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The main health benefits of sourdough bread

Our ancestors respected and cherished bread. They called it life, God’s blessing, the most important food for human beings. Bread was eaten at almost every meal. Today, many people tell us that bread is unhealthy, that the less we eat of it the better. But when we eat bread, it makes a difference whether it is wholemeal or white bread, whether it is baked with sourdough, rye or bran.

Table of Contents

Is sourdough bread any healthier than regular bread?

In the early 1990s, bread and bakery products made with the so-called additive technology became widespread. With the establishment of new companies, many small bakeries also started to produce bread with additives. The state and cooperative bakeries, which used the old sourdough technology, could not survive the change and were too expensive.

Bread with additives

It is obvious that bread with additives was cheaper and brought the producer a higher profit. “Additive bread” has a rising time of 20-30 minutes and does not need long kneading times. Sourdough bread made from wheat flour takes 8 to 10 hours to rise, while wheat flour mixed with rye flour can take up to 15 hours to rise. During the 8 to 15-hour production process, the kneading machines use a lot of electricity to aerate the dough and provide a large surface area of oxygen for the fermentation microbes. Modern technology is far superior in terms of the use of living organisms. In addition, the oven can be better utilised in the production of modern bread. The energy consumption for heating the oven is significantly lower and the producer can make a higher profit.

Profit before bread making

Bread with additives is lighter, softer and silkier, and the flavour-enhancing additives make it tastier. Leavened bread with a slightly sour taste tastes different. It is easy to forget the taste of sourdough bread.

Health problems due to modern bread

It has taken a lifetime to realise that there are many problems with ‘bread with additives’. Many people are sensitive to gluten. The last thirty years have seen the emergence of a host of gastrointestinal and autoimmune diseases that did not exist before.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the bakery industry’s primary concern is its profit. We consumers have supported this process through our price sensitivity. The enjoyment value of bread, its taste and health benefits, and the profit of the manufacturers should be evaluated separately.

The fact is that the unhealthier the bread, the higher the profit for the manufacturer. A bread with additives can taste just as good as sourdough bread but in a different way.

White bread and wholemeal bread

There is a misconception about bread, the biological basis of which needs to be clarified. The question is: is bread made from white flour or wholemeal flour healthier?

When white flour and wholemeal bread are chemically tested, wholemeal bread has better nutritional values. But why?

The aleurone layer of bran is rich in valuable substances such as fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and micro- and macronutrients. This makes it even more valuable. Bran is a good source of fibre, which is why bread made from wholemeal flour has a higher fibre content. Bran is not a high-quality fibre, especially not a water-soluble, fermentable fibre, which is needed to feed beneficial gut bacteria.

90% of the fungal toxins in cereals are found in the bran. Data show that 10-30% of the DON fungal toxin content of the grain is transferred to the white flour during milling. However, the bran is the fraction where the fungal toxin can be present at up to ten times the original level in the wheat grain, i.e. if wheat is milled with 0.5 ppm DON, the DON content in the bran fraction can be up to 3-5 ppm.

White flour made from the same wheat contains only 10% of the fungal toxin compared to whole wheat flour. The worst breads or rolls in terms of fungal toxins are bran breads or rolls. This is particularly important in wet years.

Systemic and local (absorbable) pesticides accumulate in the husk, so wholemeal flour should also be avoided.

Leaky Gut Syndrome and Wholemeal Bread

Wheat germ (with its content of vitamins, minerals, lipids and antioxidants) would certainly make bread more valuable if it did not contain wheat germ agglutinin protein (WGA protein). This is the plant lectin antigen, a pro-inflammatory substance. When its presence in the gut is associated with leaky gut syndrome, it is a food with the antigenic property of triggering autoimmune disease.

The germ also accumulates pesticides. The biological value of wheat germ is demonstrated by chemical analysis, but more important is the structure in which these compounds occur in the plant. If they are in the form of lectins or other forms with antigenic properties, they should be avoided!

Even foods and raw materials with good nutritional value should be re-evaluated if they have been adversely affected by human activity. There are many such effects in foods. One example is lecithin, a biologically very valuable component of bread additives. However, if the lecithin is derived from genetically modified soy, there is a risk.

Bread In Vivo and In Vitro

A big mistake in today’s food assessment is to place chemical test results above all else.

In the human body, bread is not evaluated “in vitro” (its behaviour in the test tube) based on the chemical test, but “in vivo” (its behaviour in the living organism).

The English biologist Professor Harry Smith and his colleagues drew attention to the importance of in vivo studies in the mid-1950s. In biology, “in vivo” and “in vitro” often do not lead to the same result.

In vivo veritas – the truth is in the living!

If you compare white flour with wholemeal flour, there is nothing to be said about wholemeal bread from a health point of view. Leaky gut syndrome and WGA protein together can trigger several autoimmune diseases.

Sourdough bread and gluten intolerance

Until the 1990s, most people had never heard of gluten intolerance. In the first half of the 20th century and for centuries before, bread and pasta were the staple foods for most people.

A hundred years ago, people ate five times as much bread as they do today. Most wheat varieties contained 30 to 40% more gluten than today’s varieties, but people were not gluten intolerant.

Gluten sensitivity is something we don’t understand when we look at the statistics because our ancestors who lived before us and had the same genetic makeup as us must have been affected by gluten sensitivity continuously for 10-15 generations because bread consumption was about five times higher than today.

But there was no problem! What is the reason for this?

Unscientifically, it is suggested that changes in wheat varieties could be the cause of gluten sensitivity.

Bread quality and gluten content

The most important factor in bread quality is the gluten content. The higher the gluten content, the easier the dough is to knead, stretch and shape, and the lighter, softer and more tender the bread.

In the first six decades of the 20th century, the world-famous Hungarian wheat varieties produced the best quality flour in the world. Bánkúti 1201 and Bánkúti 1205, bred by László Baross, were the highest quality wheat varieties and were grown on 80-85% of the country’s arable land. In the 1960s, the Bánkúti varieties were replaced by the Soviet Bezostaya wheat varieties due to the emphasis on mass production, machine harvestability and other considerations.

Bánkúti 1201 had a wet gluten content of 49.45% and a dry gluten content of 17.23%. According to current practice, wheat with a dry gluten content of 28% is already suitable for milling, i.e. bread-making. Mill-quality wheat flour from today’s breadmaking varieties has an average wet gluten content of 30-35% and a dry gluten content of 10-12%.

So where is the fault if today’s wheat contains about 30-40% less gluten?

Simply put, the fault lies in the fact that our mothers and grandmothers used to bake bread from wheat with sourdough, so no one suffered from gluten intolerance despite the very high gluten content.

The role of FODMAP and WGA protein

To understand the problem, we need to clarify the concepts and effects of gluten, FODMAP and WGA protein (wheat germ agglutinin protein) as lectins in bread flour.

The wheat grain is made up of three parts: Endosperm, tegument and aleurone layer. The endosperm is the nutritious tissue and contains gluten and FODMAPs. The wheat germ, which contains the kernel and the hull, is the carrier of the protein WGA.

White bread flour consists mainly of the endosperm, which is made up of starch and gluten. White bread flour contains two dangerous substances, gluten and FODMAP.

Gluten consists of two parts, glutenin and gliadin. These two proteins are linked by a disulfide bridge. The gluten proteins in wheat flour, mainly prolamins and gliadins, have a strong antigenic potential. Using a computer-based in silico modelling technique, it has been shown that more than 60 immunogenic peptides are present in the gluten of Triticum species. These can be degraded by protease and pyratase enzymes produced by sourdough fungi (Saccharomyces exiguus, C. holmii, Issatchenkia orientalis, C. krusei, Aspergillus niger and A. oryzae). The efficiency of fermentative degradation is increased by various species and strains of Lactobacillus bacteria, which carry out secondary hydrolysis with their protease systems.

No immune reaction to gluten in sourdough bread

The peptides produced during fermentation have no epitopes or antigenic determinants, so they are not recognised as antigens by the immune system and do not trigger a defence response. The fermented gluten does not have an inflammatory effect. So there is no immunogenic recognition and celiac disease cannot develop.

Gluten not only damages the intestinal lining and causes leaky gut syndrome. When it enters the bloodstream, it activates antigen-presenting cells (macrophages) and triggers an immune response in the body.

Non-fermented gluten not only damages the intestinal lining but causes leaky gut syndrome. When it enters the bloodstream, it activates antigen-presenting cells (macrophages) and triggers an immune response in the body.

What is FODMAP?

FODMAPs are a group of fermentable carbohydrates. The group includes (F)fermentable (O)oligosaccharides, (D)disaccharides, (M)monosaccharides and (P)polyols (sugar alcohols).

Fermentable carbohydrates cannot be broken down by our digestive enzymes, but are fermented by bacteria. FODMAPs are a problem for people who suffer from SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).

Normally, there are about 10 bacteria per 1 ml of intestinal content in the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine, and in the next section, the jejunum. The last part of the small bowel is the ileum. When the intestine is functioning optimally, the ileum contains about 1,000 to 100,000 bacteria per ml.

Compared to the colon, which contains up to 100 billion bacteria per ml, the intestinal flora in the small intestine is relatively low under normal conditions.

Another problem is that in SIBO there are types of bacteria in the small intestine that should not be there. They ferment the FODMAPs in the bread, inhibit nutrient absorption and digestion, and cause quite a mess in the small intestine.

SIBO is also closely related to lactose intolerance. Without sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, lactose (a fermentable disaccharide in milk) cannot be digested and must be processed by bacteria in the colon. Another earlier study showed that SIBO is also associated with malabsorption of fructose and sorbitol. These are also FODMAPs.

In people with FODMAP intolerance, certain carbohydrates may be over-fermented, leading to gas, bloating, pain, poor digestion and an overgrowth of unwanted pathogenic strains of bacteria.

About lectins

Lectins are important to know because the lectin of the wheat plant, called wheat germ agglutinin protein, WGA, is found in the germ part of the wheat grain.

Lectins are glycoproteins, protein molecules with oligosaccharides on their surface (usually a combination of 3-10 monosaccharides). The oligosaccharide groups ‘attached’ to the proteins have a specific spatial structure that is ‘read’ by the binding sites of the lectins, i.e. specifically recognised by the immune system. Each of these interactions is weak, but according to the principle “many small ones make the difference”, many weak interactions synergistically produce strong effects. Proteins in our body’s antigen-presenting cells that recognise the carbohydrate code recognise the harmful and inflammatory sugar code and trigger the immune response.

Why are lectins found in plants?

All plant tissues contain lectins, so we cannot completely avoid them. Lectins are a self-defence system that plants have developed to harm the “enemies” that eat them. Lectins are mainly found in the reproductive fluids of plants, including plant seeds.

Dr Árpád Pusztai, a Hungarian biochemist working in Scotland, is the discoverer of the biological effects of lectins and a world leader in lectin research. Árpád Pusztai was born on 8 September 1930 in Budapest. He graduated in chemistry from Eötvös Loránd University in 1953. After the failure of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, he went to England. He obtained his doctorate in biochemistry from the Lister Institute. For the next 36 years, Pusztai worked at the Rowett Institute, mainly on plant lectins. Together with his wife, Dr Zsuzsa Bardócz, he published more than 270 scientific papers and wrote 3 books. They have become internationally recognised lectin experts.

A large proportion of lectins cannot be denatured or structurally broken down by heat, frying or cooking. Cereal lectins, for example, are resistant to human digestive juices.

The lectins in our food are indigestible to us, and it has been scientifically proven that some lectins cause severe intestinal toxicity and autoimmune problems in both humans and animals.

The best way to break down lectins is through fermentation. Bacteria and fungi are used to break down the ‘sugar codes’ encoded by oligosaccharides that cause inflammation and damage human and animal cells.

In sourdough bread, for example, this happens during the fermentation process, which takes 8 to 16 hours.

Wheat lectin is the agglutinin protein found in wheat germ

Interestingly, wheat germ agglutinin protein is also used in GM plants as an anti-inflammatory agent. The WGA protein ‘implanted’ in GM plants is the anti-inflammatory agent that the GM plant uses to defend itself against pests.

Coeliac disease and sourdough bread

Celiac disease does not develop if you eat sourdough bread all your life. Sourdough is fermented yeast. Sourdough is a beneficial activity of yeasts and homo- and heterofermentative lactic and acetic acid bacteria. The enzymatic digestion of bread flour is carried out by the carbohydrate-digesting enzymes amylase, protease and pyratase, the protein-digesting enzymes of yeasts. The oligosaccharides of the WGA protein and the oligo- and disaccharides of the FODMAP are broken down into monosaccharides by the carbohydrate-digesting enzymes of amylase in sourdough. Bacterial activity converts the monosaccharides to alcohol by alcoholic fermentation, followed by lactic acid, acetic acid and carbon dioxide by homo- or heterofermentative bacteria. Some of the carbon dioxide acidifies the bread and some is removed during the sourdough process. The resulting organic acids make the bread durable.

During the sourdough process, the flour loses 1.2 to 2.7% of its weight through fermentation. At the same time, the fermentation effect of the fungi and bacteria in the sourdough makes the bread flour more digestible and removes its pro-inflammatory effect.

In sourdough bread, another important phenomenon occurs as a result of fermentation. The wheat flour acquires an umami flavour, mainly due to the high content of glutamate amino acids in the gluten. This is how sourdough bread becomes tasty through natural fermentation. The taste of modern bread is created by flavour enhancers.

A loaf of wheat flour baked with yeast takes 8 to 10 hours to rise, while rye flour takes 16 hours. Traditional bread baking depends on good sourdough, kneading (leavening) and time.

The fungi and bacteria in sourdough work together to support and complement each other. They also produce substances that prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying in the sourdough. In this way, the microbiological process in the dough is controlled. In essence, these are beneficial antibiotics. These gut-friendly antibiotics are produced by heterofermentative lactic acid bacteria in sourdough bread. After baking, these gut-friendly antibiotics are absorbed into the gut, where they help maintain a healthy microbiome.

The ascorbic acid in the sourdough produces a lot of carbon dioxide when heated, which ‘sours’ the bread. The organic acids in the leavening agent (lactic acid, acetic acid, propionic acid, tartaric acid, sorbic acid and their derivatives) preserve the bread.

GM soy lecithin in modern bread

The organic acid artificially added to the flour regulates the pH of the dough so that the leavening agent effectively prevents the natural yeast formation that can occur in the dough during the short rising time. The softness and machinability of the bread are ensured by lecithin, which can be used in unlimited quantities. Lecithin is a very valuable food ingredient. The only big problem is that it is derived from genetically modified soya! With this ingredient, we are bringing the GM soy glyphosate problem* into our daily diet via bread additives.

Umami taste in bread

We know that the umami taste of sourdough bread comes from the amino acid glutamine, which becomes ‘visible’ to the taste buds through the fermentation process. The question is what gives the bread its umami taste.

According to the Food Labelling Regulation, flavour enhancers do not have to be labelled on food. There is a growing body of research on the use of the amino acid L-lysine as a flavour enhancer and in bread flour and various pasta products made from wheat flour. The scientific explanation for the use of L-lysine in foods, especially those made from wheat flour, is that L-lysine is a good complement to the amino acid composition of wheat flour. According to experts who support this concept, the addition of L-lysine from wheat flour makes the foods produced more biologically valuable.

Other opinions state that L-lysine as a free amino acid causes various problems in the body due to lysine-arginine antagonism. These include negative effects on the cardiovascular system, blood pressure and immune function.

Hygiene & Sourdough Bread

The question arises as to how sourdough bread could be stored for 8-10 days in the far worse hygienic conditions of a traditional village damp room with a dirt floor and not go mouldy. Today, a loaf of bread stored in a modern kitchen under much better hygienic conditions would go mouldy within 2-3 days.

The explanation is simple! The sourdough bread breaks down the sugar responsible for the inflammation. Moulds also look for this sugar, but only find it in sourdough bread.

The biggest problem with bread with additives is not that it contains additives, but that it does not ferment!

The history of sourdough bread

Our ancestors respected and cherished bread. They called it life, God’s blessing, the most important food of mankind. It was eaten at almost every meal. Home-made bread was made from pure wheat flour or a mixture of rye and wheat flour. Its size varied from region to region.

The average weight was 4 to 6 kg, the diameter 25 to 35 cm, the average height 10 to 12 cm for rye bread and 20 to 25 cm for wheat bread.

In the past, bread was baked exclusively by women. The bread was usually kneaded and baked by the farmer’s wife herself. Depending on the size of the family and the oven, six to eight loaves were baked every one to two weeks. It usually took 18 to 20 hours to make the bread.

Girls learned to bake bread at the age of 14-15, and all girls had to learn before they could marry.

What beer and bread have in common

Beer is not called liquid bread for nothing, because it is a fermentation product.

Even today, the words “brewed according to the Purity Law” of 1516 are emblazoned on the cans and bottles of many German beer brands.

The law stipulates that beer can only contain three ingredients: malt, hops and water.

Yeast bread and sourdough bread

Yeast bread is a cross between sourdough bread and modern bread. The bread is baked with baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) in 2-3 hours. The FODMAPs (sugars) in the bread flour are used to form rising carbon dioxide and preservative organic acids. The maltose cannot be fermented by the fungi and remains in the yeast bread, reducing the shelf life of the bread.

Homo- and heterofermentative lactic acid bacteria also play a role in the enzymatic conversion of gluten and WGA protein. This means that the degradation of these two particularly risky pro-inflammatory substances is not complete.

GM soy and glyphosate

In 1996, RR soybeans were approved in the USA. Soybeans are sprayed two to four times a year. Over the past 22 years, chemical residues of glyphosate in soy have increased from 0.1 mg/kg to 20.0 mg/kg. In the USA, the limit had to be raised to 40 mg/kg 2 years ago because the 20.0 mg/kg limit was exceeded in soy.

There are huge scientific and economic interests at stake, both pro and con. GM soy must not be grown in Europe! However, through free trade, a significant amount of feed and food from GM soy is entering the European Union.

Some arguments from anti-GM activists who are concerned about the future of humanity:

It kills some of the fungi and bacteria that live in the soil The beneficial gut bacteria are all sensitive to glyphosate. As the central metabolic organ of the liver, it blocks a key enzyme, cytochrome p450, which plays an important role in various hepatic metabolic processes. These include the regulation of hormone levels and the breakdown of xenobiotics (foreign substances such as toxins). Of course, we will not be advocating GM soy ourselves, because our lead product developer, an agricultural engineer with 30 years experience in animal husbandry and nutrition at home and abroad, cannot give you a single positive argument!



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