Sourdough Bread: Is It Good for You?

Recently, there seems to be a renewed interest in sourdough bread, with hundreds of people developing their own starters and practicing home-made recipes. Though making sourdough bread has become a popular activity, the bread has been around for thousands of years. It is the oldest type of leavened bread (bread that rises due to yeast or other ingredients) on record, and it’s enjoyed in many cultures around the world. 

That’s because sourdough bread is easy to make. Instead of using baker’s yeast, sourdough bread relies on a starter: a mixture of water and flour that develops a population of wild yeast. This yeast produces lactic acid, the source of sourdough bread’s distinctive tangy taste. This acid both flavors the bread and kills unwanted bacteria, keeping a sourdough starter safer from going bad.

Today, sourdough bread can be made at home or bought in stores throughout the country. Many people tout the health benefits of sourdough bread, but it’s still not for everyone. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of sourdough bread. 

Nutrition Information

An average one slice of sourdough bread (about 50 grams) contains:

Sourdough bread is an excellent source of:

Sourdough bread is also an excellent source of antioxidants. Studies have shown that antioxidants like the peptides found in sourdough can lower the risk for certain types of cancer, signs of aging, or chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Potential Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. However, the same qualities that make sourdough bread so healthy can also create complications for people with certain medical conditions.

Research has found a number of potential health benefits to eating sourdough bread:

General Body Functions

Sourdough bread is particularly rich in nutrients that the body can easily absorb. This is due to the way that the lactic acid bacteria in the bread interacts with these nutrients. These bacteria destroy certain types of acid commonly found in other types of bread, which increases the availability of nutrients like folate, potassium, and magnesium.

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Your body needs folate to divide cells and make DNA and other genetic materials. Potassium also aids in the function of your cells. It regulates your heartbeat, helps your nerves and muscles function properly, and is necessary to make proteins and metabolize carbs. Magnesium regulates your muscle and nerve function, controls blood sugar and protein levels, and helps make protein, bones, and DNA.

Disease Prevention

The lactic acid bacteria are also responsible for increased antioxidants in sourdough bread compared to other types of bread. Antioxidants protect your cells from damage that cause serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and more.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Eating sourdough bread may help you keep your blood sugar levels more stable than if you were to eat white bread. The bacteria that helps form sourdough also have a unique effect on the starch in the bread.

It changes the structure of the bread molecules — making your body absorb them slower, which lowers the bread’s glycemic index. This means that your insulin levels will not spike as high after eating a slice of sourdough bread as they would after eating white bread.

Improved Digestive Health

Sourdough bread may be easier to digest than white bread for some people. According to some studies, sourdough bread acts as a prebiotic, which means that the fiber in the bread helps feed the “good” bacteria in your intestines. These bacteria are important for maintaining a stable, healthy digestive system.

Sourdough is also lower in gluten than other forms of bread. It appears that the acid in the bread degrades gluten. As a result, people with gluten intolerance may find that sourdough is easier on their stomachs.

Potential Risks of Eating Sourdough Bread

Just because sourdough bread is nutritious doesn’t mean that it comes without risks. Consider the following before eating sourdough bread:

Contamination 

Many people enjoy making sourdough at home. While this is normally perfectly safe, in some cases it’s possible to develop a contaminated sourdough starter. Your sourdough starter has may be contaminated if it:

  • never bubbles
  • develops green, pink, orange, or black patches,
  • appears “fuzzy”

Throw your sourdough starter away if it’s exhibiting any of these qualities.

Not Gluten-Free

While sourdough bread is usually lower in gluten, it is not gluten-free. People with a gluten intolerance may find that sourdough is easier to digest, but people with c eliac d isease will likely still experience symptoms if they eat sourdough bread. If you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, consult with your physician before adding sourdough bread to your diet. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 29, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Pharmacy: Oxygen Free Radicals and Antioxidants: A Review: The use of antioxidant vitamin supplements to scavenge free radicals could decrease the risk of disease”

Applied and Environmental Microbiology: “Selected Lactic Acid Bacteria Synthesize Antioxidant Peptides during Sourdough Fermentation of Cereal Flours.”

British Journal of Nutrition: “Use of sourdough lactobacilli and oat fibre to decrease the glycaemic index of white wheat bread.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Bread sourdough, med slice”.

Food Microbiology: “Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective.”

FoodData Central: “Bread, french or vienna (includes sourdough).”

Harvard Health Publishing: “The importance of potassium”

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Prolonged fermentation of whole wheat sourdough reduces phytate level and increases soluble magnesium.”

National Institutes of Health: “Folate.”

National Institutes of Health: “Magnesium.”

Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Are antioxidants helpful for disease prevention?”

Trends in Food Science & Technology: “Biochemistry and physiology of sourdough lactic acid bacteria”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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