Bread has had it rough lately, with people often swearing off bread entirely because of the carbs that it contains. But, for many people, bread is still a powerful component of a healthy diet.
More than that, bread is also extremely versatile and practical – making it particularly relevant for those short on time or who just want simple options for food.
Regardless of your views on bread – there are some options that are simply healthier than others. This starts to be obvious when you look at the health benefits of sourdough bread.
In fact, sourdough is an incredibly healthy type of bread and one that tastes good as well. At the same time, sourdough 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?
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 swear by 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.
The bread also has an unusual appearance, with holes throughout.
Sourdough takes advantage of the bacteria and yeast that are naturally present in flour. These microbes are the reason for the tang that sourdough offers, which is also why you find a similar effect with many types of yogurt.
As a result, sourdough is created through fermentation, something that happens with other types of fermented foods as well.
The fermentation directly affects the taste and texture of the bread, along with the various benefits that it offers. The approach even makes the bread last longer, because it results in the presence of some acetic acid, which inhibits mold growth.
The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread
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 specifically 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 fermentation process also makes the bread easier to digest. As a result, some people find that sourdough is the only type of bread that they can tolerate.
Other aspects of sourdough also contribute to easier digestion. For example, many of the starches are predigested and the bread has a longer prep time, which leads to more gluten being broken down (8).
This outcome also means that some gluten sensitive people can still eat sourdough. That isn’t true for everyone, of course. Still, for many, sourdough can be a good solution.
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.
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 to a range of detrimental health conditions, including those related to digestive health (24,25,26), as well as mental health (27) and 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.
Now, there is some debate about this area with sourdough because the baking process may kill off some or all of the bacteria.
But, even if this is the case, some people feel that you still get benefits, because the bacteria can act as a prebiotic instead. This means that they would basically become a food source for the bacteria in the gut. It is also possible that the process leaves some bacteria behind, which then have the ability to replicate.
For that matter, 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.
With all of this in mind, 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
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.
But, at the most basic level, sourdough tends to simply require flour, water and the sourdough starter. Other common ingredients include salt, butter or milk – although these aren’t essential.
If you’re going to make your own sourdough, the first thing to know is that it takes time.
Sourdough tends to be more involved than most other types of bread. As a result, it can also take longer to get right and 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. The Cultures for Health website offers directions for doing exactly this in their video.
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.
So then, to make sourdough bread, you do need a starter. Thankfully, there is no shortage of these.
One option that we’re particularly fond of comes from Cultures for Health, San Francisco, which is the same group that produced the video above.
The design makes this a perfect choice for beginners because you do get all of the information 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 is a much healthier option for bread. It’s also a great alternative 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.
But, if this isn’t a viable option (or if you simply don’t want to) – sourdough 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.
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