doesn’t have ALL amino acids, but has some! No one would eat JUST seitan and hope for the best. Just like no one would eat just tempeh.

  18. Minda on

    1. A lot of people are allergic.
    So what? Are peanuts unhealthy because “a lot of people are allergic”. One of the most shocking things about the number of gluten intolerant people is that there symptoms seem to improve even in placebo groups. Meaning some people have improvement in symptoms while still eating gluten. I’m not saying no one is allergic, I’m saying the numbers are exaggerated.

    2. It’s not a complete protein. So what? The only why that’s possibly a problem is if you only eat seitan. If you know these people, please let us know. If you are eating a healthy variety of foods. No problem.

    3. BUT PEOPLE ARE ALLERGIC! See number one. Your 4 reasons are really 3.

    4. It can contain salt. So do all processed foods? Duh? One of the cheapest ways for producers of products sold by weight, like chicken, beef, pork etc is to inject them with salt water, to make them weight more. If you’re worried about you let sodium intake, make your own. Problem solved.

    This is a poor list of arguments.

  19. seitanist on

    so in other words, if you don’t have Celiac disease, eat other amino acids, and watch your salt, seitan is totally fine. Well this article actually convinced me to eat more seitan thanks


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