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I had started this post with the intentions of writing on why it is important to soak your nuts and seeds before consuming. I recently wrote a post on soaking your grains before you eat them in order to decrease the amount of phytic acid and this was going to be part two of that article. However, once I started writing, I rediscovered just how important enzymes are to our health and I took a whole different direction!
It is important to understand that enzymes are a very important part of human physiology. An enzyme is a complex protein that is involved in pretty much every process in the human body. In order for enzymes to do their jobs, they require the proper levels of certain vitamins and mineral to be present. Copper, iron, and manganese are a few of those. To date, there have been well over 5,000 enzymes discovered.
In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon discusses the important role of enzymes in the human body. It's a long quote, but she explains is better than I would ever be able to!
Enzymes fall into one of three major classifications. The largest is the metabolic enzymes, which play a role in all bodily processes including breathing, talking, moving, thinking, behavior and maintenance of the immune system. A subset of these metabolic enzymes acts to neutralize poisons and carcinogens, such as pollutants, DDT and tobacco smoke, changing them into less toxic forms, which the body can then eliminate. The second category is the digestive enzymes, of which there are about 22 in number. Most of these are manufactured by the pancreas. They are secreted by glands in the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine) and work to break down the bulk of partially-digested food leaving the stomach.
The enzymes we need to consider when planning our diets are the third category, the food enzymes. These are present in ample amounts in many raw foods, and they initiate the process of digestion in the mouth and stomach. Food enzymes include proteases for digesting protein, lipases for digesting fats and amylases for digesting carbohydrates…
Because of the amount of enzymes that are present in certain raw foods, it is strongly encouraged that people try to ensure that their diet contains a substantial amount of these foods. This benefit is even greater if the food is raw AND fermented. The fermentation process allows the food to start to digestion process, which helps alleviate the enzyme load that the body must produce to aid in digestion. Also, the key to enzymes is that the food must be raw, as heat is the number one killer of enzymes. Enzymes will become deactivated at wet-heat temperatures of 118 degrees and dry-heat temperatures of 150 degrees.
When you eat a diet that consists of most or all cooked foods, you are not getting enough enzymes and your pancreas begins to suffer because it is having to work overtime to create enzymes for digestion. This can lead to damage to the pancreas and other digestive organs, in turn leading to illness and other life-shortening problems. Scientific studies have shown the people who consume a limited amount of raw foods actually have enlarged pancreases and decreased brain size.
Dr. Edward Howell, founder of the National Enzyme Company, was considered a pioneer in the field of enzyme research. He formulated what is known as the Enzyme Nutrition Axiom, which states “The length of life is inversely proportional to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential of an organism. The increased use of food enzymes promote a decreased rate of exhaustion of enzyme potential.” In layman terms? Eat a diet consisting of primarily cooked, enzyme-deficient foods, use up your body's potential for enzyme production, and potentially die an early death. On the other hand, eat a diet rich in raw and fermented foods, alleviate the strain on your body's enzyme production, and have a much higher chance of a long life. Plus, raw, cultured foods will also give you much more energy than cooked foods.
Most, if not all, traditional cultures eat some sort of raw, cultured, or fermented foods in their diets. This can include raw and fermented fruits and vegetables, but also raw meat, dairy, fish, etc. While I do not recommend eating raw meat unless you know exactly where it came from and are 100% certain of its safety, I do see the benefit of its consumption. As a recent convert to the sushi world, I don't have a problem with eating raw fish, IF I know where it came from and am confident of its safety. The key here is to know where your food is from.
The safest recommendation I can give my readers is to start exploring raw cultured and fermented foods. Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, natto, and cultured dairy products are all fantastic sources of enzymes. Grains, nuts and seeds are all great sources of enzymes, provided they are soaked. Raw fruits and veggies also contain some enzymes, but not a ton. Some of the best sources of plant-based enzymes are going to be from tropical fruits, grapes, figs, and extra virgin olive oil.
One thing to keep in mind is that it all comes down to balance. A diet completely based on raw foods is not viewed as healthy, based on the research of traditional societies. There are no traditional cultures that have a purely raw diet. Cooking foods has its benefits too. Some nutrients are more widely available after cooking. The key is to maintain a well-balanced diet that includes a wide range of fresh fruits and veggies, grass-fed meats, soaked grains and nuts, cultured dairy products, and fermented foods. There is no single magic pill for good health and the best thing you can do is to find what works for your body and your specific needs and stick with that.
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
Enzyme-Facts.com – “Dr. Edward Howell”