Why Sourdough Bread May Be an Option If You Have IBS

If you have gone gluten-free to better manage your IBS and miss eating bread, you may want to try sourdough. This bread stands out from others because it's missing a key ingredient that tends to aggravate IBS. With this review of the pros and cons of sourdough bread for people with IBS, find out what makes this bread so special and why it might actually be an option for you.

Sourdough bread
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What Is Sourdough Bread?

The bread is made through the traditional baking technique of using a sourdough starter. This is a significant difference from other types of bread, which use commercial yeast to make the dough rise. 

The sourdough starter is made up of wild yeasts and bacteria (predominantly lactobacilli bacteria), along with flour and water. This preparation results in a natural fermentation process that not only creates gases that cause the bread to rise but also gives the bread its unique texture and flavor.

Why Sourdough Might Be OK for IBS

In her classic cookbook, "Eating for IBS," published in the year 2000, author Heather Van Vorous singles out sourdough bread as being an IBS-friendly food. Since that book made its debut, scientific research has come along that backs up her recommendation.

Monash University researchers found that the fermentation process that occurs during the creation of traditionally prepared sourdough bread reduces fructan in the bread. Fructans are carbohydrates that are one of the fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) that trigger IBS symptoms in some people. Scientists believe the yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough starter break down fructans during the fermentation process of sourdough baking, resulting in a bread product that is lower in FODMAPS.

In fact, the Monash University Low-FODMAP Diet app identifies two slices of spelt sourdough bread and one slice of oat sourdough bread as being low in FODMAPs, a group of compounds believed to produce symptoms of IBS and related disorders. Unfortunately, it seems as if the fermentation process is not enough to knock out the FODMAPs from sourdough bread prepared with wheat or rye.

When Is Sourdough Bread Not OK?

Even with their lower FODMAP levels, there are circumstances in which sourdough bread would not be appropriate for a person who has IBS. If you have any of the following conditions, you might want to refrain from eating this kind of bread.

  • You have celiac disease: Spelt is a wheat product, and many oats are cross-contaminated with wheat and therefore should be avoided.
  • The sourdough is not prepared traditionally: Many supermarket brands of sourdough are prepared with commercial yeast and therefore have not been through the entire fermentation process that is necessary for lowering fructan levels.
  • You feel better on a grain-free diet: Some people find that their digestive and overall health is enhanced when they do not consume any type of grain.
  • You try adding sourdough bread and your symptoms worsen: Everybody is different. Although some studies may suggest that sourdough bread shouldn't worsen IBS symptoms, at least one study found it was not better tolerated by those who believed they were sensitive to wheat. This doesn't mean that there aren't other irritants within the bread that will generate a reaction in you.
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Menezes LAA, Minervini F, Filannino P, Sardaro MLS, Gatti M, Lindner JD. Effects of sourdough on FODMAPs in bread and potential outcomes on irritable bowel syndrome patients and healthy subjects. Front Microbiol. 2018;9:1972. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01972

  2. Loponen J, Gänzle MG. Use of sourdough in low FODMAP baking. Foods. 2018;7(7):96. doi:10.3390/foods7070096

  3. Pirkola L, Laatikainen R, Loponen J, et al. Low-FODMAP vs regular rye bread in irritable bowel syndrome: Randomized SmartPill® study. World J Gastroenterol. 2018;24(11):1259–1268. doi:10.3748/wjg.v24.i11.1259

  4. Laatikainen R, Koskenpato J, Hongisto SM, et al. Pilot study: Comparison of sourdough wheat bread and yeast-fermented wheat bread in individuals with wheat sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1215. doi:10.3390/nu9111215

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.