The Sweet Benefits of SourdoughKara Davis, Freelance Writer and Harried Homemaker
The word “sourdough” may make you think of “sour stomach,” but nothing could be further from the truth. With the increase in “gut problems” such as gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and the like, the popularity of so-called “sourdough” or naturally yeasted bread has been making a comeback among those looking for ways to eat healthier, avoid gluten-related issues, and heal the gut. It may sound obvious but most people are unaware that before the advent of “quick rise” yeast and other commercially produced yeast products, all bread was “sourdough,” relying on the natural, beneficial yeast cultures and bacteria present in the air or from a previous batch of bread in order to make the dough “rise.”
So why is this natural fermentation process so good for you? Because it makes grain, which is a seed and inherently difficult to digest, much more available for your body to use. Culturesforhealth.com explains, “The original leavened bread, sourdough, is made in such a way that not only is the bread lightened by the leavening, but the acids and bacteria present in a sourdough culture also pre-digest the grain and neutralize some of the anti-nutrients inherent in all seeds.” And dontwastethecrumbs.com states, “the long soaking required of sourdough . . . breaks down much of the phytates that bind the awesome minerals in grains. With the phytates gone, our bodies can grab those nutrients and actually use them! With those nutrients readily available, digestion of the starch is MUCH easier on your body. In fact, the natural bacteria working with the natural yeast pre-digests the starch a little bit for you. The benefits of sourdough will make your tummy happy.”
The benefits go beyond simple nutrition, as well. Insulin resistance and diabetes are a huge health problem in America, but those with insulin or blood-sugar issues will be happy to know that, since the natural yeast feeds on glucose, sourdough breads often don’t spike one’s blood sugar the way processed white breads do.
The most amazing benefit of naturally yeasted breads may be for gluten-sensitive individuals. Livestrong.com says “wheat bread may be making a comeback for the gluten-intolerant thanks to new research on sourdough. It turns out this old-fashioned baking technique may help break down gluten in wheat. Sourdough is not only good for baking but may also help heal the gut.” Some gluten sensitive individuals find that true sourdough bread doesn’t irritate their digestive systems like regular commercial bread (not to mention it tastes much better and is far healthier than industrial gluten-free alternatives). Of course, this depends on a person’s level of gluten sensitivity, so start small if you want to try re-introducing wheat bread to your diet.
THE BAD NEWS: Not all “sourdough” is actually sourdough. Most, if not all, commercially produced grocery-store “sourdough” is actually just regular white or wheat bread, made in the usual industrial way with quick rise or other commercial yeast, but with ascorbic acid, dough conditioner, or other ingredients intended to fool your tongue. So be an annoying bread nerd, ask questions, and read the labels carefully. If it says yeast or ascorbic acid anywhere, it’s not sourdough.