The craze for baking your own sourdough bread has died down as people get out and about more, but you may still be eating sourdough. The question is: is sourdough bread healthier than other kinds of bread?
Define your terms
First, it depends what you mean by sourdough. Sourdough bread is leavened with natural yeast developed during a long fermenting process. There is some evidence that this process creates some health benefits, as discussed below.
However, a lot of bread labeled “sourdough” contains ordinary bakers’ yeast and flavorings to give it a sourdough tang, without having gone through that process.
The example below shows a bread that contains yeast, which authentic sourdough bread does not. This bread will not have any of the special qualities of authentic sourdough bread.
Before moving on to those special qualities, we also have to define what we mean by “healthy.”
Checking the nutrition label above shows that a serving of this bread provides 1 gram of fiber, 5 grams of protein, no sugar, and 10% of the minimum daily requirement of iron. This kind of information from a nutrition label is what we usually consider when we think about whether a food is healthy or not.
The label below is from a common white bread loaf. It has 2 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein. It’s also enriched with vitamins and minerals.
The label below, from whole wheat bread, contains 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein, plus 6% of iron requirements.
One more label, shown below, is from authentic sourdough bread made with whole wheat flour. It has 2 grams of fiber, no sugar, 4 grams of protein, and some iron and potassium.
Sourdough bread doesn’t contain sugar, while ordinary sandwich bread often does. Otherwise, the macronutrients depend on the kind of flour used. Whole wheat flour will generally contain more fiber than white flour. Enriched flour will also have vitamins and minerals to offer. This is true regardless of the kind of leavening used.
Special to sourdough
Now, what about those special healthy characteristics of authentic sourdough bread? The development of lactic acid in sourdough starter creates more antioxidants in this type of bread than in other kinds. It may also make some minerals more available for digestion than they are in ordinary bread by breaking down phytates which keep your body from accessing all the minerals in ordinary bread.
Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index than white bread. It may not raise your blood sugar as much as ordinary white bread.
It is also lower in gluten. While people with celiac disease cannot eat wheat-based sourdough bread, people with gluten sensitivity may be fine with it.
The bottom line is that sourdough bread made with whole grain flour may be a healthier choice than more common types of bread. Reading the nutrition labels of the different breads you are considering will tell you for sure.