Recently I stumbled across the term “living foods” and became intrigued. My first thought was, “Wasn’t everything we eat alive at some point in time?” This was followed very quickly with the thought, “Ugh- I hope this isn’t about eating things like raw oysters!”
What is it, really?
For those who are new to this concept, here are simplified descriptions of my favorite living foods:
- Kombucha– a fermented tea beverage, full of healthy probiotics and often infused with fruit flavoring. It tastes like cold tea that with a balance of sweet and tart flavors and a slight vinegar-like kick (the flavor profile can vary greatly and is very controllable for those who brew their own).
- Kefir– a cultured milk beverage, very similar in texture and taste to drinkable yogurt. It is also possible to make a non-dairy version often called water kefir, that is more like a soda beverage.
- Fermented Veggies– Think sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled-anything really. Foods take on a tart, salty flavor. If you like sour foods, you’ll love these!
- Fruit Kvass (Fermented Fruit)- Standard kvass, also known as bread Kvass, is an ancient Eastern European, low-alcohol beer traditionally uses rye bread as one of its fermentation starters. Kvass recipes have evolved through the years, with the addition of fruit and other flavorings to the mix. Eventually some recipes emerged which eliminated the bread altogether and the term Fruit Kvass was born, although this is simply a fermented fruit drink.
- Sprouted grains, nuts and legumes- Each of the foods in this group is effectively a seed. If you begin with a raw and unprocessed version, (with the hull intact) these can be activated, or germinated, to set off the sprouting process.
- Microgreens- A term that describes leafy greens in their seedling stage. A few days older than sprouts and a few days younger than baby greens, these tasty treats are the most nutrient dense form of greens. Better yet, you can grow these on your kitchen table and harvest them in a matter of days! Check out these microgreen kits at hamama.com
While it’s true that all the foods we eat, both animal and plant-based, were derived from something that lived and grew at some point in time, in this context the term “living” refers mainly to the healthy organisms that already exist in food at a microlevel, things like enzymes and gut-healthy bacteria. In general, this begins with foods in their most natural form, preferably organic and often raw. The food is then awakened and the beneficial bacterias and yeasts are encouraged to grow via a process called culturing or fermentation. To keep things simple, I often refer to these as my probiotic foods (the top four bulleted items above).
Sprouted nuts, legumes and grains also fall into my living foods category because they are quite literally alive, although they are very different. In fact, I don’t consider these to be superfoods, more like greatly improved versions of foods that many of us enjoy eating, especially those who favor a plant-based diet. These foods are actually seeds and are notably high in not only protein, but also minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium. Unfortunately, in their dormant state (as they typically are when packaged as food) they also contain enzyme inhibitors that prevent those nutrients from being absorbed. Even worse, they contain phytic acid (categorized as an anti-nutrient– how scary is that?) which actually binds to those same nutrients and pull them from the body. As a result, not only will you not get the nutrients trapped in the seeds, they will also reduce your mineral absorption of everything you eat with them. Knowing this makes it clear how fitting the term anti-nutrient really is. Fortunately, the process of sprouting releases enzymes within the seed that helps to neutralize the effects of these compounds and improve the bio-availability of the nutrients.
And microgreens? While also in a slightly different category than the fermented/cultured foods, there’s no doubt about it; These nutrient-dense little treats are Mother Nature’s superfoods.
The benefits of eating living foods can be enormous, especially for those who are dealing with health-related issues, anything from low energy and minor aches and pains to more severe issues like arthritis, diabetes, neurological disorders, even cancer and heart disease**. The advantage of these foods is that they help to keep everything in balance by healing and replenishing the digestive tract with good bacteria and yeast, and by helping food to go through natural processes that improve the bio-availabilty of their nutrients. It’s also one of the easiest, and cost effective preventative measures we can take. For more information on the health benefits of living foods and science behind this, click on the links attached to each of the foods listed in the summary above.
I am not a health professional, nor am I suggesting that anyone dismiss the advice of their doctor, especially when dealing with a serious health conditions and disease. The intent of this site is to provide information for those who would like to learn more about living food, creative expression and to explore the positive impact they can have on overall mind-body wellness.