The health benefits of sourdough

Made using a fermented starter, sourdough has been hailed as a healthier option, but is it really good for you? We asked a nutritionist to explain.

A loaf of sourdough bread

What is sourdough bread?

Sourdough is a leavened bread, which means the dough naturally rises as a result of gas which is produced as the grain ferments. Whilst more commercial breads use baker’s yeast as the rising agent, sourdough is made using a sourdough starter.

A sourdough starter is a culture of yeasts and beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in bread flour which is allowed it to ferment over the course of approximately five days. This is then known as the levan and is mixed with bread flour to make sourdough bread.

Sourdough can be made using individual bread flours or a combination of flours, for example: white, spelt or wheat and rye.

Nutritional profile

The specific blend of flour or flours that are used to make sourdough will alter the macronutrient profile a little. For example, a wheat and rye loaf will be naturally higher in fibre than a white loaf, but generally sourdough makes a good addition to a balanced diet.

100g (approximately two medium slices) of sourdough contains around 230 calories. There is less than 1g of fat and around 47g of carbohydrates, of which about 1g is naturally occurring sugars. Sourdough breads are a source of protein, about 8-9g per 100g, and fibre at 3-4g per 100g.

Like most breads, sourdough is a good source of most B vitamins especially folate, and also iron, both of which are important in the production of healthy red blood cells. Sourdough also has a good mineral content including zinc and selenium which are important nutrients to support the function of the immune system and wound healing. In fact, some research suggests that the fermentation process improves the bioavailability of fibre and minerals naturally found in sourdough compared to other breads.

This fermentation process and higher fibre content also make it a good carbohydrate option for those with type 2 diabetes, by naturally decreasing the glycaemic response as a result of the increased fibre.

Wholemeal sourdough loaf

Is sourdough bread good for gut health?

Sourdough contains naturally occurring bacteria along with fibre which acts as a prebiotic (food for gut bacteria) and is therefore regarded as being a good option when it comes to gut health.

Some research has looked at whether sourdough is suitable for those with coeliac disease to consume as fermentation may also break down some of the bread’s gluten. However, sourdough is not gluten-free and should be avoided if you have coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

How can sourdough bread fit into a balanced diet?

Sourdough can be incorporated into your diet just like any other bread. It makes a great breakfast when served with eggs or beans or as a side to a bowl of soup or stew. It’s higher fibre content gives sourdough a chunky, slightly chewy texture – ideal for sandwiches, bruschetta or cheese on toast.

How to buy the healthiest sourdough bread

All sourdough breads are fermented breads so no matter which one you buy you will get the good digestive benefits from the naturally occurring bacteria. For extra health benefits, opt for those made with darker, wholewheat flours such as rye or spelt for extra fibre. Diets higher in fibre are also associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Sourdough recipes

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Wholemeal sourdough loaf
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Baked ratatouille with lemon breadcrumbs
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This article was published on 30 April 2020.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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