According to Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and one of the world's leading experts on regions in the world where people live the longest (areas he has deemed the Blue Zones), sourdough bread also has some very important longevity-boosting benefits. In fact, according to Buettner, sourdough bread is consumed at almost every meal in the Blue Zone region of Ikaria, Greece. Some goes for Sardinia, Italy: In the Barbagia of Seulo region, in fact, a range of double-leavened fermented sourdough breads (including pane civraxiu and moddizzosu) are served daily.
How does sourdough bread play a role in healthy aging, exactly? Read on for expert intel from an registered dietitian below.
Sourdough bread benefits that boost longevity
1. Sourdough bread provides you with energy, and it's great for your gut microbiome
For starters (no pun intended), sourdough is a good source of carbohydrates, and therefore a readily-available energy source. For the most nutrient-rich version, make sure to look for whole-wheat sourdough, which will have more energy-boosting fiber and protein than refined white flour.
What makes sourdough truly unique among breads, however, is that it's considered a fermented food. Thanks to the probiotics (aka good gut bacteria) that result during the process of fermentation, this category of foods has many microbiome-balancing benefits to offer. For one, studies have shown that fermented foods like sourdough can help fight inflammation and boost your immune system, both important parts of healthy aging. Fermented foods are also great for maintaining a healthy digestive system, boosting your overall intestinal and respiratory health, and even slashing your risk for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“The role that a well-balanced gut microbiota plays in human health is extensive," says Jinan Banna, RD, PhD. "Eating more fermented foods helps your digestive system absorb key vitamins and other nutrients, strengthens your body's immune response, and offers you protection from harmful pathogens. There is also supporting research that sourdough can actively slow starch digestibility compared to other non-fermented forms of bread, which leads to a lower glycemic response and therefore more stable blood sugar.”
2. It can boost your mood and mental health, too
We already knew that bread makes us happy, but there's actual science to back this. This is due to what's known as the gut-brain connection. To break this down, we call on research published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal that uncovered that our gastrointestinal system actually has its own "brain" known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS, the researchers found, communicates with your central nervous system (CNS)—of which the brain is a part—to influence your mood, cognition, and mental health. The gut-brain connection is additionally linked by way of your hormones and immune system.
3. Sourdough may help your body absorb key vitamins and minerals, especially those that keep bones strong
In Sardinia, Buettner found that the oldest folks had half as many bone fractures than those in other Italian regions. Because maintaining bone strength is a key part of longevity, getting a daily dose of minerals like magnesium—which aids in the regulation of blood calcium, a vital nutrient for bone strength—only boosts those efforts.
"When you consume fermented foods, it becomes easier for your digestive system to absorb important minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and iron that are key for maintaining healthy bones as you age. This is because the phytate present is broken down, and phytate impairs mineral absorption,” says Banna. Studies have suggested that this mineral absorption bioavailability increased after consumption of sourdough bread specifically. While more research is needed, existing science does suggest that sourdough improves absorption.
The same, Banna says, can be said for the bioavailability of B vitamins. “Yeast fermentation has been shown to increase folate content in the baking process of wheat and rye sourdough breads. Fermentation may also lead to an enrichment of the content of riboflavin," she says. “But again, more research is needed on sourdough, as each starter is unique."
The takeaway? Clearly, there are a few important sourdough bread benefits that can certainly play a role in longevity. However, to Banna's point, keep in mind that not all sourdough breads are created equal. The quality of the starter and grains used to bake the bread will determine both the overall nutritional composition as well as the flavor of your loaf. Time plays a role in sourdough's healthfulness, too—from the age of sourdough starter (in Sardinian culture, starters are often shared between neighbors and families) to when it was last fed. Finally, the temperature in which a loaf ferments is key: One study highlights sourdough fermentation at 77 degrees is ideal for developing those gut-boosting enzymes.
At the end of the day, longevity aside, we'll keep appreciating the delicious flavor of sourdough bread—it's certainly something worth living (to 100-plus years old) for.
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