Is sourdough bread actually healthier than other breads? Michael Pollan thinks it is.


"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," is Michael Pollan's credo. And bread, of course, is made from plants, so pile it high with other plants. But is one type of bread better than all the others?

In Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Pollan, acclaimed food journalist, logged the process of making sourdough bread. All sourdough begins with a yeast starter, which ferments and creates microbes in the mixture that will soon be mixed with flour to become bread. While this fermentation is the key to adding flavor and airy carbon dioxide pockets to a loaf of sourdough, it also helps break down the gluten in the bread, making it easier to digest and reducing, Pollan wrote, "the dangerous spikes of insulin that refined carbohydrates can cause." Compared to eating white bread, which breaks down into sugars pretty much immediately after entering your body, sourdough is the superior source of carbohydrates. 


Berkshire Mountain Bakery founder Richard Bourdon also had an explanation in Cooked for why your stomach favors sourdough. "[The acids in sourdough] make your mouth water, so the enzymes in your saliva can begin to digest the starches," he told Pollan. "That's how you can tell good bread from bad: Roll a little ball of it and put it in your mouth." If your mouth feels dry, you know that bread is no good, but if it salivates, that bread may be your new sandwich go-to. 

But does the Pollan's sourdough theory stand with medical professionals? Not quite. 

"Sourdough bread contains more fiber than white bread," Anna Maria Bittoni, a dietician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said in an email. "However, it has less fiber and actually more calories when compared to whole wheat bread."  That said, there are still some scientifically proven health benefits to sourdough.

"Sourdough bread contains the bacteria Lactobacillus, which are good bacteria similar to the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract and may help with digestive health," Bittoni said. "Sourdough bread also has a lower glycemic index than many other types of bread, which may have a benefit with weight loss and blood sugar control."  


When shopping for bread, Bittoni suggests prioritizing breads made with 100% whole grains. "The word 'whole' should be in one of the first couple items on the ingredients list," she said.

Most importantly, make sure you're not just sticking to white flour or the same grain for all your carb cravings.

"The key is moderation and variety," Bittoni said, "Choose a variety of different grains with a focus on whole and ancient grains – such as whole wheat bread, barley, brown rice – and aim for a diet full of bright and colorful foods to improve overall health!" 

Colorful avocado toast on whole grain sourdough? Yes, please!