Excerpted from a speech by Stephanie Tourles, author of Raw Energy:
The Importance of Raw Food Enzymes in the Diet
Because raw foods are untreated by a heat source over 120°F (49°C), they are enzymatically potent; that is, they retain their naturally occurring enzymes.Why is this important? Let me explain a bit. . . .
Since the early years of the 20th century, there has been a dramatic shift in dietary habits around the world and particularly in North America. Once, we relied on our own gardens or those of our close neighbors to provide us with wholesome, fresh food — food that was frequently raw, sun-dried, fermented, or cultured; minimally processed; and enzyme rich. This food was chock-full of life-sustaining nutrients and brimming with exquisite taste. But no more. Now we leave the growth and processing of our food primarily to the megafarmers, those large impersonal corporations that operate with profits and production quotas, rather than our precious health, in mind. For the vast majority of us, this means that we consume a diet high in overcooked, enzyme-deficient, chemically preserved, nutritionally poor, and artificially “enriched” foods. Sadly, this diet also tends to include far too much salty, sugar-laden fast food. In these fast-paced times, health too often takes a back seat to “convenience” when making dietary choices.
Never before have we had more creature comforts, yet endured so much physical pain, illness, and general unwellness. Never before have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression, high blood pressure, and other degenerative diseases been as prevalent as they are now.
Organic, raw foods can play a significant role in preventing and even reversing many of these terribly life-disrupting, uncomfortable, and potentially deadly diseases, and the naturally occurring enzymes they contain are the keys to success.
Just what are enzymes? Enzymes are complex proteins that act as catalysts in almost every biological process that takes place in the body. Each enzyme acts in certain ways in the body doing specific jobs. There are three types of enzymes: metabolic, which play a role in all body processes, including breathing, talking, thinking, maintenance of the immune system, building protein in the bones and skin, aiding detoxification, and so forth; digestive enzymes, which aid in the digestion of food; and food enzymes . . . proteases for digesting protein, lipases for digesting fats, and amylases for digesting sugars and starches.
Once we cook food at high temperatures (over 120°F, which isn’t all that high), the food enzyme is destroyed. It no longer carries on its designated function. Although the physical protein structure is still present, it has lost its life force. Much like a battery that has lost its power, the physical structure remains but the electrical energy that once animated it is no longer present. The protein molecule is actually only the carrier of this invisible enzyme activity or energy factor, much like the lightbulb is the carrier for an electrical current.
Life could not exist without enzymes. They are in the cells of every living plant, animal, and human being on earth and are the essential manual workers, the labor force, for every chemical action and reaction that takes place. Enzymes are the sparks of life. Let me give you an example: When you eat raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds or almonds, you are ingesting live, enzyme-rich seeds. When planted in moist earth, these little storehouses of nutrient energy will sprout into living plants, capable of maturing and reproducing more edible seeds and nuts. Try this same test with a roasted, baked, or boiled seed or nut — all they would do is rot. They are dead matter; the spark of life has been cooked out of them.
The significant, health-promoting difference between live (raw) and dead food is the enzymatic activity contained within the cells of raw food. All foods untouched by a heat source over 120°F (49°C) have an abundance of enzymes. The fresher the food, the better, too.
Unlike animals in the wild, which live their entire lives on raw foods, humans attempt to build healthy cells out of primarily deficient, dead foods that are lacking in live enzymes — much to the detriment of our well-being. Remember, I said that when a food is heated above 120°, the naturally occurring enzymes become deactivated. Cooking also chemically alters or destroys outright the vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, sugars, fats, and proteins and results in the creation of free radicals — major contributors to many diseases, including cancer. . . . Cut an apple: it turns brown, rust colored — free radical damage . . . like rusting iron.
Digestion takes a lot of energy. The process of digestion begins with your digestive tract's chemically and mechanically breaking into tiny particles the food you just ate. Then, with the assistance of food enzymes (available in raw food only or in supplementary form) and digestive enzymes produced by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and intestines, essential nutrients are extracted and allowed to pass through the minute pores of the intestinal wall into the bloodstream to be transported to and assimilated by your cells and converted into energy or the building materials of nerves, muscles, blood, bones, glands, and more. At the end of the digestive journey, all waste products, including fiber, are evacuated.
Digestive enzymes are vital catalysts, complex molecules that accelerate chemical processes. They are involved in the catabolism (breaking down) of larger molecules into the readily absorbable, smaller building blocks that the body requires. When you eat food that has been cooked, your digestive system receives no enzymatic assistance from that food and has to produce all the enzymes necessary to digest, break down, and process what you consumed. It accomplishes this task by calling upon the liver, pancreas, and other organs to contribute enzymatic reserves, stealing the energy of those organs away from other jobs, which can slow the metabolism, compromise the immune system, and leave you feeling less than energetic.
Digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes (those that keep your arteries clear, run your organs, build healthy tissues, and keep your blood sugar balanced, among other things) aid very different bodily functions, yet they are produced primarily in the same organs, the liver and pancreas. When the body doesn’t receive sufficient enzymes to perform its digestive tasks due to a lack of raw, enzyme-packed foods in the daily diet, these organs slow their pace of creating much-needed metabolic enzymes in order to further assist in the digestive process. The manufacturing of digestive enzymes doesn’t come without a cost, though. The liver and pancreas require energy to produce additional enzymes, and this energy drain hinders their performance of vital metabolic functions and retards processes of detoxification, fat burning, and energy production. It has been reported that the majority of Americans are suffering from what is termed “enzyme exhaustion” — and the bloat, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and illnesses that come along with it.
Enzyme-deficient foods do not tend to digest properly, and what isn’t digested doesn’t nourish you. Improper digestion equals indigestion and putrefaction of food in the stomach. This putrefied material, as it continues its digestive journey, leaves behind a coating on the walls of the small and large intestines, diminishing the absorption of nutrients and impeding the expulsion of toxins through the intestinal wall and the evacuation of wastes from the body. Consistently compromised digestion creates conditions within the body that are ripe for the establishment and multiplication of disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses, thus causing the body to become susceptible to fatigue, infection, and illness. Frequent sufferers of indigestion can often be seen popping multiple antacid pills throughout the day or gulping one of those colorful bottles of nasty-tasting, chalky, gastric-distress-comforting liquids. Those products provide only temporary relief and never get to the root of the problem.
Even if you forget everything I’ve just said about enzymes, try to remember this bit . . . we inherited an enzyme reserve at birth, and this quantity can be decreased as we age by our eating an enzyme-deficient diet. If we eat most of our foods cooked, our digestive systems have to produce all the enzymes, thus causing an enlargement of the digestive organs. To supply such enzymes, the body draws on its reserve from all organs and tissues, causing a metabolic deficit. If each of us would take in more exogenous enzymes (those enzymes taken from outside sources — raw food or enzyme supplements), our enzyme reserves would not be depleted at such a rapid pace. This would keep our metabolic enzymes more evenly distributed throughout the organism. This is one of the most health-promoting measures that we could implement into our daily lifestyle.
Remember that high enzyme reserves equal high vitality and low enzyme reserves equal low vitality. A very high level of stress and the overuse of alcohol also adversely affect enzyme production. It is important that the body’s enzyme level be preserved, and not depleted, in order to ensure lifelong health and energy.
13 enzymatically potent raw foods:
Extra-virgin olive oil (first pressing), raw honey, grapes, figs, avocados, dates, bananas, papayas, pineapples, kiwis, mangoes, lemons, cranberries
Raw cultured or fermented foods that are high in enzyme content:
Raw, fresh yogurt; raw buttermilk; raw cheeses; fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut (not canned) and kimchi; pickled carrots; cukes; beets; onions; garlic; radishes; pickled corn and tomatoes; cultured soy, such as natto and miso
— Michelle Blackley, Senior Publicist
Stephanie Tourles is a licensed holistic aesthetician in both Massachusetts and Maine, with over 20 years' experience. Trained in Western-style herbalism, she specializes in the use of herbs as they pertain to skin, hair, nail, and foot care and regularly creates herbal cosmetics and treatments for her clients and friends. She is also a certified aromatherapist, with extensive training in the nutritional sciences, and is the author of Raw Energy and Organic Body Care Recipes, as well as several books on natural body care. Stephanie resides in Orland, Maine, with her husband and pets and spends her spare time hiking, organic gardening, and cooking.