Is Sourdough Bread Healthy

Whole grains and bread, like sourdough bread, are a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Some research has pointed out it could also be a crucial food to help promote healthy aging. A 2019 review in the journal Nutrients found that fermented grain-based products, like sourdough, have antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, and FODMAP-reducing qualities.

Sourdough Bread: Is It Good for You?

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

  • Vitamin C 0%
  • Iron 17%
  • Vitamin B6 0%
  • Magnesium 0%
  • Calcium 4%
  • Vitamin D 0%
  • Cobalamin 0%
  • Vitamin A 0%

Recently, there seems to be a renewed interest in sourdough bread, with hundreds of people developing their own starters and practicing home-made recipes. Though making sourdough bread has become a popular activity, the bread has been around for thousands of years. It is the oldest type of leavened bread (bread that rises due to yeast or other ingredients) on record, and it’s enjoyed in many cultures around the world.

That’s because sourdough bread is easy to make. Instead of using baker’s yeast, sourdough bread relies on a starter: a mixture of water and flour that develops a population of wild yeast. This yeast produces lactic acid, the source of sourdough bread’s distinctive tangy taste. This acid both flavors the bread and kills unwanted bacteria, keeping a sourdough starter safer from going bad.

Today, sourdough bread can be made at home or bought in stores throughout the country. Many people tout the health benefits of sourdough bread, but it’s still not for everyone. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of sourdough bread.

Nutrition Information

An average one slice of sourdough bread (about 50 grams) contains:

  • Calories: 185
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 1 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 36 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Sugar: Less than 1 gram

Sourdough bread is an excellent source of:

Sourdough bread is also an excellent source of antioxidants. Studies have shown that antioxidants like the peptides found in sourdough can lower the risk for certain types of cancer, signs of aging, or chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Potential Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. However, the same qualities that make sourdough bread so healthy can also create complications for people with certain medical conditions.

Research has found a number of potential health benefits to eating sourdough bread:

General Body Functions

Sourdough bread is particularly rich in nutrients that the body can easily absorb. This is due to the way that the lactic acid bacteria in the bread interacts with these nutrients. These bacteria destroy certain types of acid commonly found in other types of bread, which increases the availability of nutrients like folate, potassium, and magnesium.

Your body needs folate to divide cells and make DNA and other genetic materials. Potassium also aids in the function of your cells. It regulates your heartbeat, helps your nerves and muscles function properly, and is necessary to make proteins and metabolize carbs. Magnesium regulates your muscle and nerve function, controls blood sugar and protein levels, and helps make protein, bones, and DNA.

Disease Prevention

The lactic acid bacteria are also responsible for increased antioxidants in sourdough bread compared to other types of bread. Antioxidants protect your cells from damage that cause serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and more.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Eating sourdough bread may help you keep your blood sugar levels more stable than if you were to eat white bread. The bacteria that helps form sourdough also have a unique effect on the starch in the bread.

It changes the structure of the bread molecules — making your body absorb them slower, which lowers the bread’s glycemic index. This means that your insulin levels will not spike as high after eating a slice of sourdough bread as they would after eating white bread.

Improved Digestive Health

Sourdough bread may be easier to digest than white bread for some people. According to some studies, sourdough bread acts as a prebiotic, which means that the fiber in the bread helps feed the “good” bacteria in your intestines. These bacteria are important for maintaining a stable, healthy digestive system.

Sourdough is also lower in gluten than other forms of bread. It appears that the acid in the bread degrades gluten. As a result, people with gluten intolerance may find that sourdough is easier on their stomachs.

Potential Risks of Eating Sourdough Bread

Just because sourdough bread is nutritious doesn’t mean that it comes without risks. Consider the following before eating sourdough bread:

Contamination

Many people enjoy making sourdough at home. While this is normally perfectly safe, in some cases it’s possible to develop a contaminated sourdough starter. Your sourdough starter has may be contaminated if it:

  • never bubbles
  • develops green, pink, orange, or black patches,
  • appears “fuzzy”

Throw your sourdough starter away if it’s exhibiting any of these qualities.

Not Gluten-Free

While sourdough bread is usually lower in gluten, it is not gluten-free. People with a gluten intolerance may find that sourdough is easier to digest, but people with celiac disease will likely still experience symptoms if they eat sourdough bread. If you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, consult with your physician before adding sourdough bread to your diet.

Show Sources

American Pharmacy: Oxygen Free Radicals and Antioxidants: A Review: The use of antioxidant vitamin supplements to scavenge free radicals could decrease the risk of disease”

Applied and Environmental Microbiology: “Selected Lactic Acid Bacteria Synthesize Antioxidant Peptides during Sourdough Fermentation of Cereal Flours.”

British Journal of Nutrition: “Use of sourdough lactobacilli and oat fibre to decrease the glycaemic index of white wheat bread.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Bread sourdough, med slice”.

Food Microbiology: “Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective.”

FoodData Central: “Bread, french or vienna (includes sourdough).”

Harvard Health Publishing: “The importance of potassium”

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Prolonged fermentation of whole wheat sourdough reduces phytate level and increases soluble magnesium.”

National Institutes of Health: “Folate.”

National Institutes of Health: “Magnesium.”

Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Are antioxidants helpful for disease prevention?”

Trends in Food Science & Technology: “Biochemistry and physiology of sourdough lactic acid bacteria”

How Healthy Is Sourdough? How to Make It and More

Sourdough bread is one of my favorite types of bread.

Not only do I find it tastier than conventional bread, but it’s also arguably more nutritious. Sourdough bread is also less likely to spike your blood sugar than conventional bread, and many of my clients find it easier to digest.

In this article, I review the latest science behind sourdough bread, as well as the many reasons it could be a worthy addition to your diet.

fresh loaves of sourdough bread

Sourdough is one of the oldest forms of grain fermentation.

Experts believe it originated in ancient Egypt around 1500 B.C. and remained the main method of leavening bread until baker’s yeast replaced it a few hundred years ago (1).

Breads can be categorized as either leavened or unleavened.

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Leavened breads have a dough that rises during the bread-making process. This is caused by the gas that’s released as the grain in the dough begins to ferment ( 2 ).

Most leavened breads use commercial baker’s yeast to help the dough rise.

On the other hand, unleavened breads, such as flatbreads like tortillas and roti, do not rise.

Sourdough bread is a leavened bread. However, rather than using baker’s yeast to rise, it’s leavened by “wild yeast” and lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present in flour ( 3 ).

Wild yeast is more resistant to acidic conditions than baker’s yeast, which allows it to work together with lactic acid bacteria to help the dough rise ( 4 , 5 ).

Lactic acid bacteria are also naturally found in several other fermented foots, including yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi ( 6 ).

The mix of wild yeast, lactic acid bacteria, flour, and water used to make sourdough bread is called a starter. During the bread-making process, the starter ferments the sugars in the dough, helping the bread rise and acquire its characteristic flavor ( 5 , 7 ).

Sourdough bread also naturally contains varying levels of acetic acid bacteria, a group of bacteria that give sourdough bread its particular vinegar-like aroma.

Starters with high levels of acetic acid bacteria also take longer to ferment and rise, giving sourdough bread its characteristic texture ( 5 , 8 ).

The yeast naturally found in sourdough bread is also thought to increase the bread’s nutrient content and make it easier for your body to digest than bread that’s made using baker’s yeast ( 4 , 5 ).

Despite its ancient roots, sourdough bread making remains popular to this day — maybe even more so as a result of the surge in interest in home baking that has occurred during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns throughout the world ( 9 ).

Keep in mind that not all store-bought sourdough breads are made using the traditional sourdough method, and this may reduce their health benefits.

Buying sourdough bread from an artisan baker or a farmers market increases the likelihood of it being “true” sourdough bread ( 2 ).

Summary

Sourdough uses an ancient form of bread leavening. It relies on a mix of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present in flour, rather than baker’s yeast, to leaven the dough.

Sourdough’s nutrition profile is similar to those of most other breads and will be influenced by the type of flour that is used to make it — for instance, whether it’s made from whole or refined grains.

On average, one medium slice of sourdough bread made with white flour and weighing approximately 2 ounces (59 grams) contains ( 10 ):

Aside from its nutrient content, sourdough has some special properties that allow it to surpass the benefits of most other types of bread. I’ll be discussing these in the following chapters.

Summary

Sourdough’s basic nutrition profile resembles those of other breads and depends on which type of flour is used to make it. Sourdough also has a few special properties that make it more nutritious.

Although sourdough bread is often made from the same flour as other types of bread, the fermentation process used to make it improves its nutrition profile in several ways.

For one thing, whole grain breads contain a good amount of minerals, including potassium, phosphate, magnesium, and zinc ( 11 ).

However, your body’s ability to absorb these minerals is limited by the presence of phytic acid, also commonly called phytate.

Phytate is naturally found in several plant-based foods, including grains, and is often referred to as an antinutrient because it binds to minerals, making them more difficult for your body to absorb ( 11 ).

The lactic acid bacteria found in sourdough bread lower the bread’s pH, which helps deactivate phytate. Because of this, sourdough bread tends to contain less phytate than other types of bread ( 11 , 12 ).

Research suggests that sourdough fermentation could reduce the phytate content of bread by more than 70%, with the lowest levels found in breads made from doughs with pH levels between 4.3 and 4.6 and fermented at 77°F (25°C) ( 13 ).

What’s more, the dough’s low pH, combined with the lactic acid bacteria it contains, tends to increase the nutrient and antioxidant content of sourdough bread ( 12 , 13 ).

Finally, sourdough’s longer fermentation time helps improve the aroma, flavor, and texture of whole grain bread. So if you aren’t typically a fan of whole grain bread, a whole grain sourdough bread may be the perfect way to include whole grains in your diet ( 13 ).

Summary

Sourdough bread contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than other breads. It also contains lower levels of phytate and therefore allows your body to absorb the nutrients it contains more easily than those in regular bread.

Sourdough bread is often easier to digest than bread that’s been fermented with brewer’s yeast.

The lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast present during sourdough fermentation help neutralize the antinutrients naturally found in grains, which helps your body digest foods made from these grains more easily ( 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 ).

Sourdough fermentation may also produce prebiotics, a type of indigestible fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, in turn easing digestion and improving your gut health ( 14 , 16 ).

What’s more, the sourdough fermentation process also helps break down large compounds found in grains, such as gluten proteins, ultimately making them easier for your body to digest ( 13 ).

Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains. It can cause digestive issues in people who are sensitive or allergic to it ( 11 ).

Gluten tolerance varies from person to person. Some people have no noticeable issues digesting gluten, whereas in others it can cause stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation ( 17 ).

Sourdough bread’s lower gluten content may make it easier to tolerate for people who are sensitive to gluten.

This makes gluten-free sourdough bread an interesting option for people with gluten-related disorders.

However, keep in mind that sourdough fermentation does not degrade gluten completely. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid sourdough bread containing wheat, barley, or rye.

Summary

Sourdough bread contains lower amounts of gluten, lower levels of antinutrients, and more prebiotics — all of which may help improve your digestion.

Sourdough bread may have a better effect on blood sugar and insulin levels than other types of bread, though scientists don’t fully understand the reason for this.

Researchers believe that sourdough fermentation may change the structure of carb molecules. This reduces the bread’s glycemic index (GI) and slows down the speed at which sugars enter the bloodstream ( 13 , 14 ).

However, several factors can affect the GI response, and more research is needed on how sourdough affects it ( 18 ).

The GI is a measure of how a food affects blood sugar. Foods with a lower GI are less likely to produce a spike in blood sugar levels.

In addition, the lactic acid bacteria found in the dough produce acids during fermentation. Some researchers believe these acids may help prevent a spike in blood sugar ( 13 , 19 ).

The sourdough fermentation process is often used to make rye breads because rye does not contain enough gluten for baker’s yeast to work effectively.

One study showed that participants who consumed rye bread had a lower spike in insulin levels than those who ate the same amount of conventional wheat bread ( 20 ).

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In addition, several other studies have compared participants’ blood sugar increases after eating sourdough bread and bread fermented with baker’s yeast.

Generally, participants who ate the sourdough bread had lower blood sugar and insulin levels than those who ate the breads fermented with baker’s yeast ( 3 , 21 , 22 , 23 ).

Summary

Sourdough fermentation produces changes in the bread that may help control blood sugar better than bread made using traditional baker’s yeast.

You can make fresh sourdough bread at home from three simple ingredients: water, flour, and salt.

Here is a quick overview of the steps required:

  1. Make a sourdough starter a few days beforehand. You can find many simple recipes online. Creating an initial starter takes less than 5 minutes.
  2. Feed your starter daily and let it grow for a few days. You will use part of this starter to make the bread and save the rest for future use.
  3. On the day you want to make your bread, mix part of your starter with flour and water and allow this mixture to rest for a few hours. Then add salt.
  4. Fold the dough a few times before letting it rest again for 10–30 minutes. Repeat the folding and resting steps a few times, until the dough becomes smooth and stretchy.
  5. On the final rest, let the dough rise at room temperature until it grows to about 1.5 times its original volume.
  6. Shape your bread loaf and bake it in a Dutch oven.
  7. Allow the bread to cool on a rack for 2–3 hours before slicing it.

Keep in mind that making your sourdough starter will take 3–5 days. Do not rush this process, as the quality of your starter is what will give your dough a good flavor and help it rise.

Also, note that you will use only part of the starter to make the bread. You can save the rest for future use as long as you refrigerate it and “feed” it at least once a week.

When you’re ready to make another loaf, simply take your starter out of the fridge 1–3 days ahead of time and feed it once a day until it strengthens again.

Summary

Follow the steps above to make your first loaf of bread. An online search will reveal many recipes for sourdough starter and bread that you can follow.

Sourdough bread is a great alternative to conventional bread.

It’s richer in nutrients, less likely to spike your blood sugar, and generally easier to digest.

Just remember that sourdough fermentation doesn’t degrade gluten completely. So if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it’s best to avoid sourdough bread made from wheat, barley, or rye, all of which contain gluten.

Many people report that sourdough bread has a better aroma, flavor, and texture than bread made using baker’s yeast. All things considered, you may want to give sourdough bread a try.

You can make sourdough bread from virtually any type of flour. For the most benefits, choose a sourdough bread made from whole grains over one made from refined grains whenever possible.

Just one thing

Try this today: If you have flour and water, you can make sourdough starter right now. The first step takes less than 5 minutes. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make it 3–5 days in advance of the day you want to bake your first loaf of sourdough.

You can find starter recipes and instructional videos to follow online with a quick search.

Last medically reviewed on December 20, 2021

Is Sourdough Bread Healthy?

Here at EatingWell, we love our carbs. And while all carbs are not created equal, nutritious whole grains deserve a regular spot on your plate for a variety of reasons. In fact, whole grains, like quinoa, barley, oatmeal and popcorn, contribute valuable nutrients to your diet and can even help you lose weight. Many types of bread are packed with nutrition and can be part of a healthy diet, including sourdough bread. We dove into the research to find these impressive health benefits of sourdough bread.

Related: 6 Healthy Breads You Should Be Eating, According to a Dietitian

Sourdough Nutrition

Whether you buy sourdough from the store or make your own, it has a pretty impressive nutrition profile. Most sourdough isn’t made with whole-grain flour but if you make it at home you can use whole-wheat flour for your bread. Here is the nutrition for one slice of sourdough bread, per the USDA:

  • 84 calories
  • 3g protein
  • 0.75g fat
  • 16g carbohydrates
  • 1g fiber
  • 7% DV iron
  • 10% DV folate

What sets sourdough apart from traditional bread is that it is made by fermenting flour and water, rather than adding yeast to create a leaven. According to a 2019 review in Nutrients, the fermentation process helps to unlock B vitamins in the bread, and even enables the enrichment of vitamin B12 in plant-based foods (B12 is found primarily in animal-based foods). Additionally, sourdough is usually made with fortified flour so it delivers iron and folate, which are important before and during pregnancy.

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4 Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

Not only does sourdough bread deliver a tangy flavor that’s perfect for toast and sandwiches, but it’s good for you, too! Here are four science-backed benefits of sourdough bread.

1. Is Good for Your Gut

The fermentation process for sourdough bread can lead to an increased number of prebiotic- and probiotic-like properties, which help improve gut health, according to a 2021 review in the journal Microorganisms. Look for sourdough bread made with whole grains, which are higher in fiber than processed grains, giving your bread additional gut-friendly benefits.

2. Can Lead to Better Digestion

Even though sourdough bread is not gluten-free, a 2021 review in the journal Foods found that sourdough consumption might help improve the digestion of gluten. The fermentation process for sourdough alters the enzymes in the wheat and might potentially help counteract adverse reactions to gluten. While it’s too soon to recommend sourdough bread to people with celiac disease (who cannot tolerate gluten), people who feel sensitive to gluten may want to talk to their healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to see if they might be able to enjoy sourdough bread without the adverse effects.

3. Promotes Healthy Aging

Whole grains and bread, like sourdough bread, are a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Some research has pointed out it could also be a crucial food to help promote healthy aging. A 2019 review in the journal Nutrients found that fermented grain-based products, like sourdough, have antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, and FODMAP-reducing qualities.

4. Can Help Keep Blood Sugars in a Healthy Range

Eating carbohydrates naturally causes our blood glucose to rise as we digest them, but rapid spikes and drops in blood glucose can increase the risk for chronic illnesses, like diabetes. We get those big spikes from eating simple carbohydrates, like sugar and refined grains, especially when they’re not paired with protein and fat (two nutrients that slow down digestion).

How foods affect your blood glucose is quantified by glycemic index and glycemic load. Glycemic index refers to how much your blood glucose rises two hours after consuming a food, whereas glycemic load indicates how quickly the blood glucose spike occurs. According to a 2019 editorial review in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index and glycemic load than white bread and whole-wheat bread that is not fermented. Whole-wheat sourdough is higher in fiber, which additionally lowers the strain it puts on your blood glucose.

The Bottom Line

Sourdough has made a comeback—and for good reason. It’s packed with nutrients, healthy carbs, protein, fiber and vitamins like folate and iron. It can improve digestion, lower chronic disease risk and even promote healthy aging. Whether you buy it from a local bakery or make some yourself, including sourdough bread on your menu will allow you to reap its flavorful benefits.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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