From sour dough bread to gut biomes

The vagaries of synchronicity 

I had a much-needed break in early January at one of my favourite places in the world, the Hoogland Health Hydro, owned by the Kruger family. Abraham Kruger is a nutritonist who speaks passionately about the importance of gut health and the crucial role that fermentation plays in restoring gut health (ie eating foods that have been prepared through the ferementation process).  And so I started down the rabbit hole of fermentated foods and gut health which… hey ho .. in the manner of coincidences – led me to Lauren’s blog on the health advantages of sour dough bread. Which is where I ended my last blog … hence the vagaries of coincidences.  I have known for many years about the connections between the consumption  of commerical bread and bad gut health, but had never progressed to understanding why sour dough was so different from other breads. It is both the ingredients and the fermentation process. 

Sour dough is made with a live fermented culture 

When we eat, our stomach enzymes beak down the food so we can digest it and absorb the nutrients.  Many people complain of digestive discomfort and feeling bloated and gassy after eating ordinary commercial bread.  Enter a little troublemaker called phytic acid.  Phytic acid is found in the bran part of wheat, and it is phytic acid (and other factors) which inhibits the work of important stomach enzymes.  Now enter the peacemaker: the process of fermentation.  As opposed to commercial bread, sourdough uses a wild live yeast containing bacteria and fungi microorganisms.  These bacteria produce enzymes which not only help neutralize and calm the phytic acid, but also help to break down the larger molecules of the food we eat, into simpler ones, so allowing for easier digestion. In addition, the fermentation process produces probiotics which help restore our good gut bacteria. Remember probiotics are those things everybody says to you when on a course of antibiotics … “Are you taking your probiotics too?”  Well, hell no …if it’s all the same, I’d rather eat loads of sour dough bread and natural yoghurt smoothies!! 

The gut microbiota is as personal as a fingerprint, but it shares a wide range of functions in all humans, helping with digesting and absorbing nutrients, excluding pathogens, and training the immune system. 

With fermented sourdough bread, the micronutrients in the flour which are normally not absorbed because the phytic acid has not been neutralized, are now available for our gut to use in the digestive process. Our ancestors knew a thing or too with their ubiquitous use of fermentation. These fermented foods include pickled food like gherkins and sauerkraut; yoghurt, amasi and kefir; umqombothi and other beers; Eastern foods like miso, tempeh, natto, kimchi, and, the now fashionable, kombucha.

Nutritional quality of sour dough versus commercial bread 

But the story does not end there. Wheat flour that goes into commercial bread goes through various refining and cleaning processes: grain-washing, bleaching, and heating during milling. Then there are all the additives to commercially made bread: sugar, flour improvers, loads of yeast and, often enough, preservatives as well.  This means that our gut must get past all these additives before it starts absorbing any goodness in the bread. In the case of sour dough, the simple recipe of flour, salt and water, encourages immediate digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Plus small artisan bakers use excellent flour.  

The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms (mainly bacteria, but also viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms) that reside in our digestive system.

This all clearly comes at a material cost, so sadly, as with so much in life, poverty is linked to health and wellness. 

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