Most people find eating a source of pleasure, enjoyment, and a significant social event, but the primary function of food is to provide nourishment. You would certainly never guess this from the so called “foods” you see people putting into their body these days. If everyone approached eating with the objective of providing their body with ideal nourishment (from a primarily raw plant-based diet) the economy would take a tailspin as the “food giants” crumbled from lack of consumers buying these lifeless, nutrient depleted processed “foods.” For the “food giants” to produce “foods” with a long shelf life they must destroy the life force the enzymes within the raw foods with heat, which also depletes nutrients and takes a toll on consumers’ health and well being.
What is the role of these life-giving food enzymes typically destroyed by cooking? And is there anything we can do about it when we eat cooked foods?
Once food (ideally raw food) is introduced into the mouth, the digestive system begins breaking it down into usable proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and thousands of other substances. The human digestive tract is a flexible muscular long tube, with many loops and bends extending from the mouth, through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum to the anus. A host of activities begin the moment food is introduced into the mouth.
At the thought of eating or the smell of food, the salivary glands begin secreting saliva into the mouth. The principle enzyme found in saliva is a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme that immediately mixes with the food as it is masticated thoroughly in the mouth. This is where the digestive process begins, and it continues throughout the stomach and small intestine. If it’s a raw food, it also contains its own enzymes to help break down the different macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) for assimilation. This takes some of the digestive load off the body.
Dr. Edward Howell, in his book Enzyme Nutrition, theorized that the body is born with a bank account of enzyme potential. Because digestion and every other body function require enzymes,
he believes, as enzyme potential nears exhaustion, chronic disease becomes inevitable and ultimately death occurs. Dr. Howell found that eating raw foods conserved the body’s enzyme potential as the enzymes inherent in each food helped break down the nutrients in that specific food, thereby helping the body preserve more digestive enzymes. When cooked food is consumed, the enzymes have been destroyed by heat (enzymes begin to die at 107 degrees and when the temperature reaches 129 degrees all enzyme life is destroyed) and the body must produce all digestive enzymes required for the digestive process.
Thanks to Dr. Howell’s solid foundation, we know much more about enzymes today. By supplying the body with supplemental plant-based digestive enzymes, much of the stress placed on the body to produce all of the digestive enzymes can be relieved. Supplemental digestive enzymes enhance digestion and assimilation while conserving the body’s enzyme potential.
The pH range of the digestive tract varies widely, from the very acidic stomach environment to the more alkaline small intestine environment. An enzyme supplement can only be beneficial if it survives the digestive tract’s pH range and breaks down the vast array of food components. Carbohydrate breakdown begins in the mouth in a more alkaline environment. As the food moves into the stomach’s acidic environment (where protein digestion begins), carbohydrate digestion is suspended until the bolus of food passes into the small intestine’s more alkaline environment. The proteins in food require the release of hydrochloric acid in the stomach to uncoil the proteins, exposing them to the enzymes and making them available for digestion. Both the stomach acid and an enzyme are necessary for this reaction. By the time the food bolus leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is underway and gaining momentum.
Some nutritional benefit is still derived from cooked foods. Ideally, try to minimize cooking with high heat to allow for greater nutrient retention. The less heat used in cooling and the less processing involved in the foods we eat, the greater their nutritional value. Supplemental enzymes can enhance the breakdown, digestion, and assimilation of these nutrients.