Giving New Meaning to the Term “Living Foods”


By Heather Wise MPH (Author of "A Gut Feeling: A Users Guide to the Microbiome" -In press)

We all seek the physical confidence and stamina to go out into the world and create the highest vision for our lives. But without our microbiome, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this. Think of yourself as a superorganism. Much like a modern day super-human, your microbiome super power can do things far beyond combating illness, protecting against invaders, and healing wounds. It can enhance your metabolism, change your body disposition, and even alter your genes.

Nutrition experts and raw food advocates have long promoted eating “living foods,” as the key to a high performing, energized life— but what exactly do they mean by that term? Should we be eating food that is “alive”? Well, turns out, the answer is yes.

For decades, nutrition experts have been touting raw plants, herbs, berries, leafy greens, sprouted grains, nuts, and seeds, as “super foods.” Turns out these foods are teeming with living microbes. Not only do these foods provide our bodies with new strains of living organisms in the form of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms which live on and within plants, but they also feed the beneficial flora that resides within our gut, acting as prebiotics for our gut flora and fauna.

Bacteria usually gets a bad rap and while some bacteria can be life threatening, there are many strains of bacteria we cannot live without. We rely on the beneficial microflora in our guts to do everything from absorb nutrients in our digestive tract to protect us from illness to creating the emotions we get from the feel good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. In fact, these microorganisms make up over half of all the cells in our bodies and over 99% of our genes comprising our human microbiome. When you take a closer look, these little guys not only affect our immune, nervous, and digestive systems but also affect the gene expression of the 20,000 human genes (less than 1% of our total genes) we inherit from our parents giving a whole new perspective to thinking of any health condition as “genetic.”


    When we eat live foods we are literally feeding these life sustaining, protective bacteria residing in our gut. However, when we consume “dead foods” such as processed flours and sugars—devoid of living probiotic bacteria and prebiotic substances—we are feeding the pathogenic parasite-esque strains of microrganisms which zap our energy levels and foster disease and illness. Guess those raw foodist wonks were onto something long before we knew about the role our microbiota plays in our health!

    How can we get even more of these beneficial strains of microflora into our bodies besides eating raw foods? When foods are fermented like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso this allows the healthiest, most symbiotic strains of bacteria found in our environment to grow and reproduce. The bacteria required to ferment cabbage, for example, is found right on the leaves. When deprived of oxygen in a fermentation jar the Leuconostoc species of bacteria found on cabbage produces a high amount of carbon dioxide and lactic acid. This creates the perfect living conditions for the probiotic Lactobaccillus to culture and grow among many other species of highly beneficial bacteria during the process of fermenting cabbage into saurkraut.

    Recent science makes it simple. Steer clear of “dead foods” and opt for “living foods” in order to hone your true superorganism powers. Herein lies the key to gaining confidence your food choices, feel amazing in your body, and ultimately create the most optimal version of yourself possible.



    Heather A. Wise is a wellness consultant, health coach, and avid food fermenter. She started her own wellness coaching business, The Smart Palate, and has given dozens of workshops and talks on gut health and wellness, including at Harvard University Medical School. Heather lives with her family in the Boston area.



    1. Ackerman, Jennifer. "The ultimate social network." Scientific American 306, no. 6 (2012): 36-43.
    2. David LA et al. Nature. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome.2014 Jan 23;505(7484):559-63. doi: 10.1038/nature12820. Epub 2013 Dec 11.
    3. Sonnenburg, Justin, and Erica Sonnenburg. The good gut: taking control of your weight, your mood, and your long-term health. Penguin, 2015; pg 71.