Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why Do We Need Enzymes?

I have written several posts mentioning enzymes in foods, particularly fermented foods. Somehow though, I don't think I have talked about why we need enzymes, and what they actually do.

First off, there are 3 basic classes of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes and food enzymes. They are basically complex proteins that catalyze almost of our body's biochemical processes, and thousands of them have been identified. No mineral, vitamin or hormone can do any work without enzymes.

The metabolic enzymes affect body functions like breathing, moving, thinking, and affect the immune system.

The digestive enzymes are generally manufactured in the pancreas, and break down the partially digested foods leaving the stomach going into the small intestine.

Food enzymes are contained in raw foods, and initiate our digestive system's actions beginning immediately upon contact with saliva in our mouths and continuing through the stomach. Here's the thing to know and remember: enzymes are deactivated by heat in cooking. (All enzymes are deactivated at a wet-heat temperature of 118F, and a dry-heat temperature of about 150ºF. ~ Nourishing Traditions.)

No, I am not going to promote a raw food diet... so don't even go there! It is true most of us don't get enough raw foods in our diets; even milk is no longer available as a raw food but only heat-pasteurized in most states, . So-called "fresh" fruit juices available for purchase in the cold dairy section of a store, or even canned juice concentrates, have all been heat-pasteurized, destroying enzymes.

However, if all we ever eat is cooked foods, it puts a considerable strain on the pancreas (and other digestive organs) to make the enzymes that should have been in our raw foods.

Most of us get some raw foods and thus some food enzymes... we eat a few salads, some fresh fruit, maybe an occasional bit of fresh raw (untoasted) nuts, and raw seeds like sunflower seeds; some of us still eat medium-rare steaks or steak tartare. That is, assuming we trust the safety of the meat. Remember when you could order a rare/medium-rare hamburger? That was before the gubbmint decided safety of meat had to be insured by the restaurant folks cooking it, and not 'just' the responsibility of the folks raising, processing and packaging it. The Consumer has no choice of 'rare' anymore unless we buy grass-fed... or take a big health risk by cooking CAFO meats rare or medium-rare at home.

However, there are many other foods we can eat that are not really 'raw' but still contain food enzymes, thus giving the pancreas and other digestive organs a break. Fermented dairy is one category and includes foods like butter, yogurt and cheese if made from raw milk. (Even the fats in raw milk contain enzymes.) Raw milk cheeses are legal in the US if they are aged, usually 60 days or more although it may vary by state. The advantage of raw milk cheese, butter and yogurt is that the milk was never subject to heat pasteurization, which kills the enzymes along with any "potentially harmful bacteria from unsanitary conditions". Cultured butter, cultured buttermilk, and yogurts in stores are all made from pasteurized (heated) milk.

Another category is lacto-fermented vegetables. These vegetables contain all the enzymes (and nutrients) of the foods in their raw state, and in fact, increases the enzyme and nutrient content by the fermentation process. Those of us who are older may remember when our grandmothers made sauerkraut and pickles in crocks, rather than the enzyme/nutrient-killing vinegar-heat-canning processes common today. (Today's processed kraut and pickles may be safe, but they are nutritionally lacking.) However, we may not remember that many folks also fermented almost any and every vegetable, not just cucumbers and cabbage. The only fermented vegetable that requires a bit of heat processing is a quick blanching necessary for green beans, but since the beans are not fully cooked, some enzymes remain.

So even if we are not considering a raw food diet, food enzymes are necessary to digestive health which in turn provides all our health, and we should get more raw foods any way we can.

The late Dr. Edward Powell, a noted pioneer in enzyme research, said that our enzyme-poor diets result in illness, less resistance to stress, and shortened life-spans. (1)

Dr. Howell formulated the following Enzyme Nutrition Axiom: 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 promotes a decreased rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential. Another rule from Dr. Powell can be expressed as follows: Whole foods give good health; enzyme-rich foods provide limitless energy. (2)

1 comment:

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