Is Sourdough Wheat Bread Safe on a Gluten-Free Diet?

In a word, no.

First, for starters, I’m a tree hugging, sauerkraut-making Berkeley grad who has admired Louise Hay’s work for a long time, so I was tremendously disappointed to see her share a post on Facebook called “Can Sourdough Change a Gluten-Free Diet?” from Louise’s Heal the World FB page that went out to hundreds of thousands of people.

So … let’s get started, shall we?

  • Fermented foods are great for you! No arguments here.
  • Gluten sensitivity IS a spectrum. There are people who don’t seem bothered by small amounts of gluten, and there are definitely folks who are sensitive to the tiniest bit. Our testing and understanding of gluten is still quite limited.sesame bread
  • Fermenting DOES seem to reduce the amount of gluten in wheat.
  • Implying that even people with “severe gluten issues” and mentioning it being okay for some with Celiac is grossly and totally irresponsible and makes me want to scream. Okay, I confess, I screamed a little.

There are small studies with specially fermented sourdough where there was a pretty mixed response. This study fed people with Celiac disease regular bread with gluten (!), bread with partially hydrolyzed (in normal English, partially broken down) gluten molecules, or totally hydrolyzed gluten (8ppm gluten, which is very low and normally considered gluten-free) and followed them for 2 months. The people fed the regular gluten had damage. Um, no shocker here. The people with partially hydrolyzed gluten had some signs of damage and had symptoms. The 5 people with completely hydrolyzed gluten for 2 months didn’t have visible problems or a change in antibody levels.

Again. 5 people. 2 months. Using special strains of starter lactobacilli (good bacteria) and proteases (protease=enzyme that breaks down proteins) and testing the bread for gluten levels (there are issues with that, too, but that’s another story entirely) We don’t know what the results/damage/symptoms would look like in 6 months, a year, 5 years…remember, Celiac is a lifelong diet.

I also found one small study showing that some people with Celiac are safe eating specially made fermented breads made with wheat that have been tested below 20ppm gluten. The study followed 8 children (one dropped out, so 7 finished the study) for 2 months.

Again. 7 children. Only a 2 month trial. Special bread with complete hydrolysis of gluten and testing to confirm the level of gluten. This isn’t the same as MYO sourdough at home.

So what does it mean for you, oh bread lover?

It’s POSSIBLE that special strains of sourdough can be used to make gluten-free bread, even from wheat. Granted, this has only been tried with a handful of people over 2 month periods of time. However, this isn’t the sourdough you pick up at Whole Foods. The whole process was using a fermented starter and enzymes that were selected specifically for their ability to degrade gluten. As one of the studies show, the breads that had incompletely hydrolyzed gluten DID lead to intestinal damage. So this isn’t safe to play with on your own starter and expect the same results.

I get really fired about this like this because it matters. Inevitably, someone will read the article and eat sourdough bread, believing it’s okay. Our health matters; the health of our families and children matter. Please … you, your children and your loved ones matter more than having a piece of sourdough made from wheat.

So my 2 cents—if/when we figure out which strains are needed, make them commercially available and we can test the final products for gluten to double check and do research to see how people do LONG TERM, I promise I’ll post about it. Then, sure, enjoy your sourdough.

Until then, have gluten-free sourdough. There are quite a few 100% gluten-free sourdough recipes online, like this one from Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.

PS: There was a small study showing that fermented GLUTEN-FREE sourdough breads (rice, corn, amaranth) were helpful for people with Celiac in their healing. So if you like sourdough, bon appetit!

PPS–thanks to the delicious Ms. Shirley for her comments. It’s wonderful to have like-minded g-free advocates!

PPPS–the bread above isn’t sourdough, but it is gluten-free (for real). No hydrolyzed nuttin’.

About Cheryl Harris

Life played a funny trick on me. I've studied nutrition for years, and much to my surprise, found out that I could manage many of my health issues via diet. I've been GF for years, and I've got a bunch of allergies and sensitivities. But it definitely doesn't keep me from cooking, baking and enjoying my food. Thanks for stopping by.
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4 Responses to Is Sourdough Wheat Bread Safe on a Gluten-Free Diet?

  1. Debra says:

    Thanks for the article on GF Sourdough bread. I saw the article you are referring to by Louise Hay earlier today. We all need to stick together and keep each other informed when there is erroneous info put ‘out there’.

  2. Thanks so much for addressing this “misinformation” (generous term), Cheryl. You have done an outstanding job of sharing the facts (gosh, don’t you love facts? such a novel concept **insert sarcasm here**) so succinctly and clearly.

    Again, thank you! And for the record, my input was miniscule, but I appreciate the mention very much!


  3. Lynne L says:

    Thanks so much Cheryl & Shirley. Just the title of this made me shudder big-time. There is so much misinformation out there 🙁

  4. Thanks, Debra. I was shocked when I saw the article this morning–I have no doubt that Louise (or whoever posts for her) means well, but !!! We do what we can to limit the damage.

    Shirley, yep, indeed, I’m amazed at the “research” on the intertubes. Oy.

    Absolutely. Regretfully the post this morning sent out misinformation with a huge megaphone.

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