Sourdough for Health

In 2009, Dan Buettner’s invesitgation of “blue zones” — regions whose inhabitants have much-longer-than-average lifespans — took him to the Greek island of Ikaria, where one in three people lives past the age of 90. Buettner identified 13 lifestyle factors that may contribute to the Ikarians’ longevity. Not surprisingly, more than half of these relate to diet. What may surprise you is that one of the dietary elements Buettner claims can contribute to a long and healthy life is sourdough bread.

This is a sound assertion; scientific research on sourdough offers several reasons why sourdough can be health-enhancing. These benefits are probably primarily derived from the acids produced by the lactobacillus bacteria that are an integral component of a sourdough starter and give the bread its sour flavor:

  • Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index — a measure of how high and how quickly blood sugar spikes after eating a food — than bread made with commercial yeast. This makes it a better choice for people with, or at risk for, diabetes.
  • Sourdough makes certain minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium, and others) in whole grains more available for absorption by our bodies by facilitating the breakdown of phytic acid, a compound in grain bran that inhibits mineral absorption.
  • Sourdough shows promise for people with celiac disease, which renders people intolerant to gluten. Not only can sourdough improve the taste, texture, and overall sensory quality of breads made with gluten-free flours, but it may also act to degrade or deactivate proteins in gluten that adversely affect gluten-sensitive people.
  • Sourdough makes people happy, thereby diminishing stress, which is good for all-around wellness. (Okay, this one is anecdotal, but I completely believe it, don’t you?)

So grab your sourdough starter, get baking, and be healthy. Don’t have a starter? Grab some flour and water and make one.


Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective. Food Microbiol. 2009; 26(7):693-9.

The acute impact of ingestion of breads of varying composition on blood glucose, insulin and incretins following first and second meals. Br J Nutr. 2009; 101(3):391-8.

Sourdough-leavened bread improves postprandial glucose and insulin plasma levels in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. Acta Diabetol. 2008; 45(2):91-6.

Use of sourdough lactobacilli and oat fibre to decrease the glycaemic index of white wheat bread. Br J Nutr. 2007; 98(6):1196-205.

Sourdough lactobacilli and celiac disease. Food Microbiol. 2007; 24(2):187-96.

Gluten-free sorghum bread improved by sourdough fermentation: biochemical, rheological, and microstructural background. J Agric Food Chem. 2007; 55(13):5137-46.

The importance of lactic acid bacteria for phytate degradation during cereal dough fermentation. J Agric Food Chem. 2007; 55(8):2993-7.

Moderate decrease of pH by sourdough fermentation is sufficient to reduce phytate content of whole wheat flour through endogenous phytase activity.
J Agric Food Chem. 2005; 53(1):98-102.

Sourdough bread made from wheat and nontoxic flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004; 70(2):1088-96.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dave Riley says

    You refer to a few interesting aspects of the sourdough lifestyle. I’m in the mode. Amongst its many other delights I use sourdough as a (albeit minor) carbohydrate indulgence on a low carb diabetic diet.

    While sourdough has a lower GI than standard breads — what makes a sourdough bread better still for diabetics isn’t something I’m aware of.

    One element I’ve explored is to utilize whey as the fluid for sourdough bread as whey impacts on the rate of insulin release .
    And whey marries well with sourdough and makes it even sourer in line with its acidic GI response rationale.

  2. says

    As if I needed another reason to eat sourdough bread. I eat as much bread as I want as long as it’s sourdough. Now I only need to master sourdough pizza dough. My sourdough ciabatta is my current fave.

  3. Adam says

    I knew most of those points already, but it’s encouragement to keep on baking sourdough. I love it. I’ve been making a lot of your favorite sourdough recently, I love that recipe. I would like to transition to 100% whole wheat though.

  4. Lindy says

    Good to know that (finally), something that I love and tastes so good is actually healthy!

    I’ve only been baking SD for a bit over two years and still bite into a slice with utter amazement and happiness – not only because of the taste, but because I made it.

  5. says

    Thanks for this post. I’ve stumbled on to some of the articles separately but it is nice to have them all, and more, in one place!

  6. mlaiuppa says

    Call me a heretic but I’ve never much cared for the sour taste of sour dough.

    Isn’t there a way to make it that isn’t so sour?

  7. Staffo says

    Interesting and provocative article, thanks. Also very helpful that you provided references – fascinating abstracts.
    There has been a deal of excitement generated by the notion that sourdough techniques could make bread safe for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. The 2004 paper by Di Cagno et al does not claim they can make sourdough bread safe for people suffering celiac sprue. They claim that sourdough, made following their approach, which uses 30%wheat flour, could be a tool for reducing intolerance.
    It is possible to make sourdough bread using gluten free flour, using a gluten free starter made with flour and water – without resorting to wheat flour or gums. Examples of kneaded, gluten free, sourdough bread can bee seen on here:
    Interactive online tutorials are also available from the same site.

  8. says

    Hi all. I found your blog employing yahoo. It really is a nicely published report. Let me always book mark that along with get back to get more information of one’s helpful information. Thanks for a post. I’m going to unquestionably return.

  9. Laura S says

    Hi, I’ve asked this question around trying to find the answer. Every site that refers to Buettner’s study on the Blue Zones has a recipe for sourdough with ‘bread flour’. I’m going to guess that 50 yrs ago… traditionally, Ikarian’s were not running out to the store and purchasing a bag of ‘bread flour’ as we know it today. Does anyone know what flour was traditionally used? Thanks!


  1. [...] very happy with my new kitchen passion: whole wheat, sourdough bread. The flavor is amazing. The health benefits are incredible. And the process is slow. Slow, to me, is an improvement. Let the world be in a rush [...]

  2. [...] And the most exciting replacement: The sugar! Instead of 1 cup of white sugar I used 1/2 cup of brown – which – spread out over a whole loaf, that’s not too bad. I could have left it out altogether but again, I need it to taste good, not just BE good. The other 1/2 cup of sugar I replaced with 1/4 cup of Organic Maple Syrup. Yes – maple syrup! Did you know that maple syrup has half the calories of honey but is twice as sweet so you need half as much? Did you further know that not only is it half the calories, it is actually MORE nutritious! It has trace minerals in it that are essential for good health. I found this out slowly throughout the past few weeks and let me tell you, it was like Christmas over and over again to realize that I can drizzle maple syrup on my apples and not feel a shred of guilt. Maple Syrup may single-handedly make it possible for me to stay healthy AND happy. Well that and what I just found out about sourdough bread! [...]

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