The Truth: Is Sourdough Bread Healthy All the Time

Sourdough boasts many health benefits, including its ability to unlock nutritional content. Even so, is sourdough bread healthy in your particular circumstance? Have you noticed your gut feeling bloated or off after eating sourdough? Let's look at the sourdough health benefits and why some people don't tolerate it well. I hope this helps you understand if sourdough is the healthiest choice for you right now. If it is, know that you are giving yourself excellent nutrition by consuming sourdough bread. If you need help finding the best way to care for your body, this will help you find the best way to care for your body.

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical practitioner, and this article is not meant to prescribe or diagnose any health condition. Please see your personal medical practitioner to discuss your diet and health-related questions.

What Is Sourdough Bread

Stuck at home in the quarantine of 2020, many returned to making their own bread. Grocery store shelves became bare. With the sudden absence of commercial yeast on store shelves, homemakers taught themselves the age-old art of making bread using a sourdough starter. This post will share more about the science and how to make your own einkorn flour sourdough starter. Let's go over the basics of sourdough starter and why it works.

Sourdough bread is any bread raised with fermented grains instead of commercial yeast. The fermentation of flour is often referred to as wild yeast. You may be more familiar with fermented food such as yogurt, wine, or cheese. When water and flour mix, the flour enzymes break down long starch molecules into simple sugars. This is a banquet feast for the organisms! The resulting product of their feast is lactic acid bacteria that causes bubbles to form, thus giving rise to dough when mixed in.

But wait! There's another acid to consider. The acid that gives sourdough bread that tangy taste is acetic acid. You could say more acetic acid is produced when sourdough is in its “hybernation” state. Acetic acid is also a by-product of organisms eating their supper. However, this acid comes to more fruition when the sourdough is refrigerated or kept in a cool environment. In addition, it peaks when the sourdough is fed more sparingly.

During fermentation, yeast feasts on the resulting maltose, creating carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide gas then gives the bread its rise. Ta da! Sourdough's job is still to raise dough, but it is naturally created because of the organisms found on grains. It's the natural yeasts or “wild” yeast. When the dough is left with the right amount of organisms and grain, they are fantastic at creating a product that will beautifully rise in the oven: sourdough bread.

Wild Yeast vs. Conventional Yeast

Now that we've looked at wild yeast let's compare it to conventional yeast. While wild yeast, which makes sourdough bread, comes from several strains of bacteria and yeast organisms, traditional yeast is manufactured as a separate single strain of yeast focused on feeding on the sugars in the dough.

Remember, natural yeast's job is to break down long starch molecules into a more digestible form. I like the way Bread SRSLY explains it:

When yeast acts on flour, it converts natural grain sugars and starches into carbon dioxide, which creates air pockets that make the dough rise. Wild yeast cultures go even further, using healthy lactobacilli bacteria to convert proteins (like gluten) into lactic acid that gives sourdough its flavor.

Bread SRSLY

Conventional yeasts are also often GMO foods unless otherwise specified. Soon, we'll go further into the effects that yeast can have to encourage unbalance in the gut flora. For now, know that the health benefits of sourdough bread protect the body from the unbalance in gut flora which commercial yeast tends to encourage.

Why Is Sourdough Bread Healthy

I've come to recognize that many of the healthiest foods are simply those closest to how God made them in nature. When one takes a single strain of yeast and manufactures it in a factory for making bread, it DOESN'T give health benefits. The following are the health benefits of sourdough bread. NOT yeasted bread. Not regular bread at the grocery store. Why is sourdough bread healthy? This is why.

Read the ingredients list on a grocery store loaf of whole grain breads, and you'll notice vitamins and minerals are added. If whole grains are so healthy, why do they need to add extra nutrients? First, white flour has next to no nutrients following its refinement from whole wheat flour. On the other hand, while whole grain flour has some nutrients, our bodies can't break them down to a usable form. Enter the phytic acid.

Sourdough Fermentation Process Breaks Down Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient found in grains (and seeds, nuts, and legumes) that binds to minerals inside your digestive tract. Unless your body contains a good amount of the phytase enzyme, the minerals can't be used by your body.

Here's the good news. Wild yeast in sourdough starter works to break down the phytic acid in the dough as it rises. A lower ph is also instrumental in this process.

This study shares results of how sourdough starters will break down the phytic acid, and this explains how it also retains mineral absorption.

This means your body can use many more nutrients than it can from regular bread!

Another way to forgo the effects of phytic acid is to use einkorn wheat. The ancient grain einkorn (the original wheat) contains half the amount of phytic acid compared to modern-day wheat. If you're looking for a sourdough loaf that gives you the most nutrition your body CAN use: bake it with einkorn. I'll talk more about that below.

Sourdough Increases Nutrient Absorption

Just as the presence of phytic acid stops nutrients from being used by our bodies, the presence of phytase does the opposite.

Phytase is the enzyme that breaks down the phytic acid, allowing our bodies to utilize nutrients. Well, what natural leaven increases the amount of phytase in breads? You got it: sourdough! Sourdough bread lowers the level of phytic acid. Then it helps your body to take in essential nutrients such as b vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. Much of this is done through the enzyme phytase.

Talk about healthy bread. Even amino acids availability is higher in sourdough bread!

Sourdough Bread Lowers Gluten Content

What about gluten? Does gluten cause problems in sourdough bread? In recent years many have committed to a gluten-free diet for weight loss. Others have been diagnosed with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Gluten has undoubtedly played a massive part in those pursuing a healthy diet.

One thing that makes Sourdough one of the healthiest breads is it can help with digestion for those sensitive to gluten (myself included). Think of it as predigestion by the fermentation process. Fermented sourdough starter has been shown to lower the amount of short-chain carbohydrates, which are often the most significant irritation for those with sensitivities.

As for gluten, this study showed how a long fermentation process with specific fungi and bacteria eliminates toxic levels of gluten in wheat flour.

This is excellent news! Perhaps one day, particular strains of bacteria will be made that completely detoxify gluten levels for celiac patients. Until then, know that wild yeast does lower the gluten levels but not enough to completely prevent a reaction for those with coeliac disease. If you have coeliac disease, stay safe and stick to gluten-free sourdough bread.

Sourdough Bread Helps Balance Blood Sugar Levels

While regular bread will make blood glucose levels soar, sourdough balances blood glucose levels. It can help satiation after eating and give promise to those who need to watch their blood sugar levels. 

This study found that the glycemic load (sugar level) lowered in mice. Most likely, this is from the short-chain fatty acids and dietary fiber. They've found many reasons why this bread is suitable for those with blood pressure issues, heart disease, insulin resistance, and diabetic issues.

A whole grain bread's glycemic index is significantly lowered when made with sourdough.

Natural Yeasts Are Better Tolerated Than Baker's Yeast

Baker's yeast, consisting of one-celled yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, is often not tolerated well by the digestive tract. Research can't tell me why, but it does follow the general rule that foods found closer to their natural state tend to work better with our bodies. Many have found natural yeasts of sourdough starter help breads digest better.

Natural Yeasts Increase Good Bacteria

One of sourdough bread's most prominent health benefits is its ability to maintain a healthy digestive system. Want to increase your body's good bacteria? Eat whole-grain sourdough bread. Want to keep your immune system strong? Once again, eat bread made with a fermented sourdough starter.

A healthy gut has been linked to a healthy immune system. What needs to be better known is how sourdough bread can affect gut health.

Traditional sourdough bread is made with strains of bacteria and yeasts. One of the most important is lactic acid bacteria. Many strains exist that also happen to provide beneficial bacteria to your gut. The gut microbiome is its own ecosystem with many differing bacteria. We need many different types of bacteria in our guts for its overall health.

While that probiotic you take may give a few strains of good bacteria, sourdough bread provides your body with a more extensive amount. Yes, the healthy bacteria your gut needs can be found by eating a leavening agent. Crazy but true!

Is Sourdough Bread Healthy All the Time?

What if you notice your stomach doesn't agree with sourdough bread? What if this natural leaven isn't for you. Is sourdough bread healthy all the time? Here are the reasons you may not want to eat sourdough right now.

Fermentation Sensitivity

Yes, sensitivity to fermentation is a real thing. Here are a few symptoms of fermentation sensitivity.

  • bloating and indigestion
  • headache
  • rash

The ultimate cause of this sensitivity isn't the ferment itself but the histamines produced by ferments. Perhaps you've associated the word histamine with allergies. It's true that allergic responses are caused by histamines, but foods can also produce histamines.

Healthy individuals detox the histamines put out by fermented foods. Some people, though, may have low amine oxidase activity. This means they can't detox it.

Talk with a functional health practitioner if you've felt off after eating fermented foods, whether it be sourdough bread or yogurt. They can point you to diet and lifestyle healing for your gut and histamine reactions. You may be able to eat sourdough bread again.

Grocery Store Sourdough Bread

Before you close this tab, head to the grocery store and grab a sourdough loaf, there are a few things to consider.

  1. Many commercial breads, including sourdough breads (even if made with whole wheat flour), give different benefits than traditional sourdough bread. Often they're made with commercial yeast and just a bit of sourdough starter to give them a sour flavor. I look at the ingredients. Traditionally made sourdough bread shouldn't need to have a lot of ingredients.
  2. Most commercially made breads go through a shorter fermentation process for the good bacteria to work its magic. The most benefits are seen with a slow fermentation of sourdough.

The answer to this dilemma is a simple one. It's possible to find artisan-style sourdough loaves made using traditional methods at local bakeries. Best of all, you can create one of the healthiest breads in your own kitchen.

How To Eat the Healthiest Sourdough Bread

Now that you know what isn't healthy in sourdough bread let's see how to get the best health benefits.

Make Homemade Sourdough Bread

The simplest way to get the health benefits of sourdough bread is to make it yourself. As intimidating as it can sound, making sourdough bread is relatively easy. It consists of just a few ingredients. Here's my simplest einkorn sourdough bread recipe and my whole wheat bread recipe. Both contain these ingredients.

  1. Active Sourdough Starter
  2. Water
  3. Flour
  4. Salt

Use Whole Grain Einkorn Flour

I use einkorn wheat flour for my sourdough baking because einkorn is so much more nutritious to begin with. This is the original wheat. It's what our Biblical ancestors would have eaten. It contains high amounts of protein and half the amount of phytates to bind the nutrition. You can learn all about it HERE.

Even if you don't use einkorn, opt for whole wheat flour to unlock the best nutrition for your body.

Use a Long Fermentation Process

Let the bread dough rise for at least eight hours. I've let mine rise as long as 24 hours with success, but it will depend on the strength of your sourdough starter. The main reason is to allow for the breakdown of phytic acid and the good gut bacteria to grow. During this process, you'll see the dough rise.

The Truth: Sourdough Bread Is Healthy

Sourdough bread is healthy. There are some instances when it doesn't work well with a particular body. There are times it hasn't been made correctly. Overall, it produces the best health benefits when made with simple ingredients, whole grains, and left to rise for over eight hours.

Eating bread is one of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy gut. Not just any bread. Sourdough bread proves to surpass even whole grain breads and whole wheat bread for the healthiest bread award. Pass the regular bread and pick up a slice of sourdough bread. Your gut will thank you.

Answering the question "is sourdough bread really health all the time?" with examples from scientific studies. Plus tips on how to make it healthier using ancient grains.
krista dowding - motherhood truth author
Krista Dowding

Krista writes and films for her website, Hilltop In The Valley, from her Pacific northwest farmhouse on nurturing and nourishing the family. She loves to create recipes using the ancient grain einkorn and share about adoption life, homesteading for health, and investing in a faith-filled home.

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