How does Natural Yeast affect Gluten Intolerance and Celiacs?

[photo: Natural yeast bread made in the bread machine -- recipe created by popular demand! It's in our new book, 

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins, available here.


Some of you have had questions about natural yeast and wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, and Celiac disease. One woman recently emailed me because her husband, who is wheat-free, was nervous about trying natural yeast. I emailed her back and said if her husband was nervous, he should not try it. But that answer was too simplistic, and did not satisfy her or me. She wrote me back and said this:

“I know that this is not your problem to solve. I just didn't want to look past this natural yeast if in fact it,"helps prevent or reverse gluten intolerance and, in some cases, full-blown Celiac’s disease", because that statement is a 'BIG DEAL' to those living with or having to cook for, someone who has Celiac disease, that's all. I have to ask, did you find in your research solid medical studies, controlled study groups of people who have gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease and the effect that natural yeast had on them through medical tests, like blood tests, stomach and bowel biopsies, etc...?”

This is Caleb again. Her question is a great question. The short answer is this --  grow out some natural yeast and take it to your doctor to have it tested. My neighbor who is wheat-free because of Crohns’ disease did exactly this and the natural yeast -- made in my kitchen with my own home-ground wheat -- was approved by the doctor after being laboratory tested. It should be very simple for anyone with wheat issues to do exactly the same thing. Take the yeast to your doctor.

For anyone with wheat issues, It is VERY IMPORTANT that you let the yeast autolyze (grow out) totally to make sure the gluten has been digested by the yeast BEFORE you take a sample to your doctor. At least 12 hours on the counter is what I recommend. This is because natural yeast eats gluten. You can look this up for yourself. The information is not hard to find. But I know of no medical studies about how natural yeast affects people with wheat issues. This is because there is no money to be made from selling natural yeast -- you can’t sell it, because once you have it, you can have it for free for the rest of your life. No one one has invested millions of dollars to test it in studies, because no one stands to gain from that.

In our book I do cite a university study showing that natural yeast flattens the glycemic index, and give you the full citation so you can look that study up and read it for yourself. There are also numerous other citations about natural yeast and allergies and acid reflux etc. They are all in the  book. I know many of you are anxious for the book to finally be out -- it’s almost here! Please read the book before you do anything.

What Melissa and I know about natural yeast and its effects on people who have wheat-related illness comes from people who have tried it themselves and reported back to us. Neither Melissa nor I have wheat allergies, or gluten intolerance, or Celiac disease. By using natural yeast, we aim never to have any othe those things. But many other people with wheat issues have tried the natural yeast with great success. I also know of some people who have full-blown Celiac’s who have not been able to eat the natural yeast. My opinion is that natural yeast helps prevent wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, and Celiac’s from happening in the first place.

Here is another question from the person who emailed me:

“Is this natural yeast gluten-free (not derived from wheat, barley or rye) and clean from cross contamination? Can you use it to make gluten free breads, etc?”

Answer: The natural yeast I give out is made with 100 percent whole wheat. Again, the point of natural yeast is to prevent or perhaps reverse the need to be gluten-free. To find out if this is right for you, grow out some yeast, or have someone grow it out for you, and take it to your doctor to have it laboratory tested to see if it can be added to your diet.

Here is another question from another person who emailed me this week:

“I am interested in trying the natural yeast.  My family have gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  Do you recommend trying the natural yeast with the flours that we are using on the gluten free diet? Could you explain to me more how the natural yeast works to help gluten intolerance and celiac disease?”

Answer: Natural yeast will work with any flour, so you can use it with your gluten-free flour if you want. I’m just not sure what the point would be, healthwise. Natural yeast is self-sufficient, meaning you will never have to buy yeast again, so there is that benefit. Also, remember that the yeast I’m sending out is made with 100 percent whole wheat.

If you would like some free natural yeast flakes, send me an email at And again, if you want to see if natural yeast can benefit you or someone with wheat issues, read our new book before you do anything. I’m happy that so many of you are so anxious for the book! 

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins, available here.



  1. I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease and been told that gluten is either the cause of this or a contributing factor since it causes so much inflammation. Has anyone with this autoimmune disease had any success with eating natural yeast breads. Since I am in the early stages I am going to try it, but was just curious.

  2. What you are calling natural yeast is really a sourdough that contains yeast (fungus) and lactobacillus (bacteria) cultures. It is the action of enzymes produced by both of these that are hypothesized to degrade the wheat gluten.

    You state "My opinion is that natural yeast helps prevent wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, and Celiac’s from happening in the first place." There is no medical or scientific data to support this claim. Celiac's is is a known, although sometimes difficult to diagnose, immune system condition which results from an inability to digest a part of the gluten protein. Most cases are the result of an otherwise nonfatal genetic mutation. In other words, if you have it, you are born with it and nothing can change that; it never goes away. The only treatment is to remove the offending protein from one's diet. That can be done by excluding known gluten containing products from a diet or preparing gluten containing foods in a manner that destroys the offending protein containing segments.

    The effects of a gluten containing diet on a Celiac patient are cumulative and very serious. Even eating small amounts of gluten with seemingly no effect at the time will lead to future problems. As such, it is irresponsible to recommend a wheat based bread, even a sourdough containing bread, without definitive proof that it is gluten free--every time. Home baking is too variable to ensure that a 100% gluten free product is produced every time.

  3. Caleb,

    I attended your class at Real Foods, and I learned so much. I am a self-taught bread maker, and I did a pretty good job. I've taken Melissa's class, and I learned a lot. In your class I learned a lot as well, but I never learned how to read dough until your class. That is a critical skill, and is the difference between consistently great bread, and the ever-present possibility of a brick. I've been teaching my young kids how to cooks since they were toddlers. I had my first 5 kids in 3 years, triplets first, so sitting them around the island in their boosters and letting them help measure and dump ingredients was how I got my cooking and baking done. This invaluable skill is the topic of discussion this morning.

    I came home from class and put water in a pitcher to de-chlorinate. Last night I resurrected the starter I haven't fed in 18 months (since my gluten intolerance diagnosis via blood test). IT LIVES!!! I followed your instructions, and by morning it was full of bubbles and doubled in size. It's also better looking and healthier than it ever was, I'm assuming because of the lack of chlorine. This morning I'm making pizza dough for the first time in a long time. My 6 kids are over the moon excited.

    Thank you so much for teaching the class and sharing your knowledge. It is well worth the $29 price tag.

    I'm a from-scratch cook, all the way down to taco seasoning and salad dressings. My kids don't eat garbage or processed foods, and very, very few sweets. Those are saved for true special occasions like birthdays and holidays, and kept to normal portions: a slice. I talk to them about diabetes (family history) and how I'm trying to protect their bodies. I believe in the cause, but their complaints have been wearing me down lately. I feel renewed in my fervor, and will continue on my path to teach them. My oldest are 9 and I've always fed them like gourmet adults. They love sushi, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, pesto, fish, vegetables, plain yogurt, and all the things kids are supposed to hate. They are very cosmopolitan eaters. No chicken dinos and go-gurts here.

    So thank you for making me a real bread maker. Thank you for renewing my determination to fight the constant influx of crappy convenience food. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. And thank you for (hopefully) bringing bread back to my table. Fingers crossed I eat it tonight and don't react.

    (the one who stood up and told everyone about my gluten intolerance problem)