Want the benefits of whole grains and probiotics all in one? Sourdough bread may be your new best friend. Here's why sourdough is so good for you.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.

Pictured Recipe: Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread

When you think of gut health and the microbiome, bread may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, a study recently published in Microbiome brought to light how rye, one type of flour typically used for sourdough bread (fermented bread), is rich in gut-friendly bacteria. Don't be fooled, this doesn't mean every loaf of bread at the supermarket holds the same health benefits. Read on to get the inside scoop on what sets fermented bread apart.

Related: 7 Must-Eat Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut

What Is Sourdough?

Pictured Recipe: Whole-Wheat Sourdough Starter

The difference-maker for fermented breads is the starter. Compared to traditional bread, sourdough and rye sourdough use a special starter in place of dry yeast to leaven the bread. The bread starter is made of wheat, flour and a whole bunch of very active bacteria. This is what initiates the fermentation and gives the loaf its tangy, sour flavor. Because the starter is living, it becomes like a pet. Every day you feed it water and flour in equal proportions so that it can grow and thrive.

Once your starter has become established (notice the bubbles that form each day), you are ready to make bread. Traditional sourdough bread has only flour, water and starter.

Sourdough Nutrition

One small slice of sourdough bread contains around:

  • 93 calories
  • 18g carbs
  • 4g protein
  • 1g fiber

The fermentation process unlocks the B vitamins, niacin in particular, stored in the bran and germ of the whole-wheat flour. Sourdough bread is also high in folate, which is a crucial nutrient for women of childbearing age.

As a result of the fermentation process, sourdough bread can be beneficial to your gut microbiota. A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland looked at what specifically rye, the flour typically used in sourdough bread, can contribute to your microbiome. Their major findings were that rye had several antioxidants and increased good gut bacteria. This led to improved health status and metabolism among the rats they tested.

What they found was that eating sourdough, and other fermented breads, leads to greater variety and diversity in your gut microbiome. From sourdough, you can derive the benefits of a whole grain and probiotics all in one slice. Compared to eating white bread, people who ate sourdough had a lower insulin response, better blood glucose control and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.

Other studies have found improved gluten digestion from regular sourdough consumption. While wheat-based sourdough bread is not gluten-free, it may be tolerated well by people with mild gluten sensitivity. Traditional sourdough bread that you make at home is dairy-free and vegan, although you'll want to check labels on store-bought breads to make sure. When making sourdough at home, you can use rye, whole-wheat or white flour. Using whole-wheat flour will provide you with the most fiber, about 3 grams per slice, along with 130 calories and 24 total grams of carbohydrates, depending on the size of the slice. White-flour sourdough has similar calories and carbs, but only about 1 gram fiber.

Where to Find It or Make It

Make your own:

You can make sourdough the old-fashioned way (try our Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread) or cheat a little bit. First, to save some time in the baking process, check with your local bakery to see if they'll give you some of their sourdough starter. Usually, so long as you don't start selling bread commercially, bakeries are happy to share or sell their starter and give advice. If you don't have a go-to bakery in mind, you can also check out this recipe for Whole-Wheat Sour-Faux Bread. Instead of several days, this can give you a tasty loaf in just 12 hours.

Where to buy?

You can also find fresh sourdough or rye breads at many stores and bakeries. Be sure to read the label and check for whole-wheat flour, so you can enjoy the deliciousness with all of the health benefits. Once you have your super-nutritious bread ready to go, check out these Healthy Sandwich Recipes.

Learn more: 30-Day Healthy Gut Challenge

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