Bread & Citations

Our first ever guest post reflects on nutrition & food justice

Hi Bread Friends!

I’m excited to try something new today. And before local customers get anxious… don’t you worry… the bread this week is the same yummy sourdough that you’ve come to expect (and it is available to order on the website right now).

This week, I’ve asked my friend Erika to write a guest post. Erika is one of the earliest customers of Bread & Justice (before we had a name), and is also a dietitian here at UW-Madison. More important than either of those, her family are dear friends of ours. Below she reflects on the advantages of the fermentation process, the benefits of whole wheat in your bread, and also offers scrutiny of the narrow conception of healthy eating while wetting your appetite to read more from Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice.

Mo. The Baker.

As a consumer of sourdough from Bread & Justice, I was excited when Mo and I talked about writing a post highlighting what sourdough is, and wading through the literature surrounding the nutritional benefits of consuming it.

First, a disclosure. I am a Registered Dietitian (read: I love food). I think food is transformational, and food is medicine. The only way a loaf of sourdough from Mo Cheeks makes it to my home in one piece is when Mo has occasionally delivered a loaf directly to our doorstep. There are two stoplights between the Cheeks’ home, and mine, which means I have might have numerous opportunities to get. that. bread. One afternoon I saw people sharing beautiful IG shots of their sourdough tagged @bakingmo, I messaged Mo a picture of my lunch: sourdough looking like an animal got at it, half sticking out of a tub of Earth Balance buttery spread. No plate, no knife, no problem. It’s. So. Good. 

At the UW-Madison I teach a food, nutrition and culture course, which supports my natural curiosity of what we eat, and why we eat what we eat. Bread is so interesting! From the Stone Age to ancient Egyptians, to ancient Greeks and Romans and up to present day, humans have a long history of consuming bread in one form or another. As in ancient times, and in many places across the world today, bread is a staple, often associated with meaningful experiences and/or traditions. Given the global reach, you can imagine there are innumerable ways to mix, bake, and serve up a loaf of bread. With U.S. trends in consumer demand for “clean labels”, it is no surprise fresh bread/bread products with few ingredients are highly sought after. While I suspect the following statement might not include subscribers to Bread & Justice, it shouldn’t go without saying that to some, bread is a four-letter-word, with no place in American diet culture. However, that doesn’t change the fact that depending on how you make it, bread can be an excellent vessel for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. 

Enter sourdough bread. 

Traditional sourdough is made with flour, water and salt. It undergoes a lengthy fermentation process which involves lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast (naturally occurring), swirling together in a sourdough starter. It appears that an advantage of the slow fermentation and acid production might improve bioavailability of vitamins and minerals—namely the cardiovascular supporting mineral, magnesium—but more research is needed in this area. Sourdough baking is also consistently shown to produce breads with slow starch digestibility, which means low glycemic responses, and has demonstrated improvement in texture of gluten-free bread for celiac patients (Poutanen, 2009). However, an important note here is that sourdough breads using gluten-containing flours are NOT safe for individuals with Celiac Disease. 

How does consuming traditional sourdough fit into a healthful dietary pattern? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are developed to help all Americans. They are based on scientific evidence on health-promoting diets in people who represent the general U.S. population, including those who are healthy, those at risk for diet-related diseases, and those living with these diseases. Grain-based foods in nutrient-dense forms—such as traditional sourdough—limit the additions of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Of the four overarching goals of the newly released DGAs in the 2020-2025 edition, one of the goals is to limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages; focusing on added sugars, the DGAs recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers (those younger than two years of age). 

I am curious, if you were to look at the nutrition label of bagged bread in your refrigerator, how much “added sugars” do you see? I just checked mine – 4 grams, which is equal to about a teaspoon of sugar. This is key because as noted earlier, traditional sourdough contains no added sugars. 

It was also noted in the newly released 2020 – 2025 DGAs, that common characteristics of dietary patterns associated with positive health outcomes include relatively higher intake of whole grains. 

The recommended daily intake of whole grains is to be at least half of total grain consumption, and the limit for refined grains is to be no more than half of total grain consumption. The DGAs report that most Americans meet recommendations for total grain intakes, although 98 percent fall below recommendations for whole grains and 74 percent exceed limits for refined grains. Increasing evidence has demonstrated that fiber-rich whole grains are protective against chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Mo’s fresh sourdough blend is a delicious mix of both refined and local whole wheat flour. 

Earlier I pointed to a consumer trend in “clean label” eating or “clean eating”, but what does this mean? 

That’s a loaded question. Currently, there is no regulatory or legal definition for “clean label”. The term is characterized both from the consumer’s perception of what ambiguous terms such as “natural” suggests, and by the ways food manufacturers market their products. See the complexity here? When basing a term off consumer perception and demand, there is not one general consensus. So, the meaning of “clean label” likely differs from person to person.

Some proponents of “clean labels” encourage the consumption of more whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats — and limit highly processed snack foods, sweets and other packaged foods. Some think “clean labels” should contain five or fewer ingredients, no GMOs, pesticides, and/or additives; others believe food should not be consumed if you cannot pronounce the ingredients on the nutrition label, or it has not been grown locally. What about when “clean labels” refer to morality, dignity, social justice, and racism within the food system? 

In Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice, the chapter Good Food in a Racist System details the complex and political meanings associated with “clean eating”, “quality”, and “eating healthy”. The authors explain that the “racist food system is understood as an inherently immoral economy, which proffers ‘junk’ while denying access to consumption and ‘high quality’ and ‘healthy food’ (p. 135). If you’re looking to learn more about food justice, access, privilege, and equity, check out Black Food Matters.  

So, what does “clean label” mean? In terms of food justice, that depends on who is at the table; it also depends on who might be missing from discussions around food, health, and justice. 


Poutanen K, Flander L, Katina K. Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective. Food Microbiol. 2009 Oct;26(7):693-9. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2009 Jul 18. PMID: 19747602.

Reese, A., & Garth, H. (2020). BLACK FOOD MATTERS: An Introduction. In GARTH H. & REESE A. (Eds.), Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice (pp. 1-28). Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press. doi:10.5749/j.ctv182jtk0.3. 


Erika Anna, MS, RDN is an Assistant Faculty Associate within the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She teaches undergraduate students, leading a learning community entitled, “We Are What We Eat: Food and Identity”. “We Are What We Eat” critically examines food and nutrition and its relationship to humans and their biological, social, and physical environment.