I’ve mentioned the importance of probiotics for digestion several times, but have you ever given a thought to enzymes?
Enzymes are molecules of protein that speed up chemical reactions in plants and animals, and are absolutely essential in digestion. Without them, reactions would occur too slowly to serve the needs of your cells. They also regulate the production of energy, hormones and the destruction of foreign substances. Enzymes break down large molecules of food into smaller ones that can be absorbed in the intestines. You must have enzymes to digest any food. Digestion begins in the mouth, as there are enzymes in saliva. Your liver and pancreas are enzyme producers as well.
Many foods contain the enzymes needed to digest them. For instance, raw milk contains lactase, which helps digest the protein lactose, of which many people are intolerant. When milk is pasteurized, the enzymes are killed leaving that protein to run free in your gut, causing discomfort for many. Pasteurization kills the enzymes and everything else, because it is heated to such a high temperature. To be fair though, even regular cooking denatures most enzymes. Therefore, it is important to include raw vegetables and fruits in your diet simply for the intact enzymes. Most vegetables contain cellulase that breaks down the cell wall of plant fiber. A lot of people suffer from indigestion or other digestive ailments because they eat too many processed, refined, cooked food. You need extra enzymes to help break down those foods that are problematic in the body. To compensate for the lack of enzymes in the food being ingested, the organs that produce them have to put out increasing amounts of them and can become overworked and eventually, fully exhausted.
When processed, refined or even cooked food is eaten, your body responds by increasing its white blood cell count—what happens when a disease or foreign object enters the body. Raw foods, however, do not elicit such a response. The more processed the food, the more severe the reaction. Raw food passes through the digestive tract in up to half the time of cooked food. Food left in the intestines taking forever to digest is the main culprit of many diseases and certainly obesity.
How do you make sure you get enough enzymes? The easiest way is, of course, to eat raw fruits and vegetables. Sprouted grains contain enzymes, as well as sourdough bread. Cultured and fermented foods are fabulous enzyme-containing treats. Kefir, yogurt, kombucha, raw milk, sauerkraut, pickles or other lacto-fermented vegetables are all examples. The veggies, pickles, and sauerkraut should be actually fermented, not just vinegar added, the regular jars in the grocery won’t do. In the refrigerated section of Whole Foods is a great brand called Bubbie’s, for your fermented needs. All those foods happen to be packed with probiotics as well. Funny how things that are good for digestion go together… Coconut water and raw nuts and seeds contain enzymes as well. Instead of reaching for processed enzyme-less crackers or chips, substitute your snacks with raw foods. Make a bag of trail mix with raw nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, which contain some enzymes as well. Lately I’ve been enjoying almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, cranberries and raisins. Grab an apple or banana when running out the door. Have organic grassfed yogurt, nuts and berries for breakfast, or my favorite go-to, a smoothie! It is not necessary to eat an all raw food diet, cooking some food helps in other areas, just don’t neglect your raw ones!
By: Ashley Dance