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Is Sourdough Actually Healthier Than Regular Bread?

Does the unique fermentation process needed to make sourdough offer any health benefits?
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

Many people love a slice of warm, fluffy sourdough bread. You can toast it up with some butter, use it to make a sandwich, or dip it into your favorite winter soup. However you choose to eat it, it's a type of bread that is full of flavor and fairly easy to make at home. Just ask everyone who took it up as a hobby during 2020.

The flavor of sourdough sets it apart from many other types of bread, and that is achieved through a unique fermenting process. Instead of using a traditional yeast, which is how other bread rises when baking, sourdough is made with a "starter," which is flour and water combined and left to ferment for a couple of days at minimum.

Because of sourdough's unique fermentation process, it has long been considered to be potentially healthier than other types of more refined bread—but why? Is there truth to the belief that sourdough is actually healthier than regular bread?

To learn more, we talked with Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. Keep reading to find out her expert take on whether or not sourdough is a healthier bread choice than alternatives—and for more expert advice pertaining to this delicious staple, be sure to also check out One Major Side Effect of Eating Bread, Say Dietitians.

Sourdough may be better for blood sugar management


The short answer is that yes, when it comes to your blood sugar, sourdough may be better for you.

"Sourdough bread may have a slight edge over white refined bread for a few reasons," says Manaker.

For one thing, sourdough bread is often lower on the glycemic index (GI) than other types of bread, which Manaker claims makes "it a better choice for people who are focused on blood glucose management."

The GI is a way of measuring how fast your blood sugar can rise with certain foods using a scale that ranges from zero to 100, with sugar being 100. According to Aging Clinical and Experimental Research,  an average sourdough bread has about a GI of about 54, whereas a more refined white wheat flour bread has a GI of 71.

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Sourdough may be better for gut health

Buttering sourdough bread

Another benefit that sourdough has is that it can help with gut health, again due to the fermenting process.

"Sourdough bread may contain prebiotic fiber, which is the result of the fermentation," Manaker explains. This can support the live and beneficial bacteria that live in your gut by acting as selective fuel."

"Selective fuel is important because it means that the prebiotic fiber is used as fuel by certain beneficial bacteria, but not less-desirable bacteria, like E. coli," she adds.

Ultimately, it depends on the individual

fresh bread, wheat, and grains

Unfortunately, some recent research has suggested the health benefits of sourdough may in fact depend on the individual, meaning it may not actually be healthier for everyone.

A small 2017 study in Cell Metabolism looked into the effects of sourdough and white bread on various participants. While some people had better blood glucose management after eating sourdough over white bread, there were also people who saw a higher spike after eating the sourdough.

"To our great shock and surprise, we found no significant differences between the two breads on any of the parameters that we collected," Eran Segal, one of the leading scientists on the study, reportedly told the the Atlantic.

The takeaways

Sourdough almost always sits lower on the GI than refined bread, and it has the potential to help your gut microbiome. Aside from that, there aren't many notable differences between these types of bread, and current research (although small) suggests that it all truly depends on the individual.

"Ultimately, different breads offer different health benefits to an individual. And for some, sourdough bread may be a great choice for their unique needs," says Manaker.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha