The Benefits of Sourdough – By Sotonye Tomlin (R.H.N.)

Have you been encouraged to stop eating carbohydrates? Do you think it will help you lose weight or have you been convinced that carbohydrates, especially grains, are bad for you?

Gluten-free and/or grain-free diets are extremely popular.  Grains have been deemed evil and going gluten-free is said to decrease weight gain, brain fog, joint pain, digestive issues, depression, etc.  Even though some of us find relief from some of these symptoms due to strict gluten-free diets, these diets are often associated with nutritional deficiencies and increased health complications.

Before removing grains consider these factors:

  • Wheat is a great source of prebiotics like fructans and arabinoxylans.  These prebiotics are an important source of food for our friendly gut bacteria and research has increasingly shown that the path to most chronic disease starts with an imbalance of friendly and unfriendly gut bacteria.
  • Going gluten-free does not support a healthy balance of gut flora. A study done in Spain on healthy subjects found the number of friendly gut bacteria decreased, while the unfriendly increased when put on a strict gluten-free diet.
  • Removing grains without an alternate plan to feed these bacteria can contribute to the imbalance of the good bacteria in your gut. Besides feeding your friendly gut bacteria, whole grains are also an important source of fibre, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, folate and protein.

Grains are such an important food group that we should consider a few alternatives before removing them completely from our diet.

  1. Consider gluten-free grains like buckwheat, millet, or ancient grains like spelt. Spelt has remained unchanged since biblical times and, even though not gluten free, it contains only moderate amounts of gluten.  Spelt is also more water soluble which may be why people report decreased digestive symptoms with spelt.
  2. Consider organic baked goods. Glyphosate is sometimes used to dry out the wheat before harvest and has been shown to reduce the population of Bifidobacteria and lactobacillus (friendly) and encourage the growth of Desulfovibrio spp., E. Coli, and C Difficile (unfriendly).
  3. Consider the benefits of sourdough.

Sourdough is a combination of good bacteria and wild yeast. It contains 100 times more good bacteria than yeast and the presence of wild yeast strains is what makes the bread rise to give it an amazing, light texture.

This method of bread making is said to have originated in ancient Egypt in 1500 BC and has been a popular method of making bread until a few centuries ago. Due to costs and time of processing, this traditional method of making bread was replaced with baker’s yeast.  Unfortunately replacing this traditional method also replaced many of the benefits and made the bread harder to digest.

The fermentation process of sourdough makes the nutrients in the grains, such as zinc, calcium and iron, more available to be absorbed into the body by lowering the phytic acid content. It also adds B-vitamins that were not there before the fermentation occurred, B vitamins such as B9 (folic acid) – an important vitamin to support brain health.

Sourdough aids gut health. The fermentation of grains creates prebiotic substances from the starches in the flour, making sourdough a great food for feeding the good bacteria. The acid nature, the “sour” of sourdough, aids in pre-digestion of the protein molecules in the grain, especially the gliadin in gluten, as protease enzymes prefer an acid pH for optimal function making the bread more digestible.

Probably the most amazing research comes from the University of Guelph, Ontario.

Four types of bread (regular white flour bread, whole wheat bread, whole wheat with barley bread, and white flour sourdough bread) were studied for their effects on carbohydrate metabolism, glucose and insulin levels. Participants in the study consumed the four types of bread on separate occasions for breakfast and then a standardized commercially prepared lunch.

After each meal, blood sugar and insulin levels were measured on each participant. The sourdough provided the lowest level of blood sugar and insulin, and surprisingly, continued to keep the blood and insulin levels low for the following meal where none of the test bread was consumed. The whole wheat, on the other hand, provided the highest level of blood sugar, after a meal even higher than the regular white flour bread.

Researchers are finding that bread is an extremely complex food and its nutritional properties depend on how it’s made, baked and served along with its ingredients. There is a lot more to be discovered but in the meantime, it may be worth your while to consider joining in on the current sourdough baking craze and learn to make your own. The first step would be to purchase a starter online or if you would like to make the starter yourself all you need is flour, water and 5-14 days.

If making it yourself is not your cup of tea, there are many bakers in your area who are making traditional sourdough bread. A quick Google search of “sourdough” and the name of the city or town where you live could make it easier to find someone local. There are several in the Waterloo region.

When you do find a source, cut yourself a slice, drizzle it with some virgin olive oil or cultured butter and enjoy!

Medical Disclaimer

All information contained in this document is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent health problems. For all serious health issues, please contact a medical or nutrition practitioner. The information provided is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing, and we do not assume liability for the information, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special exemplary, or other damages. In all circumstances, it is always wise to consult your physician before changing your diet, taking supplements, or starting any exercise or health program.


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