Starchy bread often does not top the list of foods that help extend life. That’s why you might be surprised to learn that one type of bread is associated with living longer: sourdough made from whole grains.
Sourdough bread is a favorite dish of the Greeks in Ikaria, one of the five Green Zones, which are the regions with the highest life expectancy in the world.
Known for its characteristic sour taste (which is the product of fermentation) and crunchy texture, this famous Blue Zones bread boasts a lot of benefits for a healthy aging process, including helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, support gut health, and manage weight.
Here, Janice Padilla, a licensed dietitian working with older people, shares all the reasons why this fermented bread is in a tournament of its own.
1. It can help control blood sugar levels
Unlike other white breads, sourdough won’t raise your blood sugar levels. That’s because, despite its carb content, sourdough is considered a food with a low glycemic index, Padilla said.
Here’s why: The fermentation process produces organic acids (like lactic and acetate) that can slow down the absorption of starch, Padilla said. And this increases insulin sensitivity, which can contribute to better glycemic control, she explains.
That means sourdough bread can be a delicious addition to your diet if you’re living with diabetes. “Studies have shown many of the benefits of low glycemic foods for overall health and metabolic conditions such as diabetes,” Padilla said.
Case in point: Enjoying bread made from wholemeal flour daily has been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes in people in the southern Mediterranean, according to a November 2019 article in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research on Aging.
Given that diabetes can cause serious (potentially life-threatening) medical problems if left unchecked or unmanaged, it’s important that you do whatever you can — like swapping sourdough for white bread — to help control your condition for a healthier and longer life.
Although sourdough has a lower glycemic index, a June 2017 study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that people’s glycemic responses to it were very different. That means, depending on the factors (including the formation of your microbiome), you may still experience a spike in blood sugar levels after eating sourdough. So, if you have a condition like diabetes, talk to your doctor or dietitian about whether eating sourdough regularly gets it.
2. It promotes intestinal health
Sourdough bread is good for your gut.
Padilla said: “While probiotics (i.e. beneficial bacteria) produced during fermentation do not survive at the high temperatures of the baking process, sourdough remains a solid source of prebiotics. Prebiotics serve as food for good bugs in your gut microflora,
so they help your gut microflora grow and maintain equilibrium.
Fermentation also reduces gluten content that can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort for people who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten, Padilla added.
Moreover, the fiber content in wholemeal sourdough can promote bowel movements, which is especially beneficial for older adults because they are more likely to suffer from constipation. Padilla says that fiber has also been linked to a reduction in inflammation, which plays a role in many chronic diseases.
All of this to say, a happy gut (which is also associated with your immune system) can lead to a longer, healthier life.
3. It’s good for your heart
Snacking with sourdough can support heart health.
Here’s how to do it: By reducing insulin resistance, eating sourdough bread can reduce the response of triglycerides and, therefore, help control cholesterol levels, Padilla said. Having healthy cholesterol levels reduces the risk of heart disease.
Indeed, the November 2019 Experimental and Clinical Study report on Aging also noted that Mediterranean people who use sourdough as a staple food in their diet also have a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
And, as we all know, keeping your stock code in peak form can help you age gracefully into your golden years.
4. It helps you absorb nutrients
If you want to survive your twilight years, you need to give your body all the nutrients it needs to function optimally. And eating sourdough bread, which helps you absorb countless important minerals, can help you do just that.
That’s because fermentation reduces the amount of phytic acid available in dough, Padilla said. Phytic acid – found naturally in plant foods – limits the absorption of certain minerals. So if you reduce phytic acid, you’ll increase your supply of minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc, Padilla explains.
5. It supports weight management
While many people are concerned about weight avoidance of bread because of its rich carb content, adding sour powder to your daily menu can actually help you manage the amount on the scales.
Thanks in part to a low glycemic index, bread made from wholemeal flour may contribute to a reduction in excess weight, according to the Article Experimental and Clinical Research on Aging in November 2019.
Padilla said the fiber content is also a fundamental factor in the benefits of plain flour made from whole wheat for weight loss and weight control. That’s because fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, helps you feel fuller, and curbs hunger, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
And maintaining a healthy weight can help you live longer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are obese are at risk for a variety of serious health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, all of which have been linked to higher mortality rates.