In a world where passing on the bread basket is the trend, sourdough stands out. More and more people are talking about it, baking it, and eating it. Not only does sourdough have a unique tangy taste, it’s unique in its relationship to out health. In comparison to the average loaf of grocery store bread, sourdough bread is actually full of good things your standard loaf might be missing.
A few years ago, a friend of mine gifted me some sourdough starter she had made. To this day, it’s easily one of the very best gifts I’ve received. It became a game changer for me when I moved out of New York City to a place where it’s difficult to find and buy good bread. I now bake sourdough bread regularly and I honestly can’t tell you the last time I bought a loaf of bread. Not only has this saved me money, I truly feel healthier eating good sourdough bread on the regular. If you’re unfamiliar with sourdough and so many of its rich health benefits, here are just a handful. I have a feeling they might make you a convert, too.
FACT: It’s the oldest form of leavened bread.
Sourdough bread dates back to 1,500 BC in ancient Egypt. It was the only form of leavened bread that existed until just a few centuries ago when commercial yeast became available. That means we’ve been eating this leavened bread longer than any others. It’s such an old form of leavened bread and really hasn’t changed much with modernization so it’s really one of the most unprocessed breads we can eat. Studies have shown that more processed foods are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and generally can increase your risk of mortality so something as unprocessed as sourdough bread is naturally healthy choice.
FACT: It’s good for gut health.
The sourdough starter that causes sourdough bread to rise is full of living bacteria. Don’t be alarmed though — it’s all good bacteria! The starter is rich in both prebiotics and probiotics. While the probiotics don’t survive the high heat of the oven when sourdough bread is baked, prebiotics do. The bacteria in our guts feed on these prebiotics and help produce nutrients for our bodies that lead to a healthier digestive system.
Go beyond food for total gut health: 8 Ways to Improve Gut Health That Aren’t Probiotics
FACT: It’s easier to digest.
Since the starter used to make sourdough bread is rich in good bacteria, when sourdough bread dough is rising, the bacteria actually works to ferment the flour in the dough and pre-digest it. That means by the time the loaf is baked and we’ve cut ourself a slice, the wheat is easier to digest than conventional bread.
So if you have trouble digesting conventional bread, you might not have a problem eating sourdough bread. This is also an important fact for those with gluten sensitivity. While sourdough bread does indeed still contain gluten and is not appropriate for those who are celiac, the fermentation process does break down some of the gluten proteins and makes it easier to digest than other gluten products.
FACT: It contains more nutrients.
Once again this is thanks to good bacteria and fermentation. When the sourdough starter breaks down the wheat, it also breaks down phytic acid, which is something that’s naturally found in wheat and actually blocks our bodies from absorbing many of its vitamins and minerals. Once degraded, we’re able to absorb good things like potassium, magnesium, zinc, and folate from the bread. For the most nutrients, opt for whole wheat sourdough bread.
FACT: It has a lower glycemic index than conventional bread.
Many conventional breads can cause blood sugar levels to spike quickly, leaving you with an energy crash soon after. However, because of the fermentation process used to make sourdough bread, many of the sugars and starches in the flour are broken down and eaten up by the natural yeasts so there is much less left in the baked bread than a conventional loaf. That means sourdough bread’s glycemic index — the number given to foods that measures how the carbohydrates in them affect blood glucose levels — is lower. So rather than having your blood sugar spike when you eat a slice of sourdough bread, it will remain much steadier, preventing an energy crash.
FACT: It’s best to buy from a bakery rather than the grocery store.
Not all sourdough bread is created equally. While it’s readily available at just about every grocery store and bakery these days, some packaged sourdough bread might not be made with a long fermentation and commercial yeasts are added. This type of sourdough bread can still be delicious but it won’t have the full health benefits. Instead, buy it a from-scratch bakery and farmers markets — it might be a little more expensive but it’s worth it. Don’t be shy, you can ask about the fermenting process. Bakers are usually happy to talk about how their bread gets made.
FACT: You can make it yourself.
Baking bread from scratch has a reputation for being incredibly difficult. I can tell you from experience, though, that’s it’s actually pretty easy — and more importantly, it’s enjoyable. There are tons of tutorials online (I like this one) and once you get the hang of it, you may never go back to store-bought. So seize the opportunity on a lazy Saturday and head into the kitchen.