There are many reasons why naturally leavened bread, or commonly referred to as sourdough bread is the optimal bread to eat. Before diving into the science behind it, simply put, sourdough bread allows the body to absorb the amazing benefits this bread has to offer. Besides that, it tastes delicious! It has a crunch crust and a moist and open crumb. It's flavor is complex. It is the perfect addition to your meals.
Starting with the problem of commercial bread and grain, the storage of phosphorus in the grain is found in the bran part of the wheat (the outer coating). This coating is called phytic acid and can be the cause of discomfort or digestive issues. This phytic acid is not only common on wheat grain, but all other grains with the addition of some seeds and nuts. In humans (or other animals with one stomach), the phytic acid blocks the enzymes that we need to breakdown proteins and starches in the stomach causing the issues. Commercially produced bread does not offer any acetic breakdown or fermentation needed to absorb the large amounts of nutrients available to us from grain. Ironically, the "healthy whole grain" you see in the grocery store is actually the worse thing someone with a wheat intolerance or digestive issues should eat.
Sourdough, however, is made from a wild yeast culture that hosts lactobacillus bacteria. This neutralizes the phytic acid through an acetic breakdown during the fermentation of the dough. By preventing the effects of the phytic acid, it makes it easier to digest and makes important minerals available to us, because the phytic acid molecule binds together with calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and others rendering it unavailable to us.
Sourdough also goes through a process of a long slow fermentation and acidification of the dough which actively retards starch digestibility lending to a low glycemic response. This fermentation process of the dough alters levels of bioaccessibility of the active compounds in the grain to improve mineral availability. The fermentation of the grain alters the previously non-digestible polysaccharides modifying it into an accessible grain fiber complex that can be healing to our gut microbiota. This actually helps to feed our gut microbes that digest our foods. The fermentation process also renders a break down of gluten making it suitable for those sensitive to gluten. The acidic breakdown in the grain matrix improves the nutritional quality of the bread.
Lactic acid bacteria present in sourdough is particularly beneficial when dealing with whole grains because it helps to deliver minerals and previously protected (by the phytic acid) compounds into our blood circulation for absorption. The enzymes produced during the fermentation process cause hydrolysis in the glutenin protein as well as solubilisation of the proteins and polysaccharides of the grain, making new bioactive compounds like prebiotics and oligosaccharides (partially broken down compound from a more complex carbohydrate, or polysaccharide). Along with a carbohydrate that can be better absorbed by the body, prebiotics enhance our ability to absorb important nutrients and minerals from the grain, lowering the pH in the digestive tract, inhibiting potential growth of pathogens or damaging bacteria, which helps to support the digestive system and gut bacteria.
Simply, as the phytates are neutralized through the fermentation process, aided by wild yeasts pre-digests the flour. This releases the nutrients our bodies now can easily absorb, easing in digestion and reducing discomfort and bloating.
Learning about the health benefits of a sourdough culture has made me think of bacteria in a radically new way. From early on, the most common way bacteria was talked about was that it can lead to disease, to take precaution and limit our exposure. Presently, studies are emerging that falsify that information and in fact bacteria is a leading agent of fighting off disease. In fact many strands of microbes are integral to our overall health. Our overall well being begins in the microbiotia of the intestines; they help to thwart off disease, aid in the absorption of minerals and nutrients from our food, and can help to neutralize carcinogens and other toxins entering our systems.
We are all a complex ecosystem that rely on the health of our microbial community within our digestive system, and in many studies I have read the overall idea is that having a diverse range of microbial species in our gut is a sign of good health. Good health means not only a healthy colon, intestine or physical body but also a healthy mental state. The human digestive system 'talks' to the brain, communicating through the nervous system, immune system and hormones, suggesting that the health of our gut can influence our moods, energy and behavior. Maintaining a healthy microbial community is largely due to our diet and lifestyle choices. Most people eat a wide range of foods (omnivore) which supports a diverse community of microbes, an action that is very important, as many studies presently are showing that healthy individuals have high diversity in their gut microbes.
So how can eating naturally leavened bread help improve our overall health?
Introducing a food that has ample fiber into our diet can help the bacteria in our gut digest it, releasing nutrients that may otherwise be unable to absorb it. Fiber is important in our diets because without enough of it, the intestinal bacteria will begin to damage the mucus lining of the large intestine. This allows for undigested proteins to enter our blood stream which may trigger inflammation or immune system responses responsible for autoimmune diseases, particularly prevalent in our society today.
Adding a variety of grains into our diet through sourdough baking will provide plenty of fiber, a wide variety of microbes, along with proteins, minerals and vitamins previously not available without the acidification and fermentation of the dough. So if you were having digestive issues, the protein molecules possibly causing the problem are already pre-digested and will less likely trigger an immune response. The more food available to the microbes in the gut, the easier the digestion. Introducing sourdough bread into our food regimen can be an important way to maintain a healthy and diverse microbial gut and healthy diet, a strong immune system, healthy mood and behavior as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Sourdough bread is said to take longer to digest which can help regulate blood sugar levels. It is important to consider that how we eat influences our physical and mental well being.
Sourdough bread is made of flour, water and salt. It is leavened with a wild yeast starter and fermented for up to 48 hours. In contrast to commercial and industrial manufactured bread that relies on processed enzymes, preservatives, commercialized yeast and emulsifiers to bake bread quickly. I have no doubt that these additives play a part for the wheat and gluten intolerance in today's society.
If you are making sourdough bread at home, it is also important to note that using the best flour you can find is best.
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