The Nutrition in Sourdough Bread

Wild-yeasted sourdough breads have complex flavors, last longer and are more digestible than other breads.


  • The health benefits, flavor and low cost of baking your own sourdough bread makes it worth the effort.
    Photo by iStock/knape
  • A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour, water, live yeast and live bacteria that you feed to keep alive.
    Photo by iStock/jirkaejc

For many people, the pinnacle of good bread is sourdough. Perhaps this is because more than 200 aromas can be detected in a well-made loaf. It is also the bread-baking method best suited to whole grains, because the complex ecology of a living sourdough starter works well with biologically complex, living foods. (The outer layers of wheat berries and other whole grains actually contain living cells.)

Yet many of these same people have shied away from trying sourdough at home. The recipes seem complicated because they involve steps over more than one day, but the steps themselves are not complicated — sometimes nothing more than stirring is required. Even if you mess up here and there along the way, chances are good you will turn out tasty loaves. The many health benefits good sourdough bread can bring to your diet make it worth the effort, and the cost savings (and flavor) of home baking add to the list of benefits offered by mastering this technique.

Sourdough Nutrition

The acids that build up in a fermenting sourdough loaf make it taste great, but their work doesn’t stop there. These organic acids also make the minerals and vitamins in flour more available than they might be in other breads, and reduce the rate at which glucose is released into the bloodstream. This is why sourdough breads are rated lower on the glycemic index than other breads. The acids also make gluten more digestible.

Recent research suggests the transition away from long-fermented bread doughs may actually be responsible for the increase in gluten intolerance people have experienced in the past few decades. Changes in our microbiomes (the populations of bacteria living in our digestive tracts) due to antibiotic exposure and other factors may also come into play. Physician and women’s health expert Aviva Romm says many people who cannot tolerate wheat find that they can eat bread (especially sourdough) after a period of working to improve their microbiome. To do this, simply abstain from grains while eating lots of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, plus fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi. After a few weeks, re-introduce a small amount of grains and see how you feel.



Maintain Sourdough Starter

Amber Eisler, an instructor at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Vermont, finds it helpful to personify sourdough, as it is a living thing that leavens your bread. “Sourdough likes to be at a comfy temperature. It likes to be fed regularly. It requires food, water and oxygen, plus time to digest its meals. Think of it like a pet to make your life easier and sourdough bread less mysterious.”

Get a Starter Pet: A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour, water, live yeast and live bacteria that you will feed (with more flour and water) to keep it alive. You’ll use about a cup of this mixture (instead of commercial yeast) in each batch of bread. To get a culture to begin with, you can order one from kingarthurflour.com or sourdo.com; or get some from a friend or bakery that maintains a sourdough culture. Store it in a nonreactive (not aluminum, copper or iron) container with an opening wide enough to allow you to stir inside it. Cover loosely, but make sure the lid is not airtight. Cheesecloth secured with a rubber band works well.



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