Nutrition Fundamental #3: Eat Raw Foods — Your Body Needs Enzymes
Another important reason to eat a wide variety of raw foods is for their enzyme content. Did you know that each raw food contains the enzymes that it needs to be digested? A carbohydrate food contains amylase which breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. A protein food contains protease, an enzyme which converts proteins into amino acids. If the food contains fat, then it also will contain lipase in order to digest the fatty acids. There are approximately 24 digestive enzymes found in food, each uniquely designed to break down the food you eat into usable energy. (1)
In 1923, an ad for beef stated, “Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.” (2) You are what you eat has been a pervasive nutritional philosophy ever since. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In reality, you are what you are able to digest and absorb. A food cannot be beneficial unless it can be broken down properly and prepared for absorption. Low levels of enzymes can result in nutritional deficiencies where there are not adequate enzymes to release vitamins and minerals from food. (3)
Take a guess what happens to enzymes in the presence of heat. . . .yup, it kills them. Cooking temperatures as low as 118 degrees begin to kill the digestive enzymes that are present in raw foods while boiling a food for three minutes kills all the enzymes. (1) Eating a diet of mostly cooked foods places a great strain on the pancreas which has to work extra hard in order to secrete enzymes needed for digestion. Amazingly, the pancreas will not secrete digestive enzymes when they are not needed, but only when food particles pass through the digestive system, void of their necessary enzymes. According to the National Institutes of Health, “cancer of the pancreas is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.” (4) Eating an enzyme-rich diet not only gives the pancreas much needed rest, but also allows maximum absorption of nutrients.
The Raw Food Diet is a vegetarian diet based solely around uncooked foods and is incredibly rich in enzymes. While this diet left my body feeling light and energetic and dramatically improved my digestion, it might as well have been a part-time job! Each meal is made fresh, while many of the recipes required hours and sometimes days of soaking and sprouting nuts, legumes and grains. I believe the Raw Food Diet to be an excellent detoxification diet for short-term use, especially for those battling cancer or chronic illness. But for most Americans, incorporating something raw (nuts, fruits and vegetables) into each meal and snack is a good start in boosting your enzyme health. Adding a broad spectrum enzyme supplement such as SpectraZyme from Metagenics is another excellent way to improve digestion and pancreatic function.
I’ve found that eating cooked and processed foods leaves me feeling sluggish and tired as much of the body’s energy goes toward digestion. Try increasing your raw foods intake to 50% and see how great it makes you feel!
**Don’t forget to chew well. The main component of plant cell walls is cellulose for which humans have no digestive enzyme. Cellulose must be broken down through the action of chewing. If you’re having a difficult time digesting raw foods, increasing the chewing time for each bite can eliminate problems such as gas and indigestion. (3)
1. Cousens, G., Conscious Eating, 2000, North Atlantic Books
3. Lipski, E., Digestive Wellness, 2005, McGraw-Hill.