As someone who’s interested in raw food you may well have heard about the importance of enzymes for a healthy and long life, but what are enzymes and what’s so important about them?
Enzymes have been given the lovely name ‘the spark of life’. They are the biological catalyst for every process within the human body, from detoxification to cell production, to seeing and hearing and immune reactions. They are essential for life in all living things. There are 3 types of enzymes, metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes and food enzymes.
Metabolic enzymes are produced by our bodies, but at a diminishing capacity as we age. Metabolic enzymes run every function in the body and the aging process is directly linked to a decline of metabolic enzymes as we grow older.
Digestive enzymes are produced in our digestive tracts in order to digest and process nutrients from the food we eat. Once the nutrients have been processed by our digestive enzymes, our metabolic enzymes take over and put these nutrients to use within the body. Different types of digestive enzymes have different jobs so that we have enzymes for digesting fats, enzymes for digesting carbohydrates, enzymes for digesting proteins, enzymes for digesting sugars etc. A modern diet weighs heavily on the digestive systems ability to produce digestive enzymes. When there is a shortage of digestive enzymes to process the food we eat the body draws on its store of metabolic enzymes to help out. Bare in mind that our metabolic enzymes’ primary function is supposed to be detoxifying and regenerating our cells and keeping the body’s essential processes running, NOT for digesting.
Dr. Edward Howell* presented much evidence to show that the enzyme potential of our bodies was, in fact, fixed. In other words, we have a finite number of metabolic and digestive enzymes available to us in our lifetimes. We only have so many and then they are gone.
And so this brings us to the all important food enzymes! Food enzymes are not produced by the body but are present in all raw foods. They are what causes fruits and vegetables to grow and ripen, and also what causes them to decompose if they aren’t eaten. Food enzymes also help your body to digest the food that they are present in. They are ONLY present in foods that haven’t been heated more than 105-110 degrees Centigrade, 40 degrees Fahrenheit (i.e. food that haven’t been cooked). Freezing also destroys food enzymes present in raw foods, although not all of them. Digesting takes more energy than any other single process in the body. By introducing food enzymes to your body through eating raw food, you actually aid digestion rather than taxing your digestive enzyme supple. The most important aspect of this is that you are NOT drawing your metabolic enzymes away from doing the vital job of keeping your body running smoothly.
So, I hear some of you say, what about those who say that raw foods are HARDER to digest than cooked foods? If you’ve been eating a cooked and/or processed diet for most of your life your digestive system has more than likely been compromised, which can make certain raw foods hard to digest. Within traditional Chinese Medicine and the ancient Indian medical tradition of Ayuverda they teach the importance of ‘digestive fire’ to the process of digestion. If you have a weak or low digestive fire through having a compromised digestive system then certain raw foods may be more difficult for you to digest. If this is the case, you may well have already discovered that certain cooked foods such as wheat, dairy or meat are hard for you to digest too.
Building your digestive fire is paramount to good and long-lasting health. It is common (and I speak from personal experience) to find that after a while of eating raw foods, which naturally builds your digestive fire if you eat the right raw foods, you can digest foods that previously you couldn’t. To my mind the term ‘digestive fire’ relates to the overall health of your digestive tract which almost always improves when eating a healthy high raw diet and allowing the all important enzyme balance within your body to be regained.
*further reading – Enzyme Nutrition, by Dr. Edward Howell