How to Make Vital Wheat Gluten or Seitan

Recently on one of the whole food, plant based nutrition groups I follow on Facebook, there was a discussion about whether vital wheat gluten (also sometimes called seitan) is a "whole food."

A few people in the group didn't think it was.

Those people either did not do any research whatsoever or they have a very rigid definition of what a "whole food" is.

Seitan is technically a refined and processed product of ground whole wheat (flour) in that it is concentrated wheat protein with a lot of the starch removed. However, the refining and processing involved in making seitan is actually ridiculously simple. It involves making a rigid dough out of whole wheat flour (or bread flour, which has a higher gluten content) then soaking the dough in some more water to wash away the starch, which leaves chunks of gluten behind (SOURCE).

CLICK HERE to see how it's done.

Boom. Flour and water. That's all you need to make vital wheat gluten.

Now, is your homemade vital wheat gluten going to turn out like the exorbitantly overpriced seitan you buy in those tiny boxes at the store? Absolutely not. But the industrial process for making seitan is not any more complicated than that.

In my next post, I'll get into how to make tofu at home. Fun Fact: Tofu may even be a more refined and processed plant food than seitan, albeit only slightly.


A Recipe: WFPBNO Thai Coconut Pineapple Peanut Butter Curry

I have made this Thai coconut peanut butter curry recipe a few times. It's addictive. But it's also easy to make and very healthy from a WFPBNO perspective. It is a staple in our home. Delicious!

1. Make the coconut peanut butter curry sauce first. In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients:

-One can of full fat or light (if you're dieting) coconut milk
-1/4 cup of all natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, it makes no difference)
-2 TBSP of soy or tamari sauce
-2 or 3 TBSP of red curry paste (depending on how spicy you like it)
-1 tsp of curry powder (optional for even more warmth)
-1 TBSP of minced ginger root
-1 tsp of powdered ginger (use 1 TBSP of powdered ginger if you don't have minced)
-1 tsp of dried basil (Thai basil is optimal, but regular will work just fine)
-2 TBSP of coconut palm sugar (optional for sweetness...but this will make it non-WFPBNO compliant)

2. To a wok on high heat, add a half cup of vegetable broth and an assortment of the type of vegetables* you like in Thai curry, chopped up. Stir the veggies around in the simmering broth for about 3 to 5 minutes, adding more broth if needed to prevent scorching, until the vegetables begin to soften a little.

3. Pour in the coconut peanut butter curry sauce from Step 1. Reduce heat the medium when it starts to simmer. Stir frequently for another 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.

4. Near the end of cooking, add a cup of chopped up pineapple chunks to the curry and mix it in to blend the flavors. It doesn't need to be cooked.

5. Eat over rice, noodles, or as a standalone dish.

*Note: Some good options are onion, peppers, broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms, potato, sweet potato, butternut squash, eggplant, zucchini, etc. I have also added frozen peas at the end, giving them just enough cooking time to thaw.

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A Recipe: Tofu Cacciatore with Mushrooms - Vegan Whole Food Plant Based with No Oil and No Salt

This is a whole food, plant based, no oil/salt version of one of my favorite Italian meal recipes. It's conventionally made with chicken but super firm tofu works just fine because the flavor actually comes from the thyme and mushroom wine sauce. The end result is delicious.

1. In a large bowl, combine a half cup of whole wheat flour and a half teaspoon (tsp) each of the following dried herbs: leaf or ground thyme, leaf rosemary, and garlic powder.

2. Rinse (but don't dry) one block (~15 ounces) of super firm,* high protein tofu and chop it up into one inch cubes.

3. Add tofu to the large bowl containing the flour and herbs mixture and toss until tofu is lightly coated. Then remove the coated tofu chunks to another container and discard any residual flour mixture.**

4. In a large skillet, add one cup of veggie broth and one cup of red or white cooking wine, along with the same quantities of the herbs used in step #1. Bring this to a simmer on medium heat.

5. Add the lightly breaded tofu to the simmering broth and turn the heat to medium low. Note that the breading on the tofu will begin to thicken the broth. If it gets too thick and starts to scorch or stick, add more veggie broth to dilute as needed. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile...

6. In a separate frying pan, add a half cup of veggie broth and a half cup of red/white cooking wine, along with a half tsp of leaf thyme only. Bring this to a simmer.

7. While the broth in step #6 is heating up, chop up half an onion and about 8 ounces of mushrooms (white or baby bella work well). Add these to the simmering broth in step #6 and cook until onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes.***

8. Pour the mushroom sauce generated in step #7 over the tofu in the large saucepan and turn off the heat to the saucepan. Mix everything up a bit and let it sit about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.

9. Enjoy this as a standalone dish or serve over rice.

*Note: Super firm tofu is the dense, high protein kind that is firmer than extra firm and doesn't crumble. Extra firm tofu will probably disintegrate in this recipe. Seitan (wheat gluten) or textured vegetable protein (soy protein) would also work in place of tofu in this recipe.

**Note: The tofu can be cooked in the wine broth without breading it. However, this will result in a thinner, more runny broth. Some cornstarch can be added to the mushroom sauce near the end of cooking to thicken it up before adding it to the tofu in the saucepan. Experiment!

***Note: You can also use a mixture of diced zucchini and mushrooms to add more whole food vegetable content to this dish. Simply reduce the amount of mushrooms used relative to the amount of zucchini. Another variant is to add a diced roma tomato to the mushroom sauce, if you want to add more of a classic Italian tomato  sauce flavor to this dish.


A Recipe: Oil Free Vegan Southwest Tofu Breakfast Scramble - Super Easy!

I love this simple, tasty, whole food, plant-based recipe for a vegan, oil-free, southwest tofu breakfast scramble. The tofu is in place of scrambled eggs.


1/2 cup cheap red wine (you can also use red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, veggie broth, or a combination).
A bit of lime juice (optional).
1/2 tsp garam masala or curry powder.
1/2 tsp chili powder.
1/2 tsp ground black pepper.
1/2 tsp cumin.
1/2 tsp dried basil.
1/2 tsp ground thyme.
1/2 tsp dried rosemary.
1/2 tsp of turmeric.
salt to taste (optional).
ground cayenne pepper to taste (optional).
50 grams or so of mushrooms (chopped).
A russet potato (chopped).
A medium zucchini or yellow summer squash (chopped).
A medium red, yellow, or orange pepper (chopped).
A half cup of red, yellow, and/or white onion (chopped).
Note: You can chop and add additional veggies if you want!
Half a block (about 8-10 oz) of extra or super firm tofu mashed up with a potato masher.
100 grams of cooked red kidney beans (quasi-optional).

Add the herbs and spices to the red wine (with or without lime juice) and stir it all up.

Put all the veggies (but not the tofu and beans) in a big saucepan and pour the red wine sauce over them.

Crank the heat to high for 5 minutes to get the wine sauce boiling and stir frequently.

Add the tofu and beans, then immediately reduce heat to medium/low for 5 more minutes and stir frequently.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for a few more minutes until potatoes are cooked how you like them.

Eat it and enjoy,

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A Recipe: Oil Free WFPB Vegan Bean Chili

Today I refined my dad's infamous chili recipe to produce a delicious whole-food, plant-based, oil-free, vegan version, just in time for Easter.

1. To half a cup of cheap red wine, add the following herbs and spices: cumin (2-3 tsp), black pepper (3-4 tsp), garlic powder (2-3 tsp), chili powder (1-2 tsp), salt (to taste), and optionally basil, thyme, rosemary, ground red pepper (for heat), and/or curry powder (for earthiness, whatever that is...) to taste.

2. Chop up a few cups of your favorite chili veggies, but hold off on the sweet bell peppers for now. I like to use onion, celery, sweet potato, mushrooms, zucchini or yellow summer squash, and matchstick carrots at a minimum. Put the veggies in a large saucepan and pour in the wine sauce from Step 1. Put the pot on the stove and crank the heat on high for 5 minutes.

3. During the 5 minutes, chop up 2 or 3 sweet peppers and then add them to the fast simmering veggies. Stir them around. Simmer on high 3 more minutes.

4. During the 3 minutes, open a 15 ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes and dump the entire contents into the saucepan. Stir it all around. Then open two 15 ounce cans of any kind of beans you like, drain (but don't rinse) them, and add them to the saucepan. Stir them all around.

5. Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 30 more minutes.

That should yield you a decent amount of kickass chili. I'd keep the bottle of red wine handy in case your stove is hotter than mine and you need to lubricate the chili occasionally so it doesn't burn. Lubricate yourself too, if you like. Use common sense regarding what herbs to add to the wine sauce base, but the cumin, black pepper, and garlic powder (or real garlic) are must-haves, in my opinion. Optional add-ons would be some lentils (high protein substitute for ground beef) or vegan "fake" ground beef, such as the Gardein brand beefless ground crumbles, if you're feeding a group that includes omnivores. Note, the fake meat substitutes are often high in sugar, fat, and salt...though still better than animal foods from a health and ecological standpoint. So, adding them would not be strictly wfpbNO compliant.

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Have I Achieved Lasting Healthy Lifestyle Change?

I have been tracking my diet and exercise daily for the past six months (using the free Lose It app for my Android phone) as part of a successful gambit to lose 50 pounds. An exception to this is when I go on vacations. I allow myself full freedom to eat whatever and whenever I want, and the only exercise I usually get is from walking around seeing cool things at the places I visit.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I got back from a 6-day trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and found that I had not gained any weight at all. In fact, I had lost a pound.

That got me wondering, have I achieved lasting healthy lifestyle change?

I had heard about this concept of lasting healthy lifestyle change before, but I never thought it could happen to me. The idea is that when you do something consistently for long enough, it becomes second nature (or second order change, as we say in the vernacular of marriage and family therapy).

In addition to measuring my caloric intake each day, I guess I had also subconsciously started to make healthier choices about what kinds of food to eat. The logic was simply that by choosing to eat more fruits and vegetables, instead of junky caloric food, I could stay within my dietary guidelines set by my weight loss goal. I like to make and eat food. Fruits and veggies are lower in calories per unit weight, so I know that I can eat more of them on a given day without exceeding my calorie quota (set by the Lose It! Android app).

I don't know if I have achieved lasting healthy lifestyle change, but I may have.


Plant Based Diets

The corporate food industry does a pretty admirable, if diabolical, job of keeping important scientific information from consumers regarding the types of foods one should eat for optimal health. This is because a lot of money rides on getting people to ignore evidence-based dietary health advice and eat more "value-added" foods. 

"Value-addded" is  a fancy moniker for refined and processed foods, which mean more money in the pockets of food company shareholders when consumers eat them. That being said, value-added foods are not, in and of themselves, always harmful to human health. In fact, many minimally processed foods can be harmful to human health, especially if they are derived from animals. 

Take, for example, meat. Most meat is minimally processed in that the animals from which it is derived are fed optimal, yet artificial (as compared with their natural diets), foods designed to develop the animal's muscle tissue in such a way as to make it appealing to humans, so they will eat it. For example, beef cattle are fed corn* because it's cheap. This adds value to the corn by turning it into much more expensive cuts of meat. The muscle tissue is then rendered from the carcasses in slaughter houses, refrigerated, sometimes mechanically ground and/or treated with chemicals, and packaged, adding still more value to the meat. Such processing can be pretty basic and still increase the food's value immensely. 

We know from the scientific research on diet that meat consumption is strongly correlated with poor health outcomes and premature death, even after controlling for confounding factors like caloric intake (meat is more calorie dense) and lifestyle factors (smoking, exercise, etc.). It's also true that the more processed meat is (cured meat, for example), the worse it is for health. Conversely, a plant-based diet that contains little to no animal-based foods (including dairy) has been clearly linked to longevity and a reduction in the incidence of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. This is true even though many completely plant-derived foods, such as sugar and flour (even tofu!), are highly processed and refined (to add value) by comparison to the processing and refinement that happens to meat-based foods. 

The current scientific evidence strongly suggests that the degree of refinement and processing of a food is less of a predictor of health outcomes than whether a food is plant- or animal-derived. Another confounding factor is that many dietary food components are significantly correlated ("fries and soda with that cheeseburger?"). That is to say, people who eat a lot of meat generally do not eat meat exclusively, and meat-heavy meals are often supplemented with plant-based foods, often highly refined and processed. So, in any diet in which meat is consumed, epidemiological studies are likely to show adverse health outcomes linked to both the meat in the diet as well as the refined/processed plant-based foods in the diet. This is why studies of diet and health have to be really large to be able to tease out these slight statistical nuances, and it is also why the food industry can reasonably question and critique any scientific studies that purport to show adverse health consequences from their precious value-added foods. 

As a result, some of the most compelling studies on the role of diet in health are the ones that look at overall dietary patterns in large groups of people (population studies), rather than individual foods, and then use factor analysis to determine statistically the effects on health of particular food groups (beef, poultry, fish, dairy, whole grains, nuts, oils, sugars, fruits, and vegetables, etc.) within those dietary patterns. It is studies like these that have given us the Paleolithic, Mediterranean, Okinawan, Standard American, Vegan, Vegetarian, and other dietary patterns that we hear about in the media. Studies like these also have the advantage of being conducted with humans, rather than in mouse or rat models of diet (humans eat very differently than mice and rats, so it is literally like comparing apples to oranges...pun intended). These studies clearly link plant-based diets to better overall health outcomes in humans than meat/dairy-based diets. Factor analysis reveals that greater animal-derived foods in the diet are the main contrbutors to poorer health outcomes and death. Starchy, salty, oily junk food also correlates with poorer health outcomes, even when such foods are plant-based (potato chips and French fries, for example), but this effect is strongly linked to the greater consumption of meat in diets that have a high consumption of junk food. Junk food is so highly refined and processed that a consumer cannot get enough of the required nutrients (mainly protein) for survival without eating high-protein animal-based foods as well (in general). The mechanism of action of many of the effects of diet on health is inflammation in the body, which is beyond the scope of this post.

Note: Other corn by-products are oils, sweeteners, and food additives that increase the caloric content, flavor, and shelf-life of other foods to which they are added.

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