By Sue Newell, CCA Operations Manager
The first time I heard someone with celiac disease claim that she could tolerate regular sourdough bread I was at a conference sponsored by one of the US celiac support groups. My seatmate insisted that she could have half a slice of sourdough toast every other weekend “without any trouble”. While I expressed concern about what was really happening to her gut, she was insistent and I let the matter drop.
Over the next few years, the same story popped up here and there on the Internet, claiming that the fermentation process that happens with sourdough somehow rendered the gluten safe for people with celiac disease. Since these articles were generally found on the loony side of the gluten-free spectrum, I still let it go unless someone specifically asked.
In the last few years, however, I have seen more and more articles suggesting that rumour is true. Some cited “studies” from Italy, along with lots of anecdotal evidence, and the articles started to appear in the mainstream press (even on CBC.ca).
The stories were appearing in the United States too, and Registered Dietitian Tricia Thompson, the Gluten Free Watchdog, decided to take on the claims in a particular blog post. Like many others, the article mis-interpreted a study that included two people with celiac disease eating baked goods made with wheat flour that was processed to approximate sourdough bread. While these people did not develop clinical symptoms, one developed increased antibody levels and both developed clear villus atrophy and increased markers of inflammation in the small intestine. While the atrophy was “subtotal”, that is, not complete villus atrophy, the subjects were clearly NOT safe eating sourdough bread.
In case there is any confusion, wheat-based sourdough bread is NOT safe for people with celiac disease even if you do not experience physical symptoms.
If you would like to read more details, including the gluten test results of a loaf of bread from Dan the Baker, visit glutenfreewatchdog.org. Thompson regularly tests products for gluten and reports the results to her subscribers. The current subscription fee is $4.99 USD per month.