Living food is food that has been fermented and has live bacteria, or it’s food otherwise known as sprouts — germinated seeds of grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables. There are added health benefits to fermented and germinated foods, so it’s worth understanding what they are and how they’re more nutritious.

Benefits of fermentation

Bacteria sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not always. There are many good bacteria that need to be in our digestive system to keep us healthy and fight off bad bacteria. When food is fermented for preservation, naturally healthy bacteria (probiotics) are introduced and sometimes additional vitamins and minerals become available from the food. So a raw carrot that already has health benefits gains additional benefits when it’s fermented.

Benefits of sprouted foods

Certain nutrients in sprouted foods are easier to absorb than when the foods are in their non-sprouted form. The body can absorb calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc better when these nutrients come from a sprouted seed, bean or nut because phytic acid — bound to those nutrients making them difficult to absorb — becomes neutralized. So a lentil that is a good source of vitamins, protein and fiber gains additional health benefits when it’s sprouted.

Raw sprouts contain more nutrients than cooked sprouts, but they also have a higher risk of causing a food-borne illness because they grow in warm and humid conditions. Cooking sprouts retains some of the additional benefits while making them less risky. The elderly, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts.

If you’re unfamiliar with fermented and sprouted foods — you may be eating some without realizing it — here are some common ones to try for additional nutrients in your diet.

Yogurt

bowl of yogurt - a living food - with berries and honey Yogurt is a fermented food that offers a healthy dose of probiotics. (Photo: Lauren Craig/flickr)
Most of us have eaten yogurt with live active cultures, but not everyone realizes the live active cultures are the result of the fermentation process. If you’re buying yogurt from the store, make sure it contains live active cultures — not all store-bought yogurts do — or make it yourself so you can control the amount of good gut bacteria in each spoonful.

Germinated brown rice

Close-up of germinated or sprouted brown rice Germinated rice has long been a staple in Asia. (Photo: kowit1982/Shutterstock)
We all know brown rice is a healthier option than white rice, but when it’s germinated additional health benefits become available. Vitamin E, lysine, magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 increase substantially according to Natural News. The bio-available protein and fiber in the rice is also increased. Gamma-aminobutyric acid levels, good for emotional and mental health, increase 10 times when rice is germinated. Germinated brown rice, or GBR as it’s known in health food circles, can be cooked and then used like any other rice.

Kefir

A pitcher of kefir - a fermented yogurt-like beverage Kefir is fermented, making it a different milk choice. (Photo: Sea Wave/Shutterstock)

Kefir is a fermented yogurt-like drink that has a tangy taste that can be described as a cross between buttermilk and goat cheese. It can also be used in baked goods and gives smoothies a great texture. Like yogurt, it has live cultures that are great for gut health. It’s also very simple to DIY kefir, once you’ve gotten kefir grains from someone who has already made kefir. After making it the first time, you’ll have your own kefir grains to continue making this fermented milk with many uses.

Sprouted almonds

bowl of almonds soaking in water to help them sprout Almonds need to be soaked in water in order for them to sprout. (Photo: VDex/Shutterstock)
Sprouted almonds are softer than almonds than haven’t sprouted, but they can be eaten or used just like any other almond. As they sprout in water, they begin to break out of their shell, according to Don’t Waste the Crumbs. Once the almonds sprout, they can be kept in the refrigerator, dehydrated to become a crunchy snack or even milled into almond flour.

Like sprouted rice, germinating almonds makes many of the nut’s nutrients more bio-available, increasing the health benefits when the almonds come alive.

Sprouted lentils

close-up of bowl of sprouted lentils There are added nutritional benefits to eating these lentils when they are sprouted. (Photo: michelepautasso/Shutterstock)
All you need are dried lentils — black Beluga or French Du Puy lentils work well according to lentils.org — and water to give powerhouse lentils even more power. Once they sprout, store them in the refrigerator to use as a topping on salad, add to slaws or cook into soups and stews.

Sauerkraut

A bowl of sauerkraut, a probiotic rich living food Sauerkraut is an excellent source of probiotic. (Photo: ziashusha/Shutterstock)

Want to counterbalance the lack of nutrition in your hot dog with something healthy? Top it with fermented sauerkraut. Raw, lacto-fermented sauerkraut, not the vinegar version, has a good dose of probiotics. It’s believed that isothiocyanates that prohibit the growth of cancer are increased during the fermentation process of cabbage.

Cheese

Beaufort cheese a fermented living cheese If you’re a cheese eater, you’ve been eating fermented food all along. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Many cheeses are fermented. Fermentation allows cheese to be kept at room temperature and adds some extra bio-available nutrients to the dairy product. Most aged cheeses are fermented and contain probiotics and beneficial enzymes that non-fermented cheeses, like cottage cheese or mozzarella, do not.

Almost all fermented and sprouted foods can be bought at well-stocked grocery stores, but most also can be made at home. It’s your choice. You can buy your probiotic and nutrient-boosted foods or spend some time in the kitchen experimenting and creating them yourself.

For further reference:

J. K. Chavan , S. S. Kadam & Larry R. Beuchat; Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting from Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.