Many patients want to know what steps they can take to live longer, more healthful lives. My research team at the University of Idaho currently is conducting a qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with centenarians from around the world to identify their dietary and lifestyle patterns responsible for their longevity. These centenarians are based in Italy, Japan, Singapore, Cuba, and the United States.
One of the common elements we’ve identified is that these centenarians eat fermented foods daily, leading us to believe there may be an association between daily consumption of these foods and a long, healthful life, as these centenarians appear to have maintained healthy immune systems and gut function. They don’t seem to develop many of the gastrointestinal illnesses the elderly in the United States often suffer from such as diverticulitis, slow gut motility, constipation, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
It’s possible that the probiotics consumed from daily diets that include fermented foods may contribute to longevity and healthy aging. There are many factors correlated with healthy aging (including genes), but diet seems to play a huge role in the formula for aging well and in maintaining quality of life.
Due to the probiotic content of fermented foods, recent studies suggest they may help alleviate diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.1-3 Though more research is needed to find which strains of probiotics work best for certain conditions, clients still may have good reasons to consider getting a daily dose of probiotics from a fermented food source.1,4 But how can you help your patients add these stinky fermented foods to their daily diets?
Some fermented foods are more accepted such as yogurt (eg, varieties labeled with live and active cultures), sauerkraut (homemade or found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store—processing destroys bacteria), and miso. Some not so widely consumed fermented foods include kefir milk, kombucha tea, tempeh, kimchi, and fermented cheeses, like Pecorino. These foods may be an acquired taste, but they’re relatively easy to incorporate into the diet. Make sure your patients purchase these products in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, because the bacteria will still be alive. Any type of canning or pasteurizing kills all of the bacteria.
For extremely motivated clients, suggest they make their own fermented foods. A great starter is sauerkraut or other vegetables. Here’s a video segment with Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE, who discusses probiotics in fermented foods and how to make fermented vegetables: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ts3hODcWfg.
When counseling clients, share the following delicious ideas for adding fermented foods to their daily diet:
- Make yogurt parfaits with fruit and Greek yogurt with live active cultures.
- Create smoothies using yogurt or kefir and fruit.
- Top scrambled eggs with cultured sour cream and fermented salsa and pecorino cheese.
- Add cultured butter (eg, Vermont Cultured Butter With Sea Salt Crystals) or homemade fermented fruit chutney to toast (recipe available at: www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/lacto-fermentation-recipes/lacto-fermented-curried-mango-ginger-chutney).
- Add sauerkraut to corned beef, roast beef, or meat alternative sandwiches.
- Try homemade, fermented mayonnaise on sandwiches and in tuna and chicken salads.
- Add tempeh to salads and stir-fry recipes.
- Incorporate miso or cultured sour cream to soups (eg, Wallaby Cultured Sour Cream).
- Drink kombucha tea for a beverage.
- Eat peanut butter and fermented fruit chutney sandwiches.
— SeAnne Safaii-Waite, RDN, LD, is an associate professor of the coordinated program in dietetics at the University of Idaho and president of Nutrition and Wellness Associates, LLC. Her research emphasis includes the dietary habits of centenarians, diabetes.
- Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz and Sally Fallon.
- Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home: Creative Recipes for Lactic Fermented Food to Improve Your Health (Natural Health Guide) by Klaus N. Kaufmann and Annelies Schöneck.
- Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante.
- The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz.
- Duncan SH, Flint HJ. Probiotics and prebiotics and health in ageing populations. Maturitas. 2013;75(1):44-50.
- Makino S, Ikegami S, Kume A, Horiuchi H, Sasaki H, Orii N. Reducing the risk of infection in the elderly by dietary intake of yoghurt fermented with Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus OLL1073R-1. Br J Nutr. 2010;104(7):998-1006.
- Woodmansey EJ. Intestinal bacteria and aging. J Appl Microbiol. 2007;102(5):1178-1186.
- Zeratsky K. Do I need to include probiotics and prebiotics in my diet? Mayo Clinic website. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065. Updated October 15, 2014. Accessed July 31, 2016.