Our 7 core sourdough principles: how to improve your gut microbiome
When you learn to bake with the Sourdough Club, you don’t just learn to bake sourdough. You learn to bake to nourish. Fermentation alone is not enough to nourish your gut, and so we have a very structured and well-researched set of core principles. These principles have been developed over twenty years, and our approach to baking is centred on the seven-step approach to improve your gut microbiome.
I trained as a baker
I tend to regard my baking career in almost two halves. Perhaps the first half of learning to bake was about the enjoyment of baking and sharing food that was a pleasure to eat – breads that were delicious, cakes that were an indulgence, and pastries and pies that were just a delight. The second part of my career as a baker came about after what you could only really consider to be a life-changing event: when I stopped being able to digest wheat, and then discovered that my body would accept – and thrive on – eating sourdough. This second, more powerful part of my baking career really became my focus, and the priority I placed on creating and baking became about far more than just an indulgence: it became about baking to nourish and to improve your gut microbiome.
When I first started baking, I had a conflict. In my twenties, white flour was considered the only way to indulge yourself, but as time went on, and as I became more and more familiar with the nuances of wholegrain, and the complexities and fragrance of milling freshly ground flour, my palate and my love of baking – combined with my focus on nourishment – meant that the traditional, commercial cakes, bakes, pastries and bread that were made using industrially produced white flour lost their appeal. Instead of satiating my appetite, these bakes had left me unsatisfied: one biscuit was never enough, one slice of bread was not filling, and the flavour one-dimensional. Of course, many years on, I now know that these industrially produced cakes, with their lack of diversity and fibre, are actually known to contribute towards raised blood sugar and inflammation.
1. Increase fibre
Possibly the single most powerful thing that you can do to improve your gut microbiome, and support your health and wellness generally, is to increase the amount of fibre you consume every day: not just in your baking, but in everything you eat. Increasing fibre (along with increasing diversity, below) will make a significant difference in nourishing your gut microbes, and what’s amazing about it is that it’s not something you have to wait for – you can start with your next bite.
2. Increase diversity
To support your gut health, your mind and your body, increasing diversity is just as important as increasing fibre. We know that the wider the diversity of the microbes in your gut, the more robust your health; and the wider the diversity of the foods you eat, the wider the diversity of your microbes. The evidence is absolutely irrefutable, as seen in studies from Rob Knight and Tim Spector. The recommendation is to consume at least 30 different plant-based ingredients in your diet per week. The Botanical Blends we have developed are designed to increase diversity within your baking.
The potential of fermentation to increase the bioavailability of key nutrients in the gut is huge. The evidence so far is in vitro, but part of my own personal research involves looking into this. The sourdough fermentation process doesn’t just reduce the potentially inflammatory gluten load; it can also increase the bioavailability of certain key nutrients, particularly antioxidants, by four to five times.
4. Increase levels of antioxidants
There’s undeniable evidence that antioxidants are good for you. They’re in the fruits or vegetables that you eat on a daily basis, but let’s not forget that it’s possible to incorporate even higher levels of polyphenols and flavonoids into your diet through your grains by using diversity blends. These blends contain ingredients such as green tea, cocoa nibs, herbs such as oregano, and edible flowers such as roses. This means the way we blend our grains massively increases the levels of antioxidants in our bakes, and also hugely increases their bioavailability.
5. Increase probiotics in your bakes
The cutting-edge research on how gut bacteria produce neurochemicals that are needed by the brain, such as dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin, is amazing! We are learning that gut bacteria plays a major role in our mental health. There are two ways of approaching this: the first, as previously mentioned, is to increase fibre and antioxidants, and the second is to look at the way that probiotics have been shown to support stress resilience and mood, and to improve both anxiety and depression. The way we do that at the Sourdough School is through our recipes for live syrups, vinegars, sourdough fizz, sauerkraut, cultured butter and more.
6. Reduce refined sugar
There’s irrefutable evidence that refined sugar consumption is linked to inflammation. I’m not against sugar used in the right place and in small quantities – a little sweetness goes a long way – but the levels at which we’ve been consuming sugar in our modern Western diet is undoubtedly one of the contributing factors to systematic inflammation.
7. Making lifestyle changes that support the body as a whole
As a whole, the mind is very much connected to the gut. Bifidobacteria in the gut are believed to relieve stress and anxiety, and there is evidence that there is a reduction in these microorganisms when cortisol levels are high. Mindful eating has been shown to lower cortisol levels. However, high levels of stress can actually reduce the effectiveness of the gut microbiome in defending against illness. Making sourdough is a way to support the body as a whole. There’s a routine, there’s a rhythm, and there’s a space within that routine to take the opportunity to get outside and enjoy sunlight and fresh air, and to breathe and be free.