[caption id="attachment_62" align="alignright" width="300"] Pickles and sauerkraut can add years to your life![/caption] We are all looking for the fountain of youth. Whatever our age, we want to feel younger, healthier, and more alive. Maybe you’ve increased the amount of vegetables you eat, added more healthy oils to your diet, and even started eating “superfoods” such as spirulina, cacao, or coconut. But you may be overlooking a vital category of anti-aging nutrition: fermented foods! They may be new to you, but your ancestors relied on them for centuries. Fermented foods, vegetables in particular, are now being looked at as the cutting edge of anti-aging medicine, as researchers dive deep into our guts to examine the human microbiome. Guts and Glory: the Hidden Link to Anti-aging and Wellness Your gut (intestines) is lined with micro-organisms that break down the food you eat, to provide you with energy and nourishment. The “friendly” or beneficial organisms also protect you from viruses and toxins that enter your system. These micro-organisms make up the inner ecosystem that is called your “second brain”. In fact, it’s estimated that 80-85% of your immunity is located in the gut wall. We need these friendly bacteria to keep us nourished and fend off disease. But in our modern lifestyle, we wipe out bacteria through pasteurized foods, antibiotics, and disinfectants. While doing this, we also wipe out the beneficial bacteria. Science is now showing us that this lack of friendly bacteria plays a role in chronic illnesses such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and cancer. Probiotics can help, but evidence shows that they work better when combined with fermented foods, because fermented foods create an environment where the probiotics do their job best. What are fermented foods? If you think fermented foods are foreign to your diet, think again. Do you drink wine? Eat cheese? Eat dill pickles or sourdough bread? They are all fermented foods. We take our refrigerators for granted, but it’s a relatively new invention in the scope of human history. Before that, for thousands of years, people ate food fresh from the field, and then preserved them for the winter by drying, smoking and fermenting them. Fermented, or cultured foods, are natural to us, and our bodies know how to use them to make us feel vital and renewed. Depending on your cultural background, you or your family may eat sauerkraut, kimchi, Miso, yogurt, kefir, chutney, or soy sauce. They are all rich in probiotics. Wine, cheese, and sourdough bread certainly have their benefits and they taste great. But they also cause health problems for some people, especially when you have too much. Cultured vegetables and drinks provide amazing health benefits, without adding calories, alcohol, or sugars. Donna Gates, author of the book, “The Body Ecology Guide to Growing Younger” offers 10 benefits of fermented vegetables and drinks. Here is a summary: 1. Create a nourishing eco-system. The friendly bacteria in your gut provide the major source of energy and nourishment that feeds your nervous system, your brain and the rest of your body. This inner ecosystem of microbes is so vital to your health that it’s called your “second brain” or your “second immune system”. 2. Boost your immune system. Over 80% of your immune system is in your gut wall. Our human digestive tract is a long tube through which things enter our body, including food, and harmful chemicals and toxins from the outside world. The healthy microbes in our gut protect us against invaders, such as undigested food, toxins, and parasites. 3. More potent than probiotic supplements: Organic foods that we grow in the ground create synergistic relationships with each other that help them flourish so they can survive in nature. These foods create hardier strains of microbes than supplements. And supplements from a lab actually work better when you also have fermented foods and liquids in your diet. 4. Healthy raw foods: As we get older we need more digestive enzymes, which come from raw foods. But raw foods may also be more difficult to digest, and many are too acidic. Fermented foods have all the benefits of raw foods, from antioxidants to enzymes, without the disadvantages of raw food. 5. Improve digestion: If you have digestive problems, from gas and bloating, to IBS, fermented foods help you by protecting the gut lining. They also increase the bio-availability of the foods you eat, so you absorb more nutrients. 6. Control sugar cravings: Are you a sugar junkie? Sugar and simple carbohydrates leach minerals from our bones. But they are so addictive that many people don’t have the willpower to resist the sweet treats that constantly surround us. Cultured vegetables and drinks help you resist those cravings. 7. Restores acid/alkaline balance. Your body needs to be in alkaline balance to inhibit the growth of cancers, diabetes, yeasts and viruses. Fermented foods restore the acid/alkaline balance because the microbes are efficient in helping you absorb minerals and carry them to your cells. The correct mineral balance helps your body stay in the healthy alkaline range. 8. The ultimate detox: With environmental toxins in food, water, air and soil, we need fermented foods because they give us the friendly bacteria to fend off foreign invaders that can damage our bodies and create disease. 9. Improve elimination: If your digestion doesn’t work optimally, the sourness in fermented foods stimulates peristaltic movement, helping you eliminate properly. 10. Healthy “fast food”: Fermented foods can be a healthy alternative to fast food because they are rich in nutrients and easy to digest. For example, you can add kefir to a breakfast smoothie, or some fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or a pickle to your lunchtime salad or burger. Ready to get started? Try adding some cultured or fermented vegetables to one meal at a time, with the goal of having a little at each meal. If you are not used to eating cultured foods, you may find the sour taste a little strong at first. In our western cultures, we are mostly conditioned to eat sweet and salty foods. But in Ayurvedic medine, a great meal should have as many of the six tastes as possible: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Start slowly with a teaspoon of sauerkraut juice and see how your body reacts. If you’re not used to eating probiotic foods and normally eat a lot of sugar, you may have indigestion or other symptoms as the “bad” bacteria “die off.” Keep adding a little fermented food to your diet slowly. Soon you will feel the energizing sensation, and you’ll want more!