With food sensitivities on the rise—particularly wheat and gluten allergies—researchers have begun looking at what triggers reactions in order to better understand the causes behind diseases like celiacs. One study looked at how well celiac sufferers tolerated traditional sourdough bread, and the results may surprise you.
First things first: what is sourdough bread, anyway? We've all heard of it, but why is it different from regular bread? What is sour dough?
While still made with wheat flour, traditional sourdough bread contains no yeast, but rather the sourdough culture lactobacilli bacteria (called a "starter"), which makes the bread rise and gives it its unique "sour" taste. The bacteria is essentially pulled out of the air and hosted in a mix of flour and water that can store indefinitely. Some sourdough culture strains have been passed down through generations of families (how cool is that?). This method of bread making long preceded baker's yeast (introduced in France in 1668). When yeast was first introduced, it was widely rejected. People were concerned over the negative health effects using an "unnatural" leavening could have. And there are many experts who believe yeast contributes to a number of health issues, including yeast overgrowths in the body (candida).
Claude Aubert, the French agronomist and writer says of bread in his book Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels (Traditional Fermented Foods) “The history of bread making is a good example of the industrialization and standardization of a technique that was formely empiric….It was simpler to replace natural leaven [sourdough culture] with brewer’s yeast. There are numerous practical advantages: the fermentation is more regular, more rapid, and the bread rises better. But the fermentation becomes mainly an alcoholic fermenation and the acidification is greatly lessened. The bread is less digestible, less tasty and spoils more easily.”
But does any of this impact people with celiac's disease or those with gluten sensitivities? In the study, the subjects were given both yeasted and traditional sourdough breads. Of the subjects who ate the yeasted bread, more than 75 percent showed negative intestinal reactions. But, when given the traditional yeast-free sourdough breads, none of the subjects experienced any negative changes in their intestines.
The researchers concluded that among its many benefits, the longer sourdough fermentation process could prove to decrease the levels of gluten intolerance in humans.
If you are suffering from gluten issues, talk with your primary care physician first before going out and buying a loaf of sourdough. And it's also important to note that some modern sourdough breads are now also made with yeast.
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