Raw Versus Living Foods

Spring has always been my favorite season. There is something so hopeful and alive awakened inside each of us when that first crocus magically appears through a light frost. Thinking of the fresh, new life of spring makes me think of sprouts and brings me to this article’s topic: raw foods versus living foods. Often the two names are used synonymously and while this is often the case, there can be a difference.

Raw foods have never been heated above 118 degrees. They have not been processed, refined or cooked in any way. Raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes all fall into this category. Of course these foods may be blended, chopped, juiced or dehydrated, as long as they still remain under 118 degrees.

While nuts and seeds are raw and edible in their dry, dormant form they contain something called an enzyme inhibitor, which makes them less nutritious and difficult to digest. This enzyme inhibitor is Mother Nature’s way of protecting future generations of the nuts and seeds from sprouting prematurely when conditions are not just right. When the temperature, moisture and surroundings are perfect for the dormant nut or seed to become a tree or bush the enzyme inhibitor is released. In order to release the inhibitor, soak the nuts and seeds in water for six to eight hours, essentially tricking them into releasing the inhibitor. Dried legumes and most grains also need to be soaked until they resemble their fresh counterparts. After a couple days of sprouting they will begin to develop a tail or root system. Because of their ability to now grow into a plant, these foods are considered living.

Many foods like lentils, broccoli, garlic, alfalfa, radish and sunflower can be sprouted. Because a sprout contains five times more nutrition than it will when full grown, they make an excellent addition to salads and other raw dishes. With the exception of wheatgrass, sunflower and pea shoots, which need dirt to grow, sprouts can be grown in a glass jar on your countertop for only pennies a serving.

On rare occasions a food can be living but not be raw. A classic example of this is miso, a fermented soy bean paste used traditionally in Japanese cooking. Before miso became a mainstream product it was produced at temperatures under 30 degrees Celsius and was raw. Most miso in stores now has been boiled to speed up production time, making it a cooked product, but it is still beneficial because of the fermentation process. Fermentation takes place when good bacteria breaks down and essentially predigests a food. Fermented foods improve our digestion, enhance our immune system and increase the nutrients available to us. Some examples of both raw and living fermented foods are sauerkraut, rejuvelac and seed cheese. Sprouting and fermenting are easy and can both be done at home, so grab a few mason jars and an old crock pot and create life in your own kitchen!