Is sourdough the answer?



I came across an interesting article this morning on my news feed.  The article from The Guardian: Could sourdough bread be the answer to the gluten sensitivity epidemic made me really think.  I thought I would share my thoughts with all of you.

I have a friend who had to give up eating gluten free products due to cost and has been eating sourdough bread with good results.  Believe me, I have thought about it.  But we are not talking about store bought bread here.  We are talking about from scratch, fermented bread dough that takes a lot of time and patience.  It’s not an easy swap, by any means, but it could be done.

The article references a bread made by a baker, Richard Bourdon.

I would bet that if you took a dozen people who claimed gluten intolerance and you gave them Richard’s bread, they’d be fine,” says Michael Pollan in the third episode of his new Netflix food documentary, Cooked.

The bread he is referring to is a sourdough made the old fashioned way, with hours of fermentation and naturally occurring yeast found in the air by a baker named Richard Bourdon in rural Massachusetts. Bourdon and Pollan go on to explain the importance of proper fermentation of grains to aid in digestion. Pollan says a long fermentation process allows bacteria to fully break down the carbohydrates and gluten in bread, making it easier to digest and releasing the nutrients within it, allowing our bodies to more easily absorb them. Pollan hypothesizes that the speeding up of the bread-making process for mass consumption has so radically altered what we know as bread in the last century that it’s no longer as easily digested.

He goes on to say:

The idea of sourdough being easier to digest is an intriguing one, and has been making the rounds on blogs devoted to gluten-free eating. In 2011, a small study conducted in Italy tried giving volunteers with celiac disease a small amount of specially prepared sourdough bread. The subjects in the study seemed to react well to the sourdough, which had been fermented until the gluten within it was degraded. The study authors concluded it was not toxic to the celiac disease subjects.

So could bread prepared the slow old fashioned way, the way it was made before added gluten and fast-rising yeast became the norm, be a solution to the gluten intolerance epidemic? Maybe, is the short version of the complicated answer, according to leading celiac experts.

Before you pull out your rolling pin, the answer is not that simple.  It may be ok for people with gluten sensitivity, but probably not for those with celiac disease.

For those with true celiac disease, it is too soon to extrapolate the findings of a small study to changes in diet, cautions Joseph Murray, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “It may provide options for celiacs in the future,” says Murray, adding that he is not hopeful because of the safety margins needed. Just baking sourdough would not be enough. For the bread to be an option, there would have to be a way to work out the baking process so that the gluten is guaranteed to have uniformly degraded to the point where the bread could be tolerated in each batch.

For those with a less severe reaction, with what Pollan calls “gluten intolerance”, which is more commonly known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the sourdough process may increase tolerance for consuming the bread, says Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. The long fermentation process to make sourdough bread the old fashioned way does reduce some of the toxic parts of gluten for those that react to it, says Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University.

He goes on to state that FODMAPs-which I have written about before- may be the culprit in non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Wheat is part of that list.  But is sourdough bread a panacea?  I personally would be very skeptical.  Wheat is wheat, fermented or not.

I found that the same is true for dairy; at least for me.  If you have lactose intolerance, fermented dairy such as yogurt, hard cheeses and sour cream are usually ok because the fermentation “eats” the lactose.  In my case, I found that my trigger is whey protein, along with lactose.  So in my case, I am thinking that “fermented gluten” would still be an issue. And as there is only one way to find out, I am not brave enough to make myself sick trying. Perhaps you are braver than I am.

I wanted to share this article so that you can be informed of new data and options.  If you do decide to try sourdough bread, let me know if it works for you.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. DaisyWillows says:

    Good article. I shared it on a friends FB page. She has a negative tolerance to gluten too. My daughter was lactose intolerant as a small child. She loves dairy and she doesn’t like trying new foods so she has to take lactose.


    1. glutenfreelady says:

      Thanks-I’m glad it was helpful!


  2. ladyredspecs says:

    I’ve been following the Fodmap diet for a couple of years which has included being GF. Since mastering spelt sourdough fermented for 14 hours I have found I can consume bread. without repercussions. Monash University in Melbourne explains that traditional long slow fermentation of wheat consumes the carbs that are indigestible to many people. However fermentation does not impact on the gluten at all. Coeliacs must avoid gluten.


    1. glutenfreelady says:

      Yes that’s right. I’m glad you are able to eat sourdough.


  3. While I don’t have celiac or a diagnosed wheat intolerance, I found for years that eating wheat negatively affected my skin and digestion. I went gluten free for a few months and really missed bread (I avoided the highly processed gluten free bread products) so I decided to try making a slow fermentation sourdough bread using Einkorn wheat flour and have been eating LOTS of it every day (along with tons of vegetables, healthy fats, etc.) and haven’t noticed any negative repercussions at all. It’s also absolutely delicious!

    My mother was diagnosed with wheat and many other food allergies years ago but on a recent visit was able to eat multiple servings of my Einkorn sourdough bread and waffles without ANY symptoms.

    I definitely think there’s a huge difference in the reactions wheat products have on us depending on how they’re made. Just my two cents!

    If anyone is interested, this is the recipe I follow:


    1. jschroeder says:

      I had read about Einkorn but I am afraid it would make me sick as it is still wheat. Anyone with celiac should avoid it.


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