Food for Thought: Health Benefits of Sourdough

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sourdough bread 3 Fermented foods are oft lauded for their massive health benefits, including beneficial bacteria to balance your intestinal flora and easier digestion. Lactic acid fermentation not only helps to preserve food but also increases the nutrients available for our bodies.

We’re told daily via advertisements of the probiotic health benefits of one of my favorite foods, yogurt (see directions for easy homemade). This fermented dairy product is popular in the United States, while so many other fermented foods just haven’t caught on. Because of that, if you’re a standard American eater, your taste buds may take some time to adjust to the tang of sourdough. It is just that tang, however, that gives sourdough grain preparation all its nutritional might. Sourdough bread preparation improves nutrition by:

  • pre-digesting starches, making the bread more easily digestible
  • lowering insulin response/improving glucose tolerance
  • protecting Vitamin B1 from the damage of the heat of baking
  • breaking down gluten, which may result in a bread that gluten-sensitive people can eat
  • activating phytase to hydrolyze (dissolve) the phytates, thus freeing up minerals such as:
    • zinc
    • iron
    • magnesium
    • copper
    • phosphorus

Why Sourdough?

Because sourdough leavening works much slower than commercial yeast, the bread dough ends up sitting around longer. The lactic acid creates an ideal pH for phytase activity, which decreases phytates by 62% (compared to 38% in yeast breads). I am convinced that sourdough is THE most nutritious way to prepare grains. (See all my soaking grains research here.)


In Sue Becker’s phytic acid article, she counters that sourdough does not ferment all the flour, only that which is used in the overnight sponge. She doesn’t take into account the long rise time of the entire batch of dough, however. It is then that so much of the breaking down of phytates, complex starches and sugars, and other difficult-to-digest elements happens.

Sourdough rye is the most nutritious of them all, because it has more phytase activity and thus even fewer phytates in the finished product to bind to your minerals. I just love that the traditional phrase “sourdough rye” turns out to be scientifically proven as the healthiest bread. Somehow our ancestors figured out all the good stuff without the benefit of labs!

Adding milk to your sourdough actually inhibits the sourdough process. I didn’t want to hear that, because my favorite sourdough bread recipe uses milk. I tested it with just water, though, and it still turned out great!

We’ll be sharing sourdough recipes all next week. Keep feeding your sourdough starter, at least a Tbs a day of flour and (sometimes) water, and get ready to try some sourdough baking come Monday! If you want to learn how to make nearly anything with your sourdough starter, check out the 24 weeks of multi-media sourdough goodness in the GNOWFGLINS Sourdough eCourse, where I’m honored to be a guest lecturer twice.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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57 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Kara says

    Thank you for your posts on sourdough! I’m getting excited about making my own starter and beginning to work with sourdough.

    Love your blog!

  2. Deb J says

    Sourdough is my favorite bread. It started when I first had some in San Francisco. I don’t eat bread often because I am diabetic but when I do I prefer sourdough. Yummy!

    • Katie says

      Deb,
      Sounds like sourdough *should* be the best bread for a diabetic to eat, too! Have you ever had 100% whole wheat srdo?
      :) Katie

      • Deb J says

        Yes, I have had 100% whole wheat sourdough. We have a lady at church who makes all of her breads from scratch. Since I don’t have equipment to make it and my hands can’t handle the kneading I’ve been thinking about having her make me some. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

  3. karen says

    I made sourdough starter and I’ve tried bread twice. Both times the bread wasn’t even eligible for hockey puck usage. GAH! Pancakes were ok but tasted terrible after freezing. I’m going to stick with it but failed cooking projects just kill me.

    • Melissa Schilling says

      I’ve never made sourdough bread, but I make yeast bread and pizza dough all the time. Maybe your liquids (water) are too hot–just use lukewarm liquids when you make bread. My loafs used to turn out like hockey pucks, too. Use barely warm water only.

      • K says

        did u mean to indicate a site which helps make sourdough?? (u mentioned “best sight” .. i’m definitely curious .. i’ve tried in the past; its so SLOW…but i’m willing to wait i guess…

  4. Ali says

    I’ve been hearing about sourdough starters but hadn’t taken the time to read up on it. I had no idea how advantageous it was to use for bread.

    Do you think our ancestors were able to figure out what was the most nutritious methods for us because they could read their bodies more easily? It seems likely, its so hard these days for people to realize the harm their doing to their bodies because they damage it so frequently.

    • Katie says

      Ali,
      Sounds like a valid theory, for sure! Also, some of the healthiest things were just the only way to do it – before yeast was able to be packaged, you had to capture it if you wanted bread to rise. The first incidence of capturing yeast certainly happened on accident, too. Imagine what people thought then their flour and water started bubbling! I just think God likes to help us be healthy, if we would just go with what naturally works.

      Thanks for the thought!
      :) Katie

  5. jennifer says

    How about recipes that use a sourdough starter without a long rise time? I have made sourdough muffins, cookies, pancakes. I’m wondering if there are health benefits (or just a way to use leftover starter which is fine too). Any ideas?

    • Katie says

      Jennifer,
      These sourdough crackers can be made after only 10 minutes, although half the flour ends up not “soured” that way, and many folks make sourdough crepes that use the starter right from the jar and make the crepes immediately. (No recipe on KS though.) Some pancake recipes have the overnight souring, but some use the starter right from the jar in the a.m. Does that help at all? :) Katie

  6. Sam's Wife says

    Katie,
    I had never made or worked with sourdough until about a month ago when I discovered your blog. First of all I want to say Thank You for your easy to follow recipe instructions and posting pictures of the process! That made it MUCH easier for this first timer. I had sucess right from the beginning and have used your awesome recipe for the bread several times-never even had to enjoy those crutons you talked about! 😉 Again Thanks for all the info and you have inspired me to go to the next level with fermented foods. Thanks again and God’s Blessings to you.
    Sam’s Wife
    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

  7. Brian says

    Thanks for the information on sourdough! A starter idea for folks with mold problems:
    Go to a beer brewing supply store. Buy a tube of Lager yeast. Use that for your starter yeast. Keep the crock of starter in the refrigerator. Lager yeast remains active at lower temperatures so the starter will work in the cool. The cool seems to inhibit molds. When I use my starter I just bring out what I need and let it work at room temperature as normal.

  8. Melissa Schilling says

    After reading all the comments about sour dough bread I can’t wait to make some! Hot water kills yeast so your loaves won’t rise properly when making yeast bread–however, I don’t know why sour dough bread might not rise.

  9. amy says

    I have been using sprouted spelt flour for muffins, waffles, etc but have not been successful with loaf bread. I don’t do “soaked” flours because I find life always interrups my well laid “plans” and my soaked flour sits too long. Anyway, I need a good loaf/sandwich bread and can’t seem to find one for sprouted bread and ran across this article in my quest for more info but it only raised more questions.

    Help me understand why sourdough using unsprouted whole grains is better than the sprouted flours. I am still learning and don’t quite understand “why”. You may have already addressed this in another article so please share the link if you have. Thanks

    • Katie says

      Amy,
      The “better” part is mostly just that there’s more (and more conclusive) research on humans done with sourdough. Sprouted grains are definitely lower carb, but there’s not much research to prove that sprouting definitively nails the PHYTATES, which is what I was researching. So if you need fewer carbs, sprouting is the way to go. Worried about mineral absorption? Go sourdough. I like to mix them up, myself! :) Katie

  10. Lauren T. says

    I am wondering if I grind my own flour and use sourdough do I still need to soak the grains before grinding them or would that be pointless?

    • Katie says

      Lauren,
      Most people say that if you sprout flour AND do sourdough, it doesn’t even work that well for bread. It’s redundant to soak and sour, so just pick one and give yourself a break! 😉 Katie

  11. says

    Hi Katie,
    Just found your blog and linked up to Sarah’s blog through you. I’m so glad I found you guys! I’m attempting sour dough and bread baking for the first time (wish me luck!) and your posts have helped greatly. My question: you say that the fermenting activity of the sourdough is inhibited by addition of milk…do you have a link to that so I can research it some more? Also, there was a bread recipe on Sarah’s website that said you could sub yogurt for the milk….do you think that would help? Thanks again for all your time and effort in helping others get healthier and be good stewards! :)

    • Katie says

      Emily,
      Sorry it took so long to reply! I can’t for the life of me remember where I read that…maybe in sources for this article? Since I can’t remember why, I don’t know about the yogurt, either. But good luck with bread! :) Katie

  12. Jeannetta says

    What if you replace Kefir instead of milk? I like the texture milk lends to bread. I am just beginning this journey into fermented foods, and since I adore bread, this is important to me 😀

  13. Sal says

    You mention Sue Becker’s article, which I’ve read, indeed it has nothing to back up her assertion that not all the flour in the dough ferments, it is simply a view, counter to logic, she wishes to enforce to support her weak argument. In fact she makes a number of such nonsense claims including quoting Sara Shannon as stating an adequate diet (containing plenty of phytic acid!) will provide all the nutrients needed, however what Shannon actually says is the exact opposite, she states the need for supplementing with zinc, for example, to counter the effect of phytic acid inhibiting zinc absorbtion. There’s a lot more wrong with Becker’s article and it’s best not to provide any link to her grossly misleading article without a full critique.
    Anyways, I love sourdough rye bread and enjoy making it, I do get huge bubbles in it which commercially made bread I used to buy seemed unable to achieve.

  14. Rachael says

    Such a helpful blog!
    I am new to baking and was wondering if any of you have ever used any starters from Sourdough’s International.. I have a friend who loves it but I’m looking for some more opinions.

  15. Jason says

    Hey,

    I am trying to reduce phytic acid in my foods. I like to eat oats and lentils and beans a lot. I bought a sourdough starter so i can start making sourdough rye bread. My sister is helping me.

    If i understand correctly i need to have phytase alive in what i feed the yeast so that when i soak my grain and add the yeast then the yeast will help break down the phytic acid.

    I read that heat destroys phytase. So where do i buy organic rye at? Do i have to buy it as seed in order for it to not be cooked or preserved state? I buy a lot of bob’s red mill stuff, but i heard that all of that is steamed or toasted or whatever so it doesn’t go bad as fast.

    Seems the key to all of this is to get high phytase rye and then make sourdough rye and use the starter to soak my oatmeal (overnight is enough?).

    Bleh need some help and guidance here. I got my starter which i am growing tomorrow and i bought some Bobs red mill cracked rye. Going to make that into flour form to feed the starter.

    Any tips and advice are welcome! Thanks health enthusiasts.

    JD

    • says

      Jason,
      Yikes, your comment got totally misplaced, sorry about that! Let me try to break down your questions into a bulleted list; I think better that way:

      1. To find out about Bob’s Red Mill and steaming/sterilizing, I’d email or check online FAQs. Bet they get that Q a lot! Then you’ll know for sure if you need to jump through any hoops.
      2. Phytase will be most active in freshly ground grain no matter what…so if you have a grain grinder or high-powered blender (or a $10 coffee grinder for small amounts!) your very best bet for phytase is to grind your own.
      3. Sourdough is GREAT! It’s going to break down the phytic acid and other tough-to-digest parts no matter what, freshly ground or not. You won’t need to add yeast to a good sourdough recipe (the natural yeasts do the job) and it’s different than ‘soaking’ – better. So any sourdough recipe will help you meet your goal. (I think of sourdough and soaking in different categories, and they really are!)
      4. You can soak oatmeal with your sourdough starter (just a little bit) and you might like it, but it WILL be more sour that way than with whey drained from yogurt, which is what I prefer. Best practice of course is to add a little freshly ground wheat, buckwheat or rye flour to the oats when you soak them.
      5. How’s your starter going so far? Have you made anything! You’re on a fun and worthwhile adventure! :) Katie

  16. donna says

    From reading about sourdough, there appears to be no added yeast. Does the fermentation process turn into yeast? Is it a different kind of yeast than that in regular bread and beer? I ask because I’d love to make bread for my GF son, who is sensitive to yeast. Of course, he’s allergic to eggs, too, so I’d experiment with flax seeds. But just wondering about the yeast in sourdough…

  17. Heather says

    Thank you for the information on sourdough- I’m still learning and a little overwhelmed with sprouting vs. soaking vs. sourdough to reduce the phytic acid.
    I did not like the taste of soaked flour and sprouted flour was “gummy” tasting. Sourdough appears to be the winner for this family. However I am still confused regarding how to reduce the remainder of flour in most recipes, that not being in the overnight soak with the starter. Do the remaining cups of flour, added the next day, have adequate time for the reduction to take place? If not, what is the process?
    Thank you

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