Yes… Well, sort of.
Bread is bread and we all know bread is not good for you, right?
Or is sourdough the magical exception to the rule?
A Little History
Roman soldiers would survive for months at a time eating ONLY sourdough bread, so how bad can it be? If it’s good enough for the once great Roman Army, it’s gotta be alright for us common folk, don’t you think?
Sourdough bread has been a regular in our diet for almost a year now. When we lived in Philadelphia a few years back, we avoided eating bread. Back then, carbs were evil and if you wanted to be thin and healthy, you had to eliminate them completely from your diet.
Today it’s not only carbs, but now gluten is also the enemy. With so many people suffering from gluten intolerance and inflammation, we have to look at what’s going on here. Why is something that made civilization possible and has fed humans for thousands of years suddenly bad?
When did bread become “bad”?
In the early 20th century, the standard way of making bread changed. Commercial bakeries started using prepackaged dry yeast instead of sourdough starters and new flour mills were so effective that they could separate the wheat germ and bran from the white endosperm.
Fermentation was no longer needed to make the dough rise, especially with the stripped down white flour that everyone was using. This exponentially increased the amount of bread any baker could produce in a day. White bread with commercial yeast became standard and widespread.
But what did we lose in the process?
What makes sourdough different?
We stumbled upon sourdough through our dabbling with fermentation. We love Korean food and kimchi is one of our favorite spicy side dishes, so naturally, we had to learn how to make it. That led to such things as kombucha, sauerkraut and eventually, sourdough.
Bread can be fermented. Who knew?!
The long, slow process of sourdough fermentation does more than help the bread rise. Grain doesn’t want to be eaten – grain wants to grow into a plant. And it gets a lot of help from phytic acid.
Phytic acid stores nutrients and minerals so that when the seedling is just getting started, it has everything it needs to grow. This is great for the plant but it’s indigestible by humans and can cause bloating and indigestion. This phytic acid holds onto the nutrients so much that we can’t absorb them unless we break it down to release the nutrients from their bonds.
Phytic acid is in nuts, seeds, and grains. To make them more edible and nutritious we can soak them, sprout them, or ferment them with lactic acid.
Sourdough is created through lactic fermentation, which promotes phytate breakdown.
What else does the fermentation process do?
- It helps acidify the bread which gives it a longer shelf life by preventing mold
- Dissolves four gluten forming proteins making it more easily digestible
- Breaks down peptide bonds. (These bonds are why most people have a gluten intolerance)
- Works with lactic acid, commercial yeasts do not
- Lactic acid consumes residual sugars, slowing their absorption into our bloodstream (Significantly lower glucose and insulin response)
- Lactic acid releases antioxidants, which are available in the finished loaf
- Helps the bread rise and gives the loaf it’s complexity of flavor
The long fermentation time and acidity of the dough are what contribute to the health benefits, ease of digestion, long shelf life and delicious flavors.
But is sourdough healthy?
It’s still bread, and bread is full of carbs and you’re not going to lose weight by eating it.
In our eyes, it’s a heck of a lot better than commercial white bread, but the “all good things in moderation” rule does apply here.
What about the nutrients?
It depends. The nutrients in the bread are directly related to how and with what the bread is made.
Whole grain or sprouted sourdough loaves are going to have more available minerals and nutrients than commercial loaves made with white flour or whole wheat.
Most commercial whole wheat loaves are just white loaves with the germ and bran added back in. And commercial sourdough bread can be the same thing with a dried sourdough starter added in.
Sourdough naturally has available vitamins and a long shelf life. Commercial bread contains additives designed to preserve it and make it more nutritious, not to mention the sugars and oils added in that can have negative effects on your health.
Sourdough can be good for your gut too!
Although the bacteria and yeast die in the baking process, they leave behind amino and lactic acids that can aid in digestion.
The predigested gluten resulting from the fermentation process acts as a prebiotic. Where probiotics add good bacteria to your gut microbiome, prebiotics feed those good bacteria and everyone is happy!
Salt. Flour. Water.
These should be the only ingredients in your bread if you choose to make it yourself. We are more forgiving and appreciative of bread when we’ve put the time and care into making it at home.
And if it doesn’t seem like something you might want to try, then maybe visit local bakers, farmers markets and artisan shops that are making true fermented sourdoughs.
When you know everything that goes into making a true sourdough loaf, you can enjoy it without all the guilt.
Now go break bread and enjoy one of mankind’s greatest achievements!
P.S. Take a slice and saute it in a little olive oil just before eating. It’s life-changing.