I have planned a couple posts this week regarding enzymes. The first will be a basic introduction into what they are and why they are important. Then I have some foods that I am hoping will help me eat more of these important thingies.
First off, we have all heard of enzymes, but what are they exactly? Enzymes are proteins that are catalysts for a whole host of bodily functions. Catalysts increase or decrease the rates of these functions, like digestion, electrical impulses in the body, neutralizing of pollutants in the body, many many functions require enzymes. Even seemingly simple functions like moving and talking and breathing. One category of enzymes and the one that I am dealing with in this post are the food enzymes. Food enzymes initiate the process of digestion in the mouth and stomach. They includes proteases for digesting protein, lipases for digesting fat and amylases for digesting carbohydrates. These enzymes are in a way "alive" and cooking renders them "dead". So naturally it makes sense that enzymes are found in many raw foods. The pancreas can create many enzymes, but it should not be completely relied upon for supplying all the digestive enzymes needed. Sally Fallon explains in Nourishing Traditions "A diet composed exclusively of cooked food puts a severe strain on the pancreas, drawing down its reserves so to speak. If the pancreas is constantly overstimulated to produce enzymes thatought to be in foods, the result over time will be inhibited function...The result, according to the late Dr Edward Howell, a noted pioneer in the field of enzyme research, is a shortened life span, illness and lowered resistance to stress of all types. He points out that humans and animals on a diet comprised largely of cooked foods, particularly grains, have enlarged pancreas organs while other glands and organs, notably the brain, actually shrink in size."(pg 46-7)
Almost two months ago I wrote a little bit about the various fringe diet movements I have read about. Back then I realized the similarities between the Real/ Traditional Foods People, the Paleo People, the Atkins People and the Raw Foods People. They all downplay grains, embrace vegetables and understand the importance of enzymes. Particularly the Raw Foods People. If you have ever wondered what is the thinking behind the celebrities embracing Raw Foods, it is the idea that raw foods contain enzymes and contribute to an alkaline body pH.
I took the following from one of the better Raw Food websites out there, Raw Food Life. It gives a good explaination of what the main ideas are around Raw Foods. "Here are the basics in a nutshell, though simplified for easy understanding. A raw foodist is someone that eats 75-100% live, nutritionally-dense organic uncooked and unprocessed food (and drinks pure, live water), enjoying delicious meals that optimize your health by alkalizing your body. At that rate your elimination system can get rid of the toxins created when you cook. But when you eat more cooked food you are consuming acidic toxins faster than your body can eliminate them so they back up, disrupting your body's delicate acid/alkaline balance, a major cause of excess weight and disease. Heating food above 118 degrees F. causes the chemical changes that create acidic toxins, including the carcinogens, mutagens and free-radicals associated with diseases like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Cooking also destroys the live enzymes that aid in digestion and health."
Most Raw Food Enthusiasts are strict vegans, though I suppose you could eat raw fish or beef if it came from a trusted source. I am very interested in eating raw foods. I don't think it is an accident that I find an unprocessed diet to be so agreeable to my tummy. I eat a raw salad for lunch most days, I will eat raw nuts and only lightly pasteurized milk, which retains some of the enzymes. While I never set out to specifically eat raw foods, I am sure that this is part of why I have so much more energy on my unprocessed foods diet. Processed foods are virtually all cooked and/ or pasteurized, which invariably kills the enzyme content. One must consume some raw foods in a day in order to support digestive function. Fermented vegetables also contain a considerable amount of enzymes.
Tomorrow...I make sauerkraut. At home. On my countertop. Yup, that's right.