It’s often put on a pedestal above other types of bread, but is sourdough actually healthy? Bread in general is considered to be the ultimate dietary sin by those who follow a low-carb diet, so what makes sourdough different?
First of all, the method for making sourdough is one of the oldest grain fermentation processes. According to a review of the topic from ScienceDirect, the use of sourdough is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 3,000 B.C. and was the customary form of bread leavening (in bread-making speak, this simply means the dough has risen) until it was replaced by baker’s yeast a few centuries ago.
How Is Sourdough Made?
Sourdough contains only four ingredients: flour, water, salt and naturally occurring wild yeast. The baking process begins with what’s known as a sourdough “starter,” explains Cooking Light. This helps to cultivate the wild yeast and is what gives sourdough its unique, slightly acidic flavor.
Creating a sourdough starter takes several days and involves mixing flour and water and letting it ferment, adding more flour and water each day. By the end of the process, the wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the flour have properly leavened. You can keep a “mother dough” sourdough starter for years, maintaining it occasionally and then feeding it for a few days in advance of when you wish to use it.
How Nutritious Is Sourdough?
According to data from the USDA, one medium (around 64 grams) slice of sourdough bread contains 185 calories, 1.2 grams of fat, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 17% RDI (recommended daily intake) of sodium, 1.5 grams of fiber and 7.5 grams of protein. It contains no saturated fat or added sugars.
Sourdough’s high protein content is largely thanks to the lengthy preparation process. Basically, the resting and folding help to activate its gluten content. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).
Sourdough is also great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, calcium, potassium, iron, folate, manganese, niacin and selenium. And it contains prebiotics, which promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.
Sourdough Vs. Other Breads
The fact that sourdough has a much shorter ingredient list than pre-sliced and other varieties of bread makes it a healthier option. There are generally no added oils, preservatives or other chemicals.
But it’s the presence of bacteria in sourdough that gives it a superior nutritional profile. The bacteria makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients in the bread and is believed to help improve gut health. Some studies have shown that fermentation alters the structure of carbohydrates in the dough, leading to better blood sugar control and a lower score on the glycemic index, which represents the relative ability of a carbohydrate food to increase the level of glucose in the blood.
Sourdough isn’t gluten-free, so it’s not suitable for people with celiac disease. But because it’s easier on the digestive system, it may be well tolerated by people with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Again, this is all down to the rigorous fermentation process required to make sourdough.
Is Sourdough Healthy?
There’s no doubt about it – sourdough is a healthy alternative to conventional breads. It’s easier to digest, less likely to spike your blood sugar and is a good source of protein. And although you can certainly stick with simple, delicious sourdough bread, you can also get (or make) a sourdough pizza, use a sourdough bowl for your soup, put it in a bread pudding, use it to to make stuffing with a turkey, or incorporate it into a French toast recipe. The possibilities are endless!
But be aware that some store-bought sourdough breads aren’t made using the traditional sourdough method, so will have reduced health benefits. If you buy your sourdough from an artisan baker or farmer’s market, there’s more chance of it being an authentic sourdough. Enjoy!