Why Our Digestive Systems Digest Sourdough Bread
Why Our Digestive Systems Digest Sourdough Bread

In January, I went to a low FODMAP cooking class hosted by Foodicine Health and registered dietician, Kate Scarlata. In addition to learning helpful cooking tips and eating the wonderful food prepared by Chef Tim Maslow, Kate spoke about the low FODMAP diet and facilitated a Q & A session. During the session, Kate mentioned that sourdough bread made without added commercial yeast has been shown to be low FODMAP. This information was a life changer for me. If your choice of bread has been limited to the typical gluten-free bread from the grocery store then you probably understand how glorious it is to be able to have real sourdough bread. If you have not, then try one slice and you will probably get it very quickly. Sourdough bread has in general been found to be easier on the digestive system and people find that they do not get bloated after eating it. I know I haven’t. Additionally, there are research studies demonstrating that sourdough bread may be a good choice for people with irritable bowel syndrome, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and diabetes and that it can help improve gut healing in celiac patients. Also, sourdough bread is filled with vitamins and minerals and in my opinion, tastes great.

What makes sourdough the wonder bread for our digestive systems? Let’s start with what  sourdough is made of and a brief history. Sourdough culture is a mixture of flour and water, which uses the wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria present in the flour and air to leaven the dough and produce a sour and tangy flavored bread. More flour and water is periodically added to maintain the culture until a portion of it is used to create the dough.

Although the first loaf of sourdough bread was found in Switzerland from about 3500 BC, sourdough bread most likely began in Egypt much earlier. Egyptians made flat bread and the theory for how sourdough bread began is that some dough may have been left out for too long and started bubbling and rising from the wild yeast present in the air or from the brewery, which usually shared space with the bakery. When that dough was baked, the baker discovered a light, puffy, and crusty bread. This method of baking later spread to Greece, Rome, other parts of Europe, and then to California, Alaska, and Western Canada during the 19th century gold rush. The Boudin family came from France and started the Boudin Bakery in San Francisco during this time. The bakery, which still exists today, uses the same sourdough starter that they used to feed miners in 1849. When traveling, prospectors and explorers would wear a pouch of starter culture around their necks to ensure they would always have something to eat. Eventually, with the discovery of commercial yeast and food manufacturing processes, such as the Chorleywood bread process in the 20th century, the slow rising technique used to make sourdough bread with wild yeast and time, sped up.

In a factory, bread can go from flour to finished bread in three hours. Instead of bread just being made from flour, water, and salt, this quick process requires the addition of more yeast and gluten, fat for softer crust, reducing agents for stretchy dough, soya flour for more volume and softness, emulsifiers for larger, softer, and less stale bread, and preservatives, enzymes, and processing aids to keep the bread on the shelf longer. This is drastically different from sourdough bread, which goes from starter culture to risen dough in 24 hours, and then it needs to be baked. The advantage of allowing a long fermentation process is that the sourdough bread is given time for the flavors to develop and vitamins to be made. It also makes bread that is easier on our digestive system. Below are some of the reasons why.

  • The bacteria and acidic pH level found in the sourdough culture can weaken the gliadin and glutenin proteins (which make up gluten) so it is easier to digest.
  • The yeast will consume the fructans (a polymer of fructose molecules) present, resulting in lower FODMAP levels.
  • Phytic acid is found in wheat and sequesters calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc and inhibits enzymes that help us digest by metabolizing the proteins and starch in our stomach. The yeast and bacteria are able to pre-digest the phytic acid, making the necessary minerals available for us to absorb and for the enzymes to be able to break down the proteins and starch so we can better digest the sourdough bread.
  • The bacteria forms lactic acid, which helps create the characteristic flavor of the bread and is known to reduce the rate that glucose enters the bloodstream. Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index, preventing a spike in insulin release.
  • The bacteria make antioxidants, lunasin (a cancer prevention protein), and anti-allergenic compounds, helpful in autoimmune diseases.
  • The amino acid, asparagine is a precursor for the carcinogen acrylamide found in some bread crusts. Asparagine is reduced during the time it takes for the sourdough to rise.

Some of the studies including the ones involving celiac patients are still in the early stages but there is both research and anecdotal evidence that sourdough bread made the traditional way is generally better for our digestion. Also, whether we know for sure if the chemicals and preservatives we are adding to our foods is leading to an increase in food intolerances and/or chronic diseases, I would rather just eat real food.

1. http://www.sourdough.co.uk/the-history-of-sourdough-bread/
2. http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/sourdough.htm
3. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/23/sourdough-bread-gluten-intolerance-food-health-celiac-disease
4. http://blog.katescarlata.com/2015/11/10/lets-talk-about-sourdough-bread-fodmaps/
5. http://www.med.monash.edu/cecs/gastro/fodmap/low-fodmap.html#5
6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20975578
7. http://www.sourdough.co.uk/why-is-it-that-i-can-digest-sourdough-bread-and-not-commercial-bread/
8. http://www.breadmatters.com/index.phproute=information/information&information_id=34
9. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/12/rise-sourdough-bread-slow-fermented-health-benefits

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Discussing Your Digestive Disorder at Social and Work Events

Discussing Your Digestive Disorder at Social and Work Events

I recently went to my monthly acupuncture appointment and Lisa, my acupuncturist, began with her usual list of questions. Since I have fructose malabsorption and suffer from other digestive issues, one of Lisa’s questions was, “How have your bowel movements been?”, which I answered with ease, listing all that was feeling good and all that was not. However, one unusual aspect of this appointment was that Lisa had a new acupuncturist who was joining the practice sit in on the session. Upon reflecting on the session afterward, it occurred to me how comfortable I had become talking about, well let’s just call a spade a spade, my poop. I realized that I did not cringe with discomfort or even hesitate when talking about my bowel movement with this stranger in the room. I remembered how different this was from years ago when I first met with my gastroenterologist (GI) to begin undergoing tests to figure out what was going on with my digestive system. At the time, my doctor asked a bunch of questions and I was so embarrassed and horrified to have to answer how often I went to the bathroom and what “it looked like”.

Beyond my acupuncturist and GI, I have also gotten better at explaining to friends and co-workers why I am not eating that delicious entrée or dessert that everyone else is drooling over at social and work events. But that took a while to figure out. For the first few years after being diagnosed, I felt embarrassed thinking that telling my story would evoke images of bathrooms and bowel movements. During those conversations, I felt like a circus animal, trying to explain what fructose malabsorption was, which no one had heard of before. I guess I cannot blame them, neither had I until my diagnosis. It seemed like these conversations kept coming up and I had to repeat my story over and over. I also had to manage the cynics, who were convinced it didn’t make sense, that it wasn’t real, that the doctors misdiagnosed me, and/or that it was in my head. Because of all these thoughts and emotions swirling around in me, I ended up giving away more information and opening up more than, in hindsight, I was comfortable with. The question I had to grapple with was, “How to do I navigate these conversations in an intelligent and friendly way while protecting my dignity and privacy?”.

Below are some of the things I learned:

  • Most people ask questions out of curiosity and interest, not out of ill intentions. Some will drop the conversation and move on to another topic after you answer them. Some will mention they also have digestive issues, leading to a great conversation around shared horror stories and helpful tips. But unfortunately, a minority will be cynical, judgmental, antagonistic, and/or jerks. It ends up being like most conversations in life and I have learned to accept this reality with confidence that I can manage whichever personality I encounter.
  • Come up with simple canned answers. Having various prepared responses will allow you to decide what to say depending on who you are talking to and the situation you are in. You can choose to be more detailed and say that you have [fill-in-the-blank] digestive disorder and cannot eat that certain food; you can be less detailed and say something like, “Onions and I don’t get along well or fried foods seem to bother my stomach”; or you can be completely nonspecific and respond with, “I am trying to watch my weight”. Although that statement may not be why you are not eating the dish, 99% of us are probably watching our weight and it is a fair statement that no one would blink an eye to.
  • It is a good idea to discuss your irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease [fill in digestive disorder] with some people, such as family, friends, and your boss. This way they can help you if you need and understand what you can or cannot eat at their dinner party, why are late, out sick, need to change plans, or leave in the middle of a movie or meeting. For those conversations, you can simply provide a medical description of what you have and explain some or all of the ways that it can affect you, depending on your comfort level.
  • Over time you might find, like I did, that you become comfortable talking honestly about why you are avoiding a certain food. I do not go into the details about how eating onions will affect me, but I do let people know that I have trouble digesting onions so I avoid them. If people ask, I describe what fructose malabsorption is and, depending on the conversation, I may mention some of the nicer sounding symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and bloating. I have found that when I became more confident about my situation and talking about it, I was better able to handle speaking about it and did not feel embarrassed.

The most important thing is that you are comfortable with what and how much you say. The last thing you want to do is stress yourself out, which can wreak further havoc on your digestive system. Practicing how to respond with people you are comfortable with is a great way to start and then you will be ready for the awkward work cocktail party.

Photo taken by Ben Duchac at Unsplash

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Buckwheat, Vegetable & Goat Cheese Salad

Buckwheat, Vegetable & Goat Cheese Salad

For most meals, I cook without a recipe. I like to consider what I am in the mood for and what I have in my fridge and pantry before I whip something up. Yesterday afternoon, I went to my local farm and bought fresh kale, summer squash, zucchini, and tomatoes that looked wonderful. After finding buckwheat in my pantry and goat cheese in the fridge, I ended up creating an enjoyable dinner for my husband, sister, and me. This is a tasty recipe for everyone but also happens to be low FODMAP and gluten free.

Serving size: 4 for entree, 6-8 for side dish
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes


  • 1 tsp of garlic flavored oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 buch of kale, stems removed and diced
  • ¾ cup and 3.5 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups of buckwheat
  • 1 and ½ tbsp of butter
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 small summer squash, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 tbsp of dried basil
  • 1-2 tsp of dried dill
  • 1 5 oz package of goat cheese, crumbled into pieces
  • Kosher salt and pepper


Sauteed Kale:
This recipe was modified from a Bobby Flay recipe to be low FODMAP

  • Add garlic flavored oil to a medium sauce pan on medium heat
  • Add red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute
  • Add kale and ¾ cup of water
  • Cover, raise heat to high, and let cook for 5 minutes
  • Remove cover, add red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste
  • Remove kale into large serving bowl with a slotted spoon

Recipe taken from Natasha’s Kitchen

  • Rinse and drain the buckwheat and then add the buckwheat to a medium sauce pan (I used the same one I cook the kale in to save my husband from needing to wash another dish. I cook and he cleans. It ends up being a fair swap.)
  • Add 3.5 cups of water, ½ tsp of salt or to taste, and 1 tbsp of butter (optional)
  • Bring to a simmer and cover for 18-20 minutes
  • Remove cover and let cool

Sauteed Summer Squash and Zucchini:

  • In a medium sautee pan (I used a cast iron pan), add ½ tbsp of butter and olive oil on a medium high heat
  • Add diced summer squash, zucchini, basil, dill, and salt and pepper to taste
  • Stir often and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes

Assemble Dish:

  • Add buckwheat on top of kale into the large serving bowl
  • Combine sautéed vegetables until the ingredients are mixed together
  • Combine in tomatoes and goat cheese
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Add fresh basil (optional)

Bon Appétit!

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