The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread That You Need

Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Bread has had it rough lately. So many people avoid bread entirely, partly because of the carbs. But, for many people, bread can still be a powerful component of a healthy diet.

More than that, bread is extremely versatile and practical. Which makes it perfect if you're short on time or want simple food. 

Regardless of your views on bread – there are some options that are simply healthier than others.

That's why we're looking at at the health benefits of sourdough bread. In fact, sourdough is surprisingly good for you.

It also tastes great, tends to be easier to digest and is often preferred over more conventional bread options. Additionally, many people can digest sourdough bread but not conventional alternatives.

So, why is this? And, what is it that makes sourdough bread so powerful?

What is Sourdough Bread?

Sourdough on toast

The first thing to note about sourdough is that it looks, and tastes, different. The bread has a signature tang or sourness that you simply don’t find in other types of bread.

If you’ve never had it before, sour bread may sound incredibly unappealing. But, the sourness is only mild and it actually makes the bread taste much better.

That taste aspect is also why many people are passionate about the bread – and why it is especially common in artisan sandwiches and in restaurants. In fact, sourdough bread simply tends to have more character and is more interesting than many other alternatives.

What makes sourdough bread sour?

Sourdough is a fermented product, one that takes advantages of microbial action. These microbes are the reason for the tang that sourdough offers. This is why you find a similar effect with some yogurts and other types of fermented foods.

The fermentation affects the texture of the bread too and the health benefits that it offers. It even makes the bread last longer, because it results in the presence of some acetic acid, which inhibits mold growth.

The bread also has an unusual appearance, with holes throughout.

The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Sourdough on a cutting board

The biggest benefit of sourdough bread is simply that it’s healthier than most other types.

For one thing, the fermentation process reduces the antinutrients present. 

  • This term refers to phytates, which can lower the absorption of many minerals (1).
  • By lowering the phytate levels, sourdough ends up being more nutritious than other types of bread (2,3,4).
  • As such, it is a better source of nutrients and a more powerful addition to the diet (5).
  • Likewise, our bodies are better able to absorb the nutrients that are present (6,7).

Sourdough also has the advantage of not involving a large number of ingredients. So, it tends to be more natural overall and it is relatively easy to find sourdough bread that doesn’t have any additives or preservatives present.

The bread is easier to digest too. 

  • This is partly due to the fermentation process.
  • Likewise, many of the starches are predigested and the bread has a longer prep time, which leads to more gluten being broken down (8).

In fact, some people find that sourdough is the only type of bread that they can tolerate.

Some gluten sensitive people can even eat sourdough. That isn’t true for everyone, of course. Still, for many, sourdough can be a good solution.

You can also make gluten-free sourdough. This can end up tasting better and having a more appealing texture than other types of gluten free bread (9,10).

Sourdough bread is also important because the bacteria can release antioxidants (11,12,13). Antioxidants are thought to play a key role in health, which includes the potential to decrease disease risk (14,15,16) and help fight some aspects of aging (17,18,19).

Additionally, sourdough bread is very relevant for people trying to lose weight or those with diabetes. This is because of the organic acids produced. The presence and interactions of these reduce the availability of starch.

As a consequence, sourdough tends to have a decreased impact on blood sugar than other types of bread and has a lower glycemic index (20,21,22).

Probiotic Benefits

Sourdough starter

Sourdough bread does also contain bacteria, as do other fermented foods (23). This type of bacteria can help promote a positive gut microbiome.

A growing body of research suggests that having imbalanced gut bacteria could contribute health problems. These include digestive health (24,25​) and mental health issues (26,27), as well as disease development in general (28,29).

This pattern is the reason that some people have started taking probiotic supplements.

Doing so can be viable. But, a good general rule is to always get your nutrition through food, whenever possible. With that in mind, sourdough is one powerful option for doing just that.

There is some debate about probiotics in sourdough. Unfortunately, the baking process may kill off some or all of the bacteria.

But, even if this is the case, you can still get benefits. The bacteria simply act as a prebiotic instead. So, they basically become a food source for the bacteria in the gut. Some bacteria might be left behind too, they could then replicate.

Sourdough has prebiotic properties anyway (30). So, it still serves to promote gut health in that way, regardless of whether the cooked bread is also probiotic

Interestingly, some research does suggest that bacteria can survive the cooking process (31). However, there have been few studies on this topic and more information is needed before we have a definitive answer.

There isn't enough data yet - so it’s impossible to know precisely what probiotic benefits sourdough has or how strong these are. The potential does certainly exist but you’re still likely to see more positive outcomes with probiotic yogurt and options like kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir.

Still, even if sourdough offers minimal probiotic benefits, it still has more potential than most other types of bread, especially because of the prebiotic implications.

How to Make Sourdough Bread

Baking sourdough bread

There are many places where you can buy sourdough, including local bakeries, markets and even grocery stores. But, for many, making it is a better option.

Realistically, if you want control over your diet, making your food yourself is always the best choice. Doing so means you know precisely what you’re eating and you can avoid the additives that companies often use.

Making sourdough is also easy and doesn’t involve complicated ingredients.

  • The food blog The Clever Carrot offers a detailed beginner’s guide to everything you need to know about making sourdough, along with a relatively simple recipe at the end.
  • You can also find a basic sourdough bread recipe from Genius Kitchen if you want to get started easily. There are also many other recipes in cookbooks and on various food blogs.
  • Likewise, there is no shortage of variations, such as those that use spelt flour or add in other ingredients to impact the flavor or nutritional outcomes.
  • Some interesting recipes include this sourdough rye recipe from Nourished Kitchen and this recipe for sourdough pretzels from Foodie with Family.

But, at the most basic level, sourdough simply needs flour, water and the sourdough starter. Other common ingredients include salt, butter or milk – although these aren’t essential.

Using a Sourdough Starter

If you’re going to make your own sourdough, the first thing to know is that it takes time.

Sourdough is more involved than most other types of bread. It often takes more trial and error too. You might make a few unsuccessful loafs along the way.

Likewise, there are steps involved in working with the starter, including growing it and maintaining it (the starter is alive, after all). This process may seem a little odd but it can be easy once you get used to it.

The nature of starters also means that you don’t need to buy a new one each time. Instead, you can feed and grow the culture, like in the video below.

Still, the end result can be worth it and you get some amazing bread from doing so.

Plus, dealing with starters and making sourdough isn’t nearly as complicated as it first seems. Instead, the process can be fun and interesting, with many people finding it enjoyable.

Where to Buy a Sourdough Starter

To make sourdough bread, you do need a starter. Thankfully, there are many to choose from. 

We're particularly fond of this option, which comes from Cultures for Health, San Francisco (they made the video in the previous section). It is a perfect choice for beginners, giving you all the details that you need.

Another option is this starter, which comes from the company Breadtopia.

With sourdough, the starter is the only specialized ingredient. So, you can get the rest of what you need at a local store.

But, that being said, there are some interesting kits on Amazon that offer other items you may need. A key example of this is the one below, which also comes from Breadtopia.

In this case, the starter is dry, rather than fresh.

Many people prefer fresh starters, when possible, partly because these are faster to use. Likewise, some people argue that they can produce better outcomes.

Despite this, a dry starter can still be relevant in many situations, especially if shipping is going to take time or you won’t be able to use the starter immediately. 

At the end of the day, sourdough a great type of bread. It’s also an appealing choice for many people who don’t like or can’t tolerate regular bread. For those reasons alone, it’s worth taking the steps to make your own sourdough

Where to Buy Sourdough Bread

If you can't make your own sourdough (or don’t want to) – the bread is easy to find in stores and in bakeries. For example, Serious Eats conducted a taste test on various sourdough options in San Francisco.

So, you can still get the health benefits without having to go through all the steps of making the bread.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sourdough sandwich
Is sourdough bread better than white bread?

This mostly depends on the recipe you use and how you define healthier. 

The presence of prebiotics (and possibly probiotics) does mean sourdough offers more benefits for health. It's often a better source of nutrients too. But, sourdough still has the limitations of white bread - especially if you use conventional flour. 

You could get around this by looking for healthier recipes, such as Sourdough Keto Baguettes from KetoDiet Blog. You might also turn to options like cassava flour if you want gluten-free sourdough. 

How many carbs in sourdough bread?

The sourdough culture does consume some carbs, so sourdough is typically lower in carbs than conventional bread. But, it's still not a low carb food and you won't find it on a keto diet. 

Of course, that's a generalization. There are many low carb sourdough recipes out there. You might be able to develop your own recipe too by relying on a low carb flour

Is sourdough bread good for you?

Nutrition science is messy and complicated - meaning there's no simple answer for this question. Honestly, the health advantages of any food depend on your overall diet and lifestyle.

But, sourdough is beneficial in many ways. For many people, the pros will far outweigh the cons. Most of the potential issues can also be avoided by choosing the right recipe. 

Advantages of Sourdough

  • Contains probiotics and prebiotics
  • Tends to be lower in carbs than regular bread
  • May be higher in nutrients 
  • Is easier to digest
  • Can be made with low carb and/or gluten-free flour
  • Uses whole ingredients
  • You can make it from home

Disadvantages of Sourdough

  • Most recipes still use refined white flour
  • Is normally a significant source of carbs
  • Typically uses grain-based flours
  • Many recipes are unsuitable for gluten-free, grain-free, low carb or keto diets
  • High carb and low protein content means the bread won't keep you full on its own
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