The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Story on the health benefits of sourdough

Floydm's picture

Story on the health benefits of sourdough

There is a story on the CBC today about the health benefits of eating sourdough bread featuring Byron Fry. It is worth checking out.

So... if you've read it, what do you think?  

I have to go back and review my bread science (though there is a good short article by Emily Buehler on the topic here) but... well, I'm not sure I'm in agreement with syllogism built into the article that "Gluten is bad.  Sourdough is lower in gluten.  Thus sourdough is good (or less bad)."  It is a bit more complex than that, isn't it?  With the protease and the amylase and the lactobacillus... well, as I said, I'm a bit rusty here.  Clearly sourdough bread still has a ton of gluten in it or you wouldn't be able to get those beautiful crumb structures in your loaves, no?  And, yes, there is a lot of evidence that naturally leavened, whole grain bread spikes blood sugar levels less and is easier for people to digest, but that doesn't necessarily make gluten the boogieman, does it? 

Despite my gripes, it is good to see Byron out there spreading the word about the healthfulness of real bread. His bakery looks awesome. I hope to get out there and check it out some day soon. 

pmccool's picture

and there's no way he'd be able to handle one of my sourdough breads.  The tiniest bit of gluten causes extreme misery for him.

There are other people who, it seems, have varying degrees of gluten sensitivity and some may be better able to tolerate sourdough breads than non-sourdough breads.  There is also documentation from studies that indicates sourdough causes less of a blood sugar spike after consumption than would an equivalent non-sourdough bread, as you mention.

And then there is a very noisy contingent who have jumped on the anti-gluten bandwagon because, well, because it's the cool thing to do just now.  This group, generally, relies more on anecdotal accounts than on careful investigation. Many are responding to something that they heard from someone else, or to a marketing blitz, rather than on a considered examination of their own symptoms (if there are any) and how their body responds to changes in diet.  That makes discussion very difficult because the anti-gluten view becomes less a matter of fact and more a matter of belief.

Completely eliminating gluten from our diets is extremely challenging, as my friend knows from numerous encounters with foods that, presumably, ought not contain gluten.  Consequently, it seems to me that most of the recent passengers on the anti-gluten bandwagon may be eliminating gluten from one or two obvious sources but are probably still ingesting it via other, less obvious, sources without ever realizing it.  And they don't realize it because they are not symptomatic, which would indicate that they really don't have a problem with gluten.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while there are people who truly need to avoid gluten, there are a lot more who are following a fad.


ichadwick's picture

I created a similar post in another area of the forum, looking for any scientific background to the claims. The best I have found so far is a discussion of the cited Italian study:

It notes:

Five participants ate 200 grams of baked goods made from "fully hydrolyzed wheat flour for 60 days." This group of Celiacs exhibited no signs of gluten toxicity. Methods used to assess gluten damage in the participants included anti–tissue transglutaminase antibody blood tests and small bowel biopsy.

Participants that ate the baked goods prepared with "natural flour" and "extensively hydrolyzed flour" suffered varying degrees of gluten toxicity. Some participants had to drop out of the study due to adverse reactions to gluten.

Seems that the "fully hydrolyzed wheat flour" may hold the key, and it unclear what effect (if any) the lactobacilli treatment had.

PaddyL's picture

I make sourdough bread because I find it's easier to digest than even the best store-bought breads.  My own bread does not cause cramps and it doesn't make my blood sugar spike the way bakery/patisserie breads do, and I can eat white sourdough, rather than having to lean on whole wheat or other whole grain breads.  Being a diabetic with diverticulosis, I have to be careful.

dabrownman's picture

levels of Celiac disease like there are diabetics - there really are degrees of everything. Some celiacs can not handle any gluten or bread of any kind like Paul's friend, also like Paul said, others can handle quite a bit and can eat small amounts of bread that are lower in gluten like rye.  Some diabetics have to be on insulin and others, though portion control, proper weight and exercise can stay off of it but have to take other meds and others can even do without any medications like me. 

Still this gluten free movement is s fad. they learned from Atkins craze many years ago  The company I worked for distributed the Atkins food all over the country and when the easily fooled, don't know what else to call it, on the East and West coast where the craze predominated (more on the West coast though), we could not get enough Atkins products from the manufacturer. 

I remember at one time at the height of teh craze, we were short 10 tractor trailer loads, after ordering 20 just  for our CA plant alone  - just in one week.  When we did get the product to the stores, it just flew off the shelves.  There there was underground network of Atkins consumers that would find out what stores would get Atkins that day.   Through the Internet, the word would get  out and they would camp out in the parking lot till our truck arrived to make the delivery.  Then, all of the sudden and without warning, even though we were waiting for it and made plans not to be holding the Atkins bag when the craze was over, the once ravenous Atkins consumer stopped buying Atkins products for what ever reason and the craze was over.  We made a fortune in a very short time by doing exactly what our customers demanded..

Had to make a phone call this morning to confirm what I thought was gong on in the Gluten free world from a distributor stand point.   Gluten Free isn't as nuts as Atkins was, at least not yet, but it predominates on the East and West coast again - just like Atkins.   The manufacturers and distributors will once again make a pile of money off the Gluten Free market that is growing into what might but  probably won't be a craze - but it ill take longer.

There were lots of fat people in Americ to push Atkin's into the craze stage but there are very very few folks that are sensitive to gluten.  Atkins was the only player in the no carbs field when, through marketing, it just exploded.   But look at all the Gluten free products out there today - not one of them will be an Atkins but if you distribute them all then the pile of money starts to build into one Atkins eventually.  You jsut have to know that the end is coming and be ready for itso you don't get stuck holding the 'no one wants gluten free anymore' bag,

It is all marketing, just like it is most of the time for these kinds of things we call fads.  These fads prove that many people are easily fooled and even easier easy to have their money separated from them.  But like Atkins, the positive side is that people who are gluten sensitive now have a much wider range of products to choose from at the store and that is a very good thing.  Sadly, once the fad wears off, many of these produce won't sell well and ill be dropped from store shelves for lack of sales -  to be replaced by the next fad.  Still, a few will remain for the celiacs that were not there before.  

The good thing is that if you have folks with a celiac problem somewhere in your family, you can learn to make gluten free products for them, many at a higher quality - as so many Fresh Lofians do and save a ton of money and be more ready when many of these gluten free products disappear from store shelves from lack of sales.

I do feel sorry for the baker where most of his customers are buying his bread because of gluten intolerance or other supposed bad things gluten will do to you.  I'm guessing he needs to broaden his customer base a quickly as he can by telling his customers how great his bread tastes, how healthy it is and ho it has been the staff of life for centuries -for good reason otherwise.

I used ti think that SD was the main way folks made bread up till the time that commercial yeast became available from the Ancient Egyptian 's 5,000 years ago until 1865 AD or so. Then i saw a show on PBS that was hosted by a food historian and anthropologist.   He was making SD breads on one episode of  a series of shows showing how people used to make all kinds of food.  He claimed that almost all of the old breads over those many thousands of years were actually made from skimming off the froth of yeast from the top of fermenting beer, wine and whisky instead of SD

It seems that SD was known but mainly used by people who were traveling long distances or far from where beer wine and whiskey were being made or where alcohol was forbidden by religion in later thousands of years.  He said, as far as bread making goes, SD is the really cutting edge of and newest forms of bread making.  More people today use SD for making bread then ever before thanks to its resurgence from the 18 49's gold miner days where SD predominated in a small part of the world.

So many Fresh Lofians are the cutting edge and at the forefront of the newest adn current  bread making scene.   This makes me feel pretty good - but it might be a fad :-)  Also, as we now think we know, LAB SF is the LAB strain found most often in SD cultures all over the world and not restricted to the SF area.

Happy baking

pjkobulnicky's picture

Part of our nature as humans is trying to understand what is going on the world around us and in the world inside us. The problem is that we seek overly simplistic and causal explanations because we can't comprehend much more than simplistic and we like causal. In fact, we love simple causality and we love it so much that we are, as Browman indicated, sitting ducks for marketers and pitchmen. Compounding this is that recognition in science too often goes to the proof of simple causality, or at least the strong implication of it.  The reality, however, is that so much of the world around and/or inside of us is a complex system with many interacting actors. The relationships among these actors is so rich and varied that that to draw conclusions about the effect of one on the world is akin to the classic example of the effect of a Chinese butterfly wing flap on the weather a week off in NYC.

This is why there is so much interest these days in the multitude of life in the human gut. Keep it rich, varied and healthy because only much and varied life can react to the many situations that get thrown at us. Good bread and a good gut work well together and my guess is that statistically, those of us who care about the bread we eat probably care about much of what we eat and probably keep ourselves rather healthy. So, maybe it s a self selecting thing. Naturally leavened bread is judged as good for us because it is mostly consumed by those of us who generally put lots of good stuff into our systems. But I am not ready to say that we can isolate the specific effects of naturally leavened bread on the total health of the general population.


lepainSamidien's picture

It's sad to watch the term "gluten-free" become more interchangeable with "healthy"; to hear doctors lambaste against wheat, and attribute to it early-onset dementia, obesity, and a host of other equally daunting threats; and to feel that bread culture in America survives only in small, circumscribed alveoli whose walls are in constant need of reinforcement from the Gwenyth Paltrow's of the world.

But it does seem that there is an incongruence to the decline of bread culture in the wake of the gluten-free craze: it seems that while, on the one hand, more people are opting for the GF lifestyle, on the other, true American bread culture finds itself in the midst of a renaissance. Judging by the activity on sites like these, the emergence of more artisanal bakeries in urban centers, and a renewed interest in grain production and milling, it appears that America is leaving behind finally the comfort of the Platonic Wonder-Bread cave, inside of which we were previously trapped, masticating shadow puppets.

SD'ing is definitely becoming more popular, which I find reassuring. But I do lament the fact that so many people choose to go GF simply because of some random hearsay, which is then reinforced by some serious Googling (the ultimate tool of confirmation bias). There's almost too much information that documents the evils of wheat, and people believe whatever they read, so long as it allows them to externalize the blame for a problem that is, more than likely, self-created. I'm not talking about the celiacs (for whom I feel extreme sympathy), but about those who believe in the inherent salubriousness of a gluten-free diet. Personally, I eat upwards of 3-pounds of gluten-imprisoned bread every single day, and according to my last doctor's check-up, I am in peak physical condition.

I worry sometimes that people just eat GF in lieu of a balanced diet and exercise. GF is a form of slight punishment, one by which people want to be rewarded. 

pjkobulnicky's picture

Going GF, when not medically necessary,  is also used as an attention getter, feel sorry for me, cry from the lonely and under appreciated. The answer of course is "bake good bread, give it away, make friends doing so and feel appreciated".

dabrownman's picture

is Bill O'Reilly telling his huge audience on TV, every night it seems, how giving up wheat changed his life so much for the better and cured every one of his health problems - completely, period! Now Sprouts has dropped grain berries for the bins for health reasons and no sales.  I'm guessing Whole Foods will do the same and many will be without any place to get whole grains to make bread.

lepainSamidien's picture

I was visiting a friend in NYC yesterday, one for whom I used to make pain au levain, and who has (since my departure) made a semi-conversion to a GF diet because, she lamented, bread that she had purchased from the grocery store upset her stomach. However, she noted, the breads that I had made for her never wreaked havoc on her digestive system, but rather, had quite the opposite effect.

Perhaps, then, it is not gluten that is always to blame, but either a not-so-easily-metabolized additive to mass-produced loaves or a problem with their process of production (the super-duper intensive mixing, the adding of more yeast, etc.) I'd be curious to learn what it is, specifically, that makes your mega-mart sandwich loaf so disagreeable.