Living to age 100: Are fermented foods the answer to longevity?

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Many people want to know what steps they can take to live longer healthier lives. My research team at the University of Idaho has been 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 GERD.

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 to healthy aging (including genes), but diet seems to play a huge role in the aging well formula 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. Though more research is needed to find which strains of probiotics work best for certain conditions, there are still good reasons to consider getting a daily dose of probiotics from a fermented food source. So how do you add these sometimes stinky fermented foods to your 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 to 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 the bacteria.

If you are extremely motivated you can make your own fermented foods. A great starter is sauerkraut or other vegetables. Here’s a video segment with Ali Miller, RD, LD, who discusses probiotics in fermented foods and how to make fermented vegetables:

Try some of these delicious ideas for adding fermented foods into your daily diet:


1.Make yogurt parfaits with fruit and Greek yogurt with live active cultures.

2. Create smoothies using yogurt or kefir and fruit.

3. Top scrambled eggs with cultured sour cream and salsa and pecorino cheese.


1. Add sauerkraut to corned beef, roast beef, or meat alternative sandwiches.

2. Try homemade, fermented mayonnaise on sandwiches and in tuna and chicken salads.

3. Add tempeh to salads and stir-fry recipes.

4. Incorporate miso or cultured sour cream to soups (eg, Wallaby Cultured sour cream).

5. Drink kombucha tea for a beverage.

6. Eat peanut butter and fruit chutney sandwiches.

• • •

Please join SeAnne Safaii-Waite, Ph.D., RDN, LD, and Sue Linja, RD, at a book signing event at Barnes & Noble in Spokane from noon to 3 p.m. today, Aug. 30. They will be debuting their new book “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide — A Quick Reference to Foods That Nourish and Protect the Brain From Alzheimer’s Disease.” Available for purchase at or Barnes & Noble.

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