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Living Foods - The Optimum in Natural Nutrition

by Elaine Bruce(more info)

listed in organic food, originally published in issue 68 - September 2001

Natural Philosophy for Health

Living Foods is a phrase increasingly used in therapeutic circles as well as by nutrition conscious people, to indicate the use of plant foods to obtain a superior level of natural nutrients. As such it is not always fully understood, even by those committed to using a high proportion of raw foods in their diet. Living Foods is a philosophy for health, based on long established naturopathic principles, as required by a holistic understanding of the nature of health. Our contemporary understanding of holism is enriched by the wisdom from traditions ranging from the Germanic and French (water cure, simple balanced diets, homeopathy) our own Nature Cure traditions exemplified by the Kingston Clinic, together with understandings gleaned from Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Ayurvedic system. To these may be added the work of some outstanding health pioneers in the USA, such as the revered Herbalists Dr Edwin Shook and Dr John Christopher, (influenced by Native American knowledge of healing plants). Others, including Dr Bernard Jensen and Norman Walker, responded to the contemporary conditions of poor nutrition and the increasing incidence of degenerative diseases which they observed, by emphasizing the use of juices, including green juices, amongst other measures.

Window racks of Wheatgrass, greens and sprouts

Window racks of Wheatgrass, greens and sprouts

Historical Introduction

There is another historical thread which was the forerunner of the present Living Foods Programme, with its central concept of the nutritional and therapeutic uses of chlorophyll. This one came from nutritional research by the American scientific establishment seeking answers both to human and animal health. It is interesting to outline a few of these early studies and see how they reinforce the pragmatic observations of the 'Natural' school. Probably the most well-known of the early research into chlorophyll was in the late nineteen twenties.

At that time some of the vitamins had been discovered and were being investigated, and it was also known that there is a chemical similarity between haemoglobin and chlorophyll.

Charles Schnabel was looking for an additive for poultry food which would both produce more eggs as well as keep the hens healthy. In fact he set out to find something which would 'build the blood'. He added various plant foods to the poultry feed including alfalfa and other vegetables, without success. Finally the hens were given a mixture which included some young cereal grasses, with marked results. Egg production more than doubled, and the birds remained healthy.[1] Dr Schnabel continued to investigate various aspects of growing cereal grasses in different soils. He also observed that the stage of growth determined the level of nutrients in the grasses.

It is to this early work as well as the practical teaching of Ann Wigmore that we owe our present understanding of how best to grow and use the grasses in the home. The issue of suitable soil is an important one, to which we will return. The anecdotal evidence is also fascinating. It is said that Dr Schnabel gave his family the dehydrated grasses as a food supplement, and that not only did all his children remain in remarkably good general health; also none of them had decayed teeth.

A few years later, food scientists comparing the nutritional value of winter and summer cow's milk, identified what they called the 'grass juice factor', a water soluble extract of grass juice, to which they attributed the power of grasses to nourish laboratory animals fed on the summer milk. In subsequent decades, more nutrients were identified in grasses, alongside animal studies demonstrating the growth effects of these. However, some effects including enhanced fertility, have not been attributed to any known nutrients, and the juice factor remains to be identified.[2]

Ann Wigmore

It was against this background that the young Ann Wigmore came from Lithuania to join her family. As an ailing child she had remained in the care of her grandmother, who taught her the traditional countrywoman's use of wild plants and simple foods for both nourishment and healing. Coming from a simple, even poor, rural life to the affluence of America, she told the story of how, tempted by unaccustomed candies and ice-cream, she soon experienced her first decayed tooth. Eventually eating the typical American diet led to colon cancer, and then a car accident caused terrible injuries to both legs. Gangrene ensued and amputation was prescribed.

Ann refused this and came home. She then returned to the wisdom of her grandmother's early upbringing. She went back to her original diet of vegetables, seeds, grains and raw greens. She sought wild plants and applied them as poultices, she chewed grasses for their juice, and with the onset of winter was inspired to grow grasses from grains indoors. This was the beginning of the famous Indoor Gardening, now practised all over the world where people wish both to regain and preserve health by means of natural nutrition. The gangrene receded, the bones knitted firmly, her general health improved, and she began her life's work. She first used Living Foods to cure sick animals, and experimented with simple fermented foods, sprouted seeds and rejuvelac, the now widely known drink made from sprouted wheat.

The Original Living Foods Programme

She modified an old meat grinder, and for the first time was able to extract juice without having to chew it. She took the juice to sick neighbours, and saw them improve. When a large house, 'The Mansion', was made available to her she was able to take residential guests. There one experienced the full programme and learned how to care for the sprouts, grow the trays of wheatgrass and learn to recognize the right stage of growth to harvest it, grow the indoor greens (baby sunflowers and buckwheat), make sauerkraut, prepare the fermented sauces from nuts and seeds, make and drink litres of rejuvelac, and juice green drinks from early morning until bedtime.

The emphasis being on green leafy salads, with a smaller proportion, though varied and generous quantities, of other vegetables and salads. Very little fruit was and is used, in the early detoxification stages, partly because its rapid digestion and cleansing properties are too stringent to enable a balance of cleansing and rebuilding, partly because the sugars awaken cravings, making it more difficult to establish a balanced appetite. Sprouted fresh seeds are used in abundance, and the oil-rich nuts and seeds are used in small to moderate amounts, mainly as milks, sauces and fermented pâtés, with careful reference to essential fatty acid balance. Fruit is used daily when the maintenance stage is established, which varies with the individual, as does the ratio of cleansing to building foods. Those with a high expenditure of calories may need a daily buckwheat smoothie, quinoa or millet, and/or sprouted grain crackers. Others will establish an equilibrium of desired weight and energy expenditure while using a higher percentage of raw greens and fresh juices.

It will be evident that this not a regime of simply eating raw according to appetite or impulse. Attention is paid daily to intakes of balanced essential fatty acids, the expenditure of enzymes in the digestive process is minimized by selecting simple, satisfying properly combined meals. During the courses guests join in the preparation of colourful, attractively presented dishes accompanied by creative dressings and titbits, as well as learning the basic recipes. Selecting and preparing food with respect for its attributes, in light-hearted company is an important part of starting to nourish the inner person in several ways.

Detoxification Programme

The techniques of colon cleansing by self-administered high enema were also taught, a development echoed by the work of Bernard Jensen and Norman Walker on the other side of the country who were contemporaneously using these methods. They also emphasized the need to clear out the accumulated deposits from the colon, before deep healing and renourishment could take place. I have been unable to discover how much contact there was between them. It may only be from the historical perspective that we can see how this handful of health pioneers was working at the same period. They had their different emphases, but all were dedicated to a holistic perspective and a firm belief in the body's power to rejuvenate, given the right conditions.

After the plain water enema the wheatgrass juice implant was used, and retained for about twenty minutes. If ever there could be a magic bullet, this might be an approximation. Within a few hours of starting twice daily implants, the direct effect of the chlorophyll, delivered to the liver via the portal system, begins a thorough but gentle detoxification. We referred earlier to the chemical similarities of haemoglobin and chlorophyll; it is in the use of a fresh wheatgrass juice implant that the blood building element can be most effectively deployed. The cleansing properties also come into play, but not as a result of prompting the liver to 'dump' toxins. Instead the balanced exchange of toxins for nutrients across the cell membranes takes place in an unforced manner. The body itself will order its own priorities, so generally, it will be the toxic overload in the blood itself which will be dealt with first. After that the deposits in soft tissues will be released, wherever in the body they may be. At the same time the threefold action of the implant itself, the gentle enemas accompanied by abdominal massage, and the action of digested sprouted seeds passing through the colon, start the gradual loosening of old deposits. More deep-seated cleansing, the mopping up after chemotherapy, the remains of growths themselves, deposits in the joints, toxic metals, take longer, and will be dealt with according to the individual's energy reserves, and the body's agenda.

Other measures to facilitate the dual process of cleansing and rebuilding are used. Daily use of a small trampoline to encourage the lymphatic system to clear, as well as for aerobic exercise to suit the individual's needs; twice daily brisk walking; a daily session of stretching exercise and one of deep relaxation, chosen to suit the individual. Some self-help techniques are taught, for example care of the spine, some simple reflexology, relaxation methods, the use of affirmations and flower remedies. These and others reinforce the underlying philosophy of self-help and self-responsibility. Dr Ann Wigmore used to say that to grow and make the most important items of food in your own home, brings healthy food within reach of everyone, whereas consciously taking charge of one's nutrition standards moves you from the position of passive consumer of poor food, water and air to making positive choices in all these areas.

More than a Diet

These comprehensive measures are what makes the Living Foods Programme a complete and long term lifestyle, which can be adopted completely or in part, all at once or more gradually, depending upon individual circumstances. It is evidently far more than simply a diet, or a philosophical framework for healing. There are quicker ways to 'detox', water fasting being the most extreme. There are herbal detox formulae for sale, which also aim for a quick result. The Living Foods Programme does not aim to deliver these rapid results, often undertaken in isolation. Living Foods, as originally put together by Dr Ann Wigmore, addresses the needs of the whole person, including the emotional mental and spiritual. It is perfectly safe for the vast majority to enrol on a residential Living Foods course for two or three weeks and to experience the unloading of toxins, accompanied by an increase in buoyant energy and sense of wellbeing. Apart from the fact that all the methods used are gentle, the excellent balanced nutrition means that the body is not starved.

Furthermore the attention to exercise, breathing, relaxation, space for private reflection and rest as well as the theory and self-help classes, are important elements of the today's Living Foods Course just as they were in Dr Ann Wigmore's day.

Importance of Chlorophyll

The lynchpin of Living Foods was and still is of course chlorophyll. Vegetable and salad leaves, selected for their rich green colour, are juiced before meals and thoroughly chewed at meals, as are generous helpings of the indoor greens. Red yellow and orange foods are added as are plentiful fresh herbs and edible flowers. The main use of chlorophyll, however is from wheatgrass juice. While there are no clinical trials comparing the use of wheatgrass juice to other treatments, there are two other kinds of observation as to it effect. One is the anecdotal evidence of individuals describing their own or another's experience. There are by now thousands of people who have been through one of the centres which present the original Living Foods Programme, or a close version of it. Sadly no one has collected their stories, and although individual centres may well keep some notes relating to short visits, none, as far as I know has the staff or resources to follow up large numbers of different cases. Adequate documentation alone would be a huge task.

There is however some compelling laboratory evidence, some of it collected by Ronald Siebold and his colleagues of the Wilderness Community Education Foundation in the fertile Kansas River Valley. I will mention one or two examples which are relevant to present day diseases.[3] First it is worth emphasizing the sheer nutrient power of chlorophyll in cereal grasses and dark green leafy vegetables. A summary of its nutrient contents reads:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamin K (the best dietary source)
  • Vitamin C
  • Folic acid and Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin B-6
  • Calcium
  • Protein: cereal grasses contain all the amino acids in useful amounts.

Dr Chiu Nan Lai at University of Texas Medical Center found that extracts of wheatgrass and other green vegetables inhibit the cancer-causing effects of two mutagens namely benzopyrene and methylcholanthrene. The more chlorophyll in the plant, the greater the protection from the carcinogen. Chlorophyll's ability to reduce the ability of carcinogens to cause gene mutations has since been verified in several laboratory studies.[4] It has been known and reported for almost half a century that greens provide protection from radiation, and also reduce radiation damage.[5] Population studies demonstrate the protective effect of green vegetables in risk of appendicitis (Britain); leafy green vegetables are more effective than other vegetables in lowering serum cholesterol (America); green vegetables and carrots have a protective effect against lung cancer (Italy).[3]

Living Foods Today

There are some differences in Living Foods Programmes, although not in the essentials. What is different is the state of general health, level of vitality, levels of toxicity, stress and complex pollution factors to which people are exposed. We have to deal with nastier viruses and more complex miasms. In the past decade or so we have also gained more detailed understanding of the complex physiological and biological processes, particularly in relation to digestion. We are beginning to understand the huge importance of balanced fats in the daily diet, for prevention of some degenerative diseases, and for maintenance of all aspects of general health. All these concerns are addressed in the UK courses The original courses were presented in the American context of year-round availability of a wide range of organic produce. In the UK there is limited access to such produce, but the course can address the concerns of a local population and can use seasonal produce, which has the advantage of being sturdier and more nutritious as well as tastier.

Enzymes and Soil

There are two enormously important issues which underpin the whole concept of Living Foods and which determine the practicalities of adopting this lifestyle, either to help overcome a health problem or to establish a high level of nutrition and disease resistance for long term health. They have been reserved for separate discussion because there have been marked changes in both these areas, since Ann Wigmore first presented her residential courses more than forty years ago. They are firstly, enzymes; in particular the relationship between plant enzymes and the body's digestive enzymes, and secondly the soil; in particular the relationship between the state of the soil and the nutritional quality of plants grown in it.

Live plant enzymes provide both the cornerstone of the Living Foods programme and a definition of a Live food. In order to maximize digestive capacity, all the foodstuffs used are chosen because they contain undamaged plant enzymes. Plant enzymes are damaged by heat, storage, allowing the leaves to wilt, and by bruising or cutting.

This is why everything chosen for consumption is picked freshly just before eating, from the indoor garden or the kitchen garden. Sprouted seeds are eaten at their peak, juices are consumed within minutes of pressing, everything is eaten raw. Rejuvelac, sauerkraut and fermented seed sauces are used because of their high enzyme content. Nothing is heated, with the exception of millet, which requires soaking in hot water to soften the seed coats.

In the human digestive system many different enzymes are needed to digest the varied foodstuffs. With ageing, enzyme activity of all kinds dwindles markedly, yet food is still needed and has to be digested.

Modern habits of eating large complex meals perhaps with snacks in between, or a daylong pattern of grazing, pose an extra challenge. As the digestive enzyme capacity lessens, enzyme activity has to be converted and diverted from other tasks such as tissue repair and fighting infection. Professor Pearl of Johns Hopkins University summarized his extensive work on the duration of life thus; "In general, duration of life varies inversely with the rate of energy expenditure during its continuance" in other words, wear and tear can damage your health! Dr Edward Howell, who worked as a young man with the naturopath Lindlahr, in his seminal book The Status of Food Enzymes in Digestion and Metabolism published in 1946, stressed that life force, vitality, vital energy, life, "may be, and probably is, synonymous with that which has been known as enzyme activity, enzyme value and enzyme content". Not long after this, Ann Wigmore, lacking even the basics of general education, let alone scientific training, and working from the lessons learned from her self-taught grandmother and her own life threatening condition, was working on the most enzyme-rich package of plant foods one can imagine.

Modern Lifestyles and Chronic Diseases

Depending upon how early in life this deficit occurs, and upon the complexity, frequency and size of the digestive challenges offered to the system, will be the seriousness of the shortfall in other areas. It is not surprising that taken together with other contributory factors, such as an unbalanced fat intake, this may well have a bearing on the rise in incidence of chronic degenerative diseases in recent decades.

Choosing only plant foods with a full or enhanced complement of enzymes helps at the very least to avoid increasing the deficit. Eating simple meals, of moderate quantity, at reasonable intervals, further helps to redress the balance, while the enzymes contained in the fresh plant foods contribute to the digestive process without having to call on enzymes diverted from other tasks. A challenge for today's therapists is that digestive problems caused or compounded by lack of digestive enzymes are occurring at younger ages. While the eating habits of many people require major change to become health promoting rather than health destructive, there is the additional fact of reluctance to change from easy, familiar eating patterns to something outside one's experience. This is one area where it is helpful to experience the complete Programme in a residential setting, with an emphasis on long term benefits rather than short term discomforts. It is possible to learn how to adopt this programme, in whole or in part, by listening to professional advice or by reading the books. The group experience, however, offers the necessary support and reinforcement together with techniques to minimize the discomforts of initial detoxing.

Importance of Soil Nutrients

Good growing conditions are essential for healthy plants. Sunlight, rainfall and temperature are all important, but above all the soil has to be in good heart, to supply the plant with the nutrients needed for its own growth, as well as storage of nutrients and enzymes for the benefit of the consuming animal, human or otherwise. Soils in countries with a long established tradition of intensive agriculture, such as the UK, have been found to be deficient in minerals, in particular selenium. This poses a further challenge to the therapist. Faced with enzyme deficiency in the patient and unreliable mineral content in plant foods, the mind may well turn to the question of vitamin and mineral supplementation. Looking at the spectrum of end of life diseases, and their increasing prevalence, it is easy to see how it is tempting to regard supplementation as an insurance policy. The major objection is that we do not know fully what happens when single, or even combined, supplements are introduced into the delicately balanced complex of enzyme exchanges which power the myriad tasks of daily life.

Dr Ann Wigmore was clear on the subject, and one of the principles she laid down was that supplements should only be derived from whole foods. Indeed there is a range of foods which are used regularly if not daily. These include seaweed, herbs, and pollen. The sea vegetables are particularly valued for their range of minerals and today we would add algae to that list. Dried cereal grasses can be useful as a short term measure when travelling out of reach of green juices. Remembering the emphasis on wild plants, we can also see that plants like winter spinach, which has been growing slowly for many weeks before use, and perennial, tap rooted weeds, such as dandelion, will contain more minerals from the deeper layers of the soil than the comparatively shallow rooted and short lived salad vegetables.

Finally, what can be done to address the question of mineral-deficient soils? The general question is beyond the scope of this article, but within the indoor garden, when watering the trays of wheatgrass and baby greens, Dr Ann suggested watering the young plants with a weak kelp solution, thus giving the plants the same range of nutrients as in the seaweeds eaten with the daily salads. When preparing the planting mix for the indoor trays or for the vegetable beds in the kitchen garden, add generous handfuls of rock dust, also when building the layers in the compost bin. The worms will speedily incorporate it.

Larger quantities can be spread on or dug in to the vegetable beds. Glacial moraine, or a wide mixture of rocks, from fine dust to larger particles is recommended. Rather than use imported dusts or incur transport costs, the nearest quarry would repay investigation.


Just as skilled therapists look at today's patients from a holistic viewpoint, The Living Foods Programme requires a wide perspective from participants. Individuals will choose treatments according to need and preference to accompany their transition to this supremely rewarding lifestyle. Some will prefer to use it as a stand alone method to regain or maintain health. The programme itself encompasses all the tools for change and for improved health, while the food element alone includes issues of sustainability and regeneration. These issues are not confined to the interested person, learning to strike a new balance in their individual equation of vitality and the daily demands of living, but include a need to husband the healing plants themselves.

We can no longer take from the soil without putting back, or as the depletion of the soils continues, so will the health of animals and humans continue to degenerate. This programme is the antithesis of the quick fix with a chequebook or a pill bottle. It offers the opportunity to engage in fully conscious responsibility as to how we manage our health by a careful choice of the highest quality foods, and a readiness to look at other methods to support recovery, or maintain long term vitality. It offers an opportunity to heal on many different levels, in harmony with natural law.

Dr Ann Wigmore and her staff in Boston, Puerto Rico and elsewhere, often encouraged guests to enjoy the feel of the earth between their fingers while planting the greens, and to get to know the worms. For getting down to the nitty gritty, it's not a bad start.


1. Schnabel C. The biologic value of high protein cereal grasses. Paper presented to the biologic section of the American Chemical Society in New York. 22 April 1935.
2. Kohler G, Elvehhjem C and Hart E. Growth stimulating properties of grass juice. Science. p 445. May 8 1936.
3. Ronald L. Siebold, Ed. Cereal Grass: What's in it for You? Wilderness Community Education Foundation Inc, PO Box 1261, Lawrence, Kansas, USA 66044-8261. ISBN 0-9628126-0-9. 1990.
4. Lai C, Butler M, and Matney T. Antimutagenic activities of common vegetables and their chlorophyll content. Mutation Research 77: 245-250. 1980.

5. Spector H and Calloway D. Reduction of x-radiation mortality by cabbage and broccoli. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 100: 405-407. 1959.

Juicing Wheatgrass

Juicing Wheatgrass

Planting Trays

Planting Trays

Planting in organic raised bed

Planting in organic raised bed


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About Elaine Bruce

Elaine has practised and taught the Living Foods courses for many years. Originally taught by Dr Ann Wigmore in Boston in 1980, she spent some time working in the Puerto Rico clinic in 1992. She has trained and studied in many alternative modalities, including Naturopathy and Homeopathy. She presents residential Living Foods Courses for small groups in her dedicated Living Foods house and garden, where the emphasis is on the individual's journey to sounder health. She is available for day workshops or illustrated talks by arrangement and can be reached at: The UK Centre for Living Foods, Holmleigh Gravel Hill, Ludlow Shropshire SY8 1QS. Tel: 01584 875308 ;; www living

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