Healthy bread can be both nourishing and delicious. But what about those of us that seem to struggle with stomach upset and achy joints when we eat our bread? Is there something that might help us make our bread even healthier? Hint: we’re going to talk about natural leavening.
Raise your hand if you don’t love fresh, baked bread. Yeah, I don’t know people like that. If you’re just entering a phase where you’re ready to try your hand at making your own bread, or converting over your homemade bread from white flour to whole grains there are some references that I can recommend heartily. For my body, though, it turns out that healthy bread and natural leavening go hand in hand…
What is Healthy Bread?
I think a better question to ask is, “What is healthy bread for you?” The answer may actually turn out to be no bread, even if it’s just for a time. I went off grains entirely for nearly a year. After that, I had to change how I prepared my grains to make them a little healthier so I could actually eat them. (See that whole explanation below).
Before I began doing that, this is the bread recipe I used and loved. It works every time, is healthy and easy. When I say “healthy” here’s what I mean: whole grain flours, real fats like butter and coconut oil, nourishing sweeteners like molasses and honey and sea salt. They may also include fruits, vegetables, herbs, cultured dairy and sourdough (natural leaven) culture.
For example, here’s a quality no-knead bread recipe from Northern Homestead.
Common Sense Homesteading has a post with 13 healthy bread recipes.
Peaceful Acres has a fun post about her journey to healthier bread entitled, “I’m a bread geek now“. Sing it, sista!
Cookbooks with Healthy Bread Recipes
Whole Foods for the Whole Family is a great whole foods cookbook. Nourishing Traditions is another one. Both have healthy bread recipes.
Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day is not suitable for completely inexperienced bread bakers (in my opinion). However, if you’ve made a loaf of bread of any kind before, you’re ready for this book. The premise is that you prepare your dough very wet and let it sit to go through its rise cycles without kneading it. Now, I’ve gotten some of my best upper body workouts kneading whole grain bread but, all the same, it can get tedious when you’re making ten loaves of bread a week.
The one thing to remember as you’re working your dough when it’s this wet is that your hands need to be wet, in order for it not to stick. Anyway, great concept, great book with a lot of recipes.
If you don’t want to mess with a whole book to know if you like the method, you can try this one from Elliot Homestead – Traditional Soaked Whole Wheat Bread. NOTE – this IS a yeast bread but its a very, very yummy yeast bread. You can also find this recipe in Shaye Elliot’s cookbook, The Elliot Homestead: From Scratch, which is simply one of THE best whole foods cookbooks I’ve ever owned. And I own a few.
My search for healthy-for-MY-body bread
The journey from white bread to whole grain bread (yes, there are more grains that merely wheat) is an important one. For your body, it may turn out that the journey from whole grain, yeast bread to whole grain, naturally leavened bread will be even more important. As I’ve also mentioned, you may discover that you need to heal your gut before bread of any kind is a healthy option – but that’s a subject for a different post!
To get you started with gut healing, though, try this book:
At War With Grains
I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with bread this past year – grains in general, in fact. At one point, my gut was so broken that I couldn’t really eat anything, grain based or not, that didn’t make me sick. It all started when I noticed an allergic reaction every time I ground my wheat. The reactions progressively got worse, until I just couldn’t grind it anymore if I wanted to breathe. Since I’m fond of breathing, someone else was elected wheat grinder, but then I realized that I was getting sick every time I ate bread. Then oats. Then amaranth. Then quinoa.
I started investigating Celiac disease and didn’t feel I had enough of the symptoms to say that was the problem. I started researching dietary cleanses and tried a few. They helped enormously but I still couldn’t eat grain without getting sick. I tried eating grains raw to no avail, although sprouted was easier on my system.
(My great goal for this winter is to figure out how to integrate sprouting into my daily routine – it’s so much detail for my nature that I invariably lose track of what I’m doing with sprouting and end up with a moldy mess.)
I learned more and more about the rampant yeast problem in America and how yeast overgrowth can be traced to a myriad of ills and evils in our health. I did an herbal yeast cleanse and knew I was on the right track but there was still something missing.
Health in the Navel
I was eventually lead to a class given by Jonell Francis at the LDS Holistic Living Conference this past year. Her topic? Yeast overgrowth and damaged guts. She shared her story of illness and years of conventional medicine failing to give her the results she craved – health and vitality! She started researching alternative ideas and also searched her scriptures for an answer.
She started to take notice of how often the Lord promised the blessings of health in the navel and then marrow in the bones to those who would seek them. Jonell realized that she would never have the strength she needed until she healed her navel first – but how?
Through her class I learned the various steps required to heal a damaged gut and start my journey back to strength. For more information on that process and Jonell’s work, please visit her site by accessing the link on her name. Here’s her cookbook, which I use and love:
Natural Leavening or Sourdough
No, I haven’t forgotten this is a post about bread, I promise!
So, after I started working on healing my gut (a progression in which I’m still engaged), I strongly felt like it was time to start incorporating grain back into my diet. I again tried soaking various grains before consuming them. But gluten or gluten free grains, it didn’t seem to matter what I did, they still left me feeling weak.
Through prayer (yes, I was praying to figure out how to eat grain!), I was introduced to a healthier way to prepare bread grains by Dr. Matthew and Amy Mclean when they taught a local class on natural leavening or sourdough. This was it! Yippee! I went home and practiced what I’d learned and have since discovered that I’m able to eat wheat, especially ancient grains like Khorizan. I just need to prepare it properly!
Einkorn.com explains the health benefits of various traditional grain preparations, including natural leavening – click here.
Still Moderate Consumption
I must say, however, that I’m very limited in my intake. I can’t eat much, but I can eat some. After a time, I was able to introduced pre-soaked grains back into my diet as well – oats, amaranth, etc.
For example, when I make oatmeal for my family, I roll the groats at night and soak them in filtered water with either some raw milk or a dash of fresh lemon, so that I can warm them up in the morning and serve them with butter and Grade B Maple syrup in the morning. My five year old had always said she didn’t like oatmeal but it turns out she was really telling me that she couldn’t eat them un-soaked and heated past 115 degree. Now that I soak the oatmeal and keep it under 115, oatmeal is her new favorite breakfast!!
Natural Leavening Cookbooks
Watch Out for Commercial Yeast
If you decide you’d like to try naturally leavened, or sourdough bread, there are cookbooks that can help. The one thing you really need to watch out for when considering one of these books is to make sure they don’t include commercial yeast in their recipes, because most of them do.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with commercial yeast except that it’s sold it its isolated form. It’s missing all the natural checks and balances that God put along yeasts to help our systems digest both it and the grains we eat with it. It’s embarrassed and naked in it’s cool packaging at the grocery store. Although it doesn’t mean you any real harm, the likelihood that commercial yeast will do you some is pretty high for most of us, given the state our tummies!
Decent Natural Leaven Baking Book
Classic Sourdoughs was the first book I read. The recipes did NOT use commercial yeast. The instructions were fine, but the author made it sound like I could never really bake good sourdough unless I used his method. Which method was way too detailed and time consuming for me. I have five small children that I homeschool, a homestead to run, a family to care for and this blog as a part time job. I needed a simple method that was something I could work into my schedule without an act of Divine Intervention.
Fantastic Sourdough Baking Books
Melissa Richardson and Caleb Wornock wrote a book called The Art of Baking with Natural Yeasts that I purchased as love. With easy to follow recipes, quality grain and bread education and simple natural leavening user information, this is a fantastic book for anyone looking to make healthy breads.
Melissa then wrote a second book called Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast. I actually enjoyed this book even more than the first. The trouble shooting information for using natural leavening is much more robust in this book. I wrote a whole review of this book – click here to read it.
I own both of these books and love them. I real feel they’re the best books out there for this topic and highly recommend them. Melissa makes anyone, even novice bakers, comfortable with baking healthy breads with natural leaven.
I’ve become really picky about books that claim to tell us how to use natural leaven because so many of them have that commercial yeast in their recipes. That’s totally cheating and missing the point! Quite frankly, a lot of the reason behind using leaven is so that I don’t have to use that yeast anymore. My body just doesn’t like it.
If you find one that doesn’t and its a good cookbook, will you please, please, please let us know by leaving a comment in the space below. Feel free to leave your favorite tips and tricks, too, if you’re a seasoned (no pun intended) natural leavening baking.
Some Natural Leavening Links
Here is a great link from our friends at Montana Solar Creations on how to make sourdough starter and how to make the perfect loaf of sourdough bread.
The Homesteading Hippy has a quality article on starting a sourdough starter, as well. You really can’t read too many of these since each person has little tidbits of advice that are worthwhile!
For more information on natural leaven, or sourdough, please visit that section in our book The Do It Yourself Homestead. With 400 pages of homesteading information on many topics, you’re bound to find something useful to you!
If you’re experiencing chronic health problems and can’t find an answer, you may want to consider the trifecta of poor diet, too much yeast/high acid and damaged gut. It can be so frustrating to continue to feel icky when some of us are really trying so hard to eat whole, nourishing foods! So, you do your research and I’ll do mine and we’ll get back to each other…
Cover photo gratefully attributed to this Wikipedia Commons user.