According to a 2013 survey, a third of Americans actively try to avoid gluten. Not that they need to, but this “gluten revolution” as it is known, is currently “the most trendy alimentary habit in the United States and other countries.”1 In fact, Harvard Health Publishing states:
“Lately it’s become hip to go gluten-free. Based on little or no evidence other than testimonials in the media, people have been switching to gluten-free diets to lose weight, boost energy, treat autism, or generally feel healthier.
“This doesn’t make much sense to Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, [who says,] ‘People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money because these products are expensive,’ says Dr. Leffler, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.”2
Expensive or not, you will find gluten-free alternatives nearly everywhere and people are willing to pay the price. And recently we have even written some posts on gluten-free sourdough:
What is Gluten?
Because wheat is considered a good source of protein, “it has become the principal cereal, being more widely used for the making of bread than any other [grain] because of the quality and quantity of its characteristic protein called gluten.“7 True gluten only comes from four cereal grains, wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
In wheat, whenever the two flour proteins, glutenin and gliadin are mixed with water, collectively they are referred to as gluten. In other hybrids and other wheat species, like emmer, einkorn, khorasan, spelt, and triticale, gluten is also present.
Gluten strands are elastic and useful in bread making. When wheat, water, and salt are mixed with commercial yeast or sourdough starters, gluten strands trap bubbles of carbon dioxide in the gluten network making the dough lighter and more palatable. Then as we stretch-and-fold or knead the dough “these proteins uncoil and interact with each other more strongly, strengthening the network”8 and improving the rise even more.
In addition to bread, gluten is present in beer, cereal, pasta, and pizza. Since wheat flour is added to other products, eating gluten-free means studying food labels.
Surprisingly these include sauces thickened with flour, soy sauce, and even frozen vegetables. Over the holidays we found malted barley in our chocolate truffles. It shows up in vitamin and mineral supplements, medications and toothpaste.
Together, these combine to make a gluten-free diet very challenging. All this aside, sourdough can make bread eating for many folks who are gluten-intolerant is a possibility.
What Can Sourdough Do To Make Gluten More Tolerable?
Sourdough bread is a fermented food, which makes it immediately more digestible. As such, there are many people who are gluten-intolerant who can add sourdough bread into their diets without ill effects. Because the process of fermentation predigests food, it lowers the glycemic response to starches in sourdough bread. This means bread made this way can help diabetics too. And it can be a bridge between those going gluten-free and those who are exploring the health benefits of less gluten.
Fast-acting yeast does not use a long fermentation process, which means commercial bread may by itself be harder to digest. At the same time, eating sourdough bread offers your body both prebiotics and probiotics and “it releases more nutrients into your body. It’s an ideal situation for your health,” writes our own Michelle Hubbard.
Even better, she continues, the natural fermentation breaks down phytic acid found in wheat. This “acid binds to other molecules—therefore, your bread may have awesome nutritive properties, but the phytic acid doesn’t let you absorb the minerals and vitamins. Fermentation makes the phytic acid give up its death grip and lets you actually absorb the available nutrition.“
If Wheat Gluten Is Such a Common Problem Why Persist In Its Use?
As mentioned above, most people tolerate wheat gluten and since it is considered a good source of protein, “minerals, B-group vitamins, and dietary fiber,“9 for most people, it is excellent health-building food. Billions of humans rely on it every day for protein and starch. In addition, “Wheat has several medicinal virtues.”
“Starch and gluten in wheat provide heat and energy; the inner bran coats, phosphates, and other mineral salts; the outer bran, the much-needed roughage the indigestible portion that helps easy movement of bowels; the germ, vitamins B and E; and protein of wheat helps build and repair muscular tissue.”
Together with the number of proteins, starches, and “the content of vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals and other healthy components of wheat,“10 this is a food beneficial to nearly all humankind.
The first wheat, Einkorn, was developed in the fertile crescent many thousands of years ago. It is a healthier grain high in “protein, phosphorous, vitamin B6 and potassium when compared to modern forms of wheat. It also has plenty of carotenoids—the natural red, yellow or orange pigments that are found in many vegetables and fruits, and in a few grains. Carotenoids have medical properties that help in preventing serious diseases such as cancer.”12
Gluten May Not Be the Only Culprit in Bread
Most wheat today has been genetically modified to deliver a higher gluten content than ancient wheat, but in addition, it is usually treated with pesticides and herbicides. In a report from The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food in the United Kingdom, they found low levels of pesticide residue in food common supermarkets.
In their report, they wrote, “Pesticides used in the wrong way or wrong dose can harm people, wildlife and the environment, so they must be handled with care.” Of the starchy foods they tested, which included bread, 77% contained measurable residue.11 These residues may be part of the problem some have who do not tolerate wheat.
In addition, when wheat is milled to make white flour, the process removes both germ and bran. This leaves a super-starchy, gluten packed flour referred to as refined flour. This product is very popular because it has a long shelf life and it bakes lighter goods. The kind most of us crave.
However, as the bran and germ are removed, “The loss of vitamins and minerals in the refined wheat flour has led to widespread prevalence of constipation and other digestive disturbances and nutritional disorders. The whole wheat, which includes bran and wheat germ, therefore, provides protection against diseases such as constipation, ischaemic heart disease, disease of the colon called diverticulum, appendicitis, obesity and diabetes.“12
Since much of the goodness of the wheat is stripped away in milling, USDA standards13 require millers to mix back in missing nutrients. These include calcium, Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folic Acid, and Iron. Sadly, while putting them back into refined flour does meet the requirements, they are not always in a form that human’s can metabolize.
For example, “iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in humans and is responsible for at least 50% of the 2 billion cases of anemia worldwide.”14 “Iron deficiency anemia affects maternal and child morbidity and mortality decreases physical performance and increases the burden of the health care in developing and developed countries.”15
This is one of the most common additives for bread, but research16 shows that added iron is not always bioaccessible. Findings by scientists for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council & Diet and Health Research Industry Club show that:
- “The sourdough bread process [increased] iron in the simulated digestion in comparison with the other bread-making processes…
- “None of the three types of bread resulted in increasing ferritin formation, a measure of iron uptake…
- “The sourdough bread, but not the Chorleywood Bread Making Process or conventional, allowed an increase in cellular uptake of iron …suggesting that sourdough bread could contribute towards improved iron nutrition.”17
These striped flours are the cause of many of the problems of those suffering from gluten sensitivity. Others are reacting to chemical residue from farming pesticides, herbicides and the additives mentioned above.
Abigail’s Bakery only uses locally grown, non-GMO, heirloom variety, non-dwarf, no pesticide, deep biologically farmed, freshly milled wheat. It is cold processed, unbromated, unbleached and unenriched flour. Bread is mixed with Redmond Real Salt, purified water, and pre-metabolized gluten from natural leaven (sourdough starter), that’s just three perfect ingredients.
1Alessio Fasano, Anna Sapone, Victor Zevallos, and Detlef Schuppan, “Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity,” Gastroenterology, Volume 148, Issue 6, May 2015
2 Holly Strawbridge, “Going gluten-free just because? Here’s what you need to know,” Harvard Health Blog, January 08, 2018
3 Rubio-Tapia, Ludvigsson, Brantner, Murray, and Everhart, “The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States,” Am J Gastroenterol. Oct 2012.
4 Strawbridge, ibid.
5 Kris Gunnars, “Is Gluten Sensitivity Real? A Critical Look,” Healthline, July 5, 2019
6 Fasano, Sapone, Zevallos, and Schuppan, “Nonceliac gluten sensitivity,”Gastroenterology, May 2015.
7 Cultures for Health, “Introduction to Sourdough”
8 Kumar, Yadava, Gollen, Kumar, Verma, Yadav; “Nutritional Contents and Medicinal Properties of Wheat: A Review,” Life Sciences and Medicine Research, February 28, 2011.
9 Kumar, Yadava, Gollen, Kumar, Verma, Yadav; ibid.
11 The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food in the United Kingdom. pdf
12 Kumar, Yadava, Gollen, Kumar, Verma, Yadav; ibid.
13 USDA Commodity Requirements for All-purpose Wheat Flour/Bread Flour.pdf, 27 Feb 2008
14 Zimmermann and Hurrell, “Nutritional iron deficiency,” Lancet, 2007
15 Lopez, Cacoub, Macdougall, and Peyrin-Biroulet L, “Iron deficiency anaemia.” Lancet. 2016;
16 Rodriguez-Ramiro, Brearley, Bruggraber, A. Perfecto, Shewry, and Fairweather-Tait, “Assessment of iron bioavailability from different bread-making processes using an in vitro intestinal cell model,” Food Chem. 2017 Aug 1
17 Navneet Singh Deora. “Whole Wheat Flour Stability: An Insight,” Acta Scientific Nutritional Health 2.3 (2018): 08-18.
In the comment section below we would love to hear about your experience eating sourdough whole grain bread.