Is Sourdough Bread Healthy, or Is It Just a Trend?

Regardless of whether you are a fan of bread and baked goods, you will undoubtedly have come across sourdough bread during trips to healthy food stores, farmers markets, or while doing your regular grocery shopping. It’s generally regarded as one of the best types of bread to eat if you are conscious about your health due to its unique flavor and nutritional benefits, as well as the fact that it’s a traditional food. With heavily processed foods being linked to a whole host of negative health effects, it’s no wonder that traditional options like sourdough bread are becoming more popular.

In this article, we’ll explore the potential health benefits of sourdough, looking at how it compares with whole-wheat and white bread as well as asking the question: is sourdough bread healthy? We’ll also discuss the science behind the health claims so you can choose your next sourdough loaf with confidence.

What is sourdough bread?

Unlike regular bread that is made using commercial yeast, sourdough is made with a starter culture composed of fresh water and flour, which is left to ferment in a jar in the kitchen for around one week. During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide is generated naturally, enabling the bread to rise just like regular loaves.

The sourdough starter also develops its own wild yeasts and different types of live bacteria that produce lactic and acetic acid. These acids are multifunctional; not only do they give sourdough that distinctive tangy flavor, but they also kill off unwanted bacteria, protecting the starter from turning bad.

Sourdough bread nutrition facts

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams of sourdough bread made with white flour contains the following:

Calories272 kcal
Carbohydrates51.88 g
Fiber2.2 g
Protein10.75 g
Fat2.42 g
Sodium602 mg

Sourdough bread is also a good source of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Folate
  • Niacin

Which is better: sourdough, whole-wheat, or white bread?

There are many different options to choose from when it comes to picking a loaf of bread. Deciding on what's best for you will depend on your preferences for nutritional values, taste, and texture. The table below compares the nutritional benefits of sourdough, whole-wheat, and white bread according to the USDA.

Nutritional value per 100 gSourdough breadWhole-wheat breadWhite bread
Calories272 kcal254 kcal267 kcal
Protein10.75 g12.3 g9.43 g
Fat2.42 g3.55 g3.59 g
Carbohydrates51.88 g43.1 g49.2 g
Fiber2.2 g6 g2.3 g
Sugar4.62 g4.41 g5.34 g
Calcium52 mg163 mg211 mg
Iron3.91 mg2.56 mg3.36 mg
Magnesium32 mg76.6 mg26.9 mg
Potassium117 mg250 mg117 mg
Sodium602 mg450 mg477 mg
Zinc1.04 mg1.76 mg0.8 mg

All three types of bread are fairly close in their calorie, protein, and fat content. There is a more substantial increase in fiber content in whole-wheat bread compared to both sourdough and white bread. If boosting dietary fiber is high on your list of priorities when choosing bread, then whole-wheat might be the best way to go.

Whole-wheat bread is also significantly higher in magnesium and potassium than sourdough or white bread, making it a better choice if you want to raise your levels of those essential minerals. Interestingly, white bread comes out on top for its calcium content. Overall, from a nutritional perspective, whole-wheat bread seems to be the healthiest choice of the three.

However, sourdough has one trick up its sleeve that might just trump even the mightiest of whole-wheat breads. The fermentation process may make some of the nutrients in sourdough more bioavailable to the body. This means that even though some of the mineral content is less in sourdough bread, we could actually absorb more than we can with whole-wheat bread. One study on rats found that the absorption rate was significantly higher for these vital nutrients:

  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Zinc

It’s important to note that this study was not a human trial, and more research is needed to draw firm conclusions.

Is sourdough bread healthy?

Because most commercially available sourdough is made with white flour rather than whole-grain and contains less fiber and more sodium than its whole-wheat counterparts, it's not the healthiest option out there. While it's fine to have white bread occasionally, whole-wheat is a healthier option for everyday use.

Tip
If you want to get the best of both worlds, try a whole-wheat sourdough loaf. Although it is less common, you can find it in certain health food shops and artisan bakeries. You could even try making one yourself.

Potential sourdough benefits

There are many potential benefits of sourdough to explore, from ease of digestion to a rich nutritional profile.

May be easier to digest

The fermentation process used to make sourdough bread enriches it with enzymes that break down or neutralize the phytic acids found in grains. Phytic acid is notoriously known for its effects on limiting mineral absorption in the human gut, so sourdough bread may be the best bread for increasing dietary mineral intake. Also, the gluten found in sourdough bread is degraded, meaning there’s less of it than in other types of regular bread.

If you are sensitive to gluten, sourdough may be a better option for you. However, if you are gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease, you should avoid all gluten-containing products, including sourdough bread.

Keeps blood sugar levels more stable

Sourdough has a lower glycemic index than regular bread, which means it raises blood sugar in a much slower and steadier way. Having a steady rise means we don’t experience the unpleasant symptoms of sugar spikes and crashes such as feeling nauseous, dizzy, or fatigued.

If you are working to regulate your blood sugar, then sourdough bread could be a good alternative to regular commercially produced bread.

Rich in nutrients

In order for our bodies to function optimally, we need to be getting a broad spectrum of vital nutrients. Regular bread is often highly processed and contains chemicals and other ingredients such as preservatives that tax the body rather than support it.

Sourdough is made with whole-food ingredients that offer the body a valuable source of magnesium, calcium, and potassium.

Potential risks of eating sourdough bread

Despite the well-studied health benefits of sourdough bread, it’s important to recognize that there might be some potential risks involved with consuming it.

Contamination

If you decide to make sourdough at home, you’ll need to ensure that your starter culture doesn’t become contaminated. Keep a watchful eye on your starter and look for signs of the following:

  • No bubbling (your starter should have little bubbles in it)
  • Patches of pink, black, green, or orange
  • Any furry-looking patches or 'fuzziness'

Not gluten-free

Even though sourdough does contain less gluten, it is still present in the bread, making it unsuitable for those who are gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease. Eating gluten-containing products can cause severe digestive discomfort, bloating, gas, and inflammation of the gut lining.

How to choose healthy sourdough bread

When looking for the best sourdough, you’ll want to get familiar with the ingredients list. Avoid loaves with added preservatives and excessive sugars, choosing products that contain only flour, water, salt, and minimal sugar.

Many consider making sourdough bread somewhat of an artisan craft, and you can find specialist bakeries that use traditional sourdough recipes and methods. Supporting local bakeries by buying their products directly or from your local healthy food stores will ensure you get the best quality sourdough bread. Look for brands that are made in small batches with the utmost care and respect for the art of breadmaking.

Learning to make your own sourdough at home is an excellent way of ensuring that it contains only the finest ingredients. If you want to go fully organic, homemade is the way to go. Make sure you get good organic flour and a sustainable sea salt for your starter culture.

Final thoughts on the benefits of sourdough bread

The simple ingredients, fermentation, impressive nutritional profile, and distinctive flavor make sourdough bread an excellent choice for anyone who wants to keep eating bread while reducing their consumption of heavily processed regular bread.

Whether you want to support your local artisan bakery or get creative and try making it for yourself, sourdough is a delicious addition to any health-conscious kitchen.

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