Health benefits of sourdough bread
Not your average bread: the process of fermentation has been proven to be beneficial for good gut health.
What is sourdough?
Sourdough is a type of leavened bread that is made from flour and water, without any additional raising agents like commercial yeast.
This means that no artificial ingredients are needed to produce loaves of sourdough. Instead, sourdough relies on ‘cultures’ or ‘starters’ – a fermented mixture of flour and water with naturally-found good bacteria and yeast – to do the work.
These helpful microbes help the bread dough rise, and give sourdough more flavour and chewier texture which are not found in other commercial breads.
You can also create variations in sourdough breads by tweaking lots of different things. These include the type of grain used for the flour, different cultures (with different populations of good bacteria) and addition of other ingredients such as spices, dried fruits and/or nuts.
It’s up to you and how creative you want to be.
How is sourdough bread different from other breads?
Sourdough has plenty of health benefits you can’t find in your average supermarket bread. Most of these benefits come from the good bacteria (called ‘lactic acid bacteria’ or ‘LAB’) found in the sourdough culture. To understand what makes sourdough so special, we need to take a quick dive into the process of fermentation.
In normal metabolism, bacteria use oxygen to breakdown sugar into useful energy. But when there is a lack of oxygen, they switch to fermentation. Fermentation can create several helpful products, which are used in processes like winemaking and breadmaking.
In breadmaking, the gas produced during fermentation allows the bread to rise. In accelerated, industrial baking (for example with breads you find in the supermarket), there is no time to wait for this process to happen 100% naturally.
To produce the breads quicker, chemical raising agents are needed so that the bread will rise with much less fermentation time. In contrast, the LAB and yeasts are left to ferment for longer than usual with sourdough-making. And it’s thanks to these bacteria and the patient fermentation that makes sourdough breads especially good for you. Below are just a few of the many ways that the LAB and yeasts enhance your sourdough experience.
As the LAB and yeasts metabolise sugar, they’re making products which get incorporated into the bread mixture. One of these products helps to break down gluten.
Gluten is a protein that’s present in grains like wheat, rye and barley. The amount of gluten in these grains used to make bread can influence the amount of gluten in our breads.
In the recent times, the types of grains we grow have contained much more gluten than what we traditionally grew. And scientists think it’s likely that consuming breads and other products made from these grains with unusually high gluten content led more us to develop diseases associated with gluten intolerance.
So how does sourdough compare? As part of their metabolism, the LAB in the sourdough culture break down a lot of the gluten protein. And when proteins are broken down, they aren’t as easily recognised by the body and won’t lead to intolerance symptoms.
Another bonus is that sourdough breads give you all the benefits of gluten products (like desirable smell and texture), without the negatives of the gluten-free products (like bread going stale quicker). And all this without the discomfort associated with gluten!
Glycaemic index (GI)
You’ve probably heard about ‘low and high GI foods’ – but what exactly are we talking about?
Glycaemic index – commonly referred to as ‘GI’ – measure how quickly a food or a drink can raise your blood sugar levels, on a scale of 1 to 100. With high GI foods (70 or higher), the blood sugar levels go up and down very quickly, leading to a ‘sugar crash’ and making us crave food again only a short time after eating.
Low GI foods (55 or less) raise the blood sugar more slowly, and will give your body sustainable energy over a longer period of time after eating.
This can help with feeling full for longer so you’re not reaching for a snack 5 minutes after eating.
Sourdough breads have low GI score, unlike your average commercial breads. With low GI diets:
Your weight management can be easier because you’ll feel fuller for longer
You’ll fuel your body with more sustained release of energy
Your moods can improve because there won’t be sugar crashes
In addition, it’s been suggested that low GI diets can also reduce risks of certain diseases such as certain types of cancer and heart disease.
All this from while eating delicious bread!
Nutritional benefits from sourdough bread
Aside from having lower levels of gluten and having lower GI than average commercial breads, sourdoughs also have other nutritional benefits that can help you lead a healthier lifestyle. We’ll explore a couple of these benefits in this section.
Sourdough has lower salt content than other breads
First of all, sourdough has lower salt content than other breads. Although they’re great at enhancing flavours of food, high levels of salt in our diet can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) and lead to increased risks of stroke and kidney disease among other conditions.
Because salt is so great at making things flavourful, people have been trying to replace salt in food with flavour substitutes like MSG. But sourdough doesn’t need flavour substitutes! Because the good bacteria and yeast in the sourdough culture naturally create compounds that pack the dough with flavour, only minimal salt is needed for sourdoughs.
Your body can absorb beneficial minerals easier
Another surprising benefit of sourdough bread is that they make minerals more available for your body to absorb. Grains naturally have a compound called phytate (a.k.a. phytic acid), which is often called an ‘anti-nutrient’ because it collects and binds useful minerals in your body so that you can’t absorb them. The good bacteria come to the rescue once again.
During the sourdough fermentation process, these bacteria help to produce a more acidic environment in the dough, which helps to accelerate the natural enzyme activity that breaks down the phytates. The end result is that with less phytates, more minerals become available for your body to absorb and use.
More studies suggest that sourdough has many more nutritional benefits, such as improving fibre absorption and improving your gut health.
How can you incorporate sourdough in your diet?
Thanks to many of the nutritional benefits outlined above, sourdough breads are much more compatible with certain types of diets than your average commercial bread. You’ll be surprised and happy to know that you can eat delicious sourdoughs while still on a diet.
Weight loss/low GI/diabetes: because sourdough helps you feel fuller for longer and releases sustained energy, it’s easier to control your appetite and snack less.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)/low FODMAP: bread and pasta made with sourdough have a significantly lower amount of gluten thanks to the fermentation process. These products have improved protein digestibility.
Because sourdough has lower gluten and salt content, lower GI index and doesn’t contain artificial ingredients, it is much better suited for special diets than other commercial breads.
Chat to your health provider or our friendly bakers to learn more. Don't miss out on the sourdough experience.