what enzymes do to make food digestible . . . part 4

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl:   How can enzymes and eating raw food be so important when stomach acid would kill any enzymes that came with the food anyway?

Good one.   Some people think that the low pH of the stomach stops salivary and any other food or supplemental enzymes from working.   A number of experiments Howell writes about show this is not so.   Some enzymes are shown to work actively at two different pH ranges.   Another study shows that salivary and supplemental enzymes were re-activated in the alkaline duodenum and lower in the intestine after going through the stomach.   Hydrochloric acid in the stomach is not as strong as once thought to be and when used in in vitro experiments (outside the body).   A Journal of Nutrition-published study at Northwestern showed 51 percent of amylase from malted barley was intact when passed into the intestine.

Enzymes manufactured by the pancreas of a person or animal are sensitive to pH because they aren’t adapted to anything outside the restrictive confines of the body.   But, microbial-derived dietary supplement enzymes are very adaptive, since fungus grows in a variety of places and conditions.   These enzymes survive the acidity of the lower stomach.   These plant-based sources are the digestive enzyme supplements I prefer (more on that later).

As with so many other things in the human body, we’ve been provided with the ideal environment to digest food.   Problems occur when we alter our food instead of giving our body the kind of nutrition we were designed to digest easily, that people used to eat for thousands of years.

Dr. Howell says that we’re born with a finite ability to produce endogenous enzymes, and by middle age, most of that ability is gone.   (And he said this 25 years ago, before the modern diet worsened.   Some experts make even more dire projections, that Westerners are burning out enzyme capacity by age 35.)   The answer, of course, is to eat as much raw food as possible, and as little cooked or processed food as possible.

Tomorrow, raw meat and dairy.   After that, I’ll address whether you should take a digestive enzyme.

what enzymes do to make food digestible . . . part 3

We don’t think of our stomach as being two-chambered, but Howell goes to lengths to document all the experts and studies (including Gray’s Anatomy) saying that it does, in fact, have two distinct parts.   And in the upper stomach, or “food enzyme stomach,” gastric juices are not released, and peristalsis is not yet churning the food.   Most nutritionists don’t know this.   But that’s where the digestive enzymes inherent in raw foods do their work for about 30-60 minutes before the lower stomach opens and stomach acid must begin to work.   If the food is cooked, it sits there doing nothing, with any bacteria you swallowed with it getting a foothold.   Or, the predigestion that can take place there only with raw food makes the draw on the body’s supply much less when that food continues on through the digestive tract.

 

Think of a snake, for instance, who eats a rat.   That rat is so large that it can’t enter the snake’s stomach for some time to be broken down by stomach acids, until the natural enzymes that came inside the rat break it down.   The healthy ancient meat eaters of various cultures ate not just meat and dairy products, but fermented products–foods that are broken down into component parts by live food enzymes.   Some bizarre examples are Eskimos who eat the contents of a caribou’s stomach (and a number of other putrefied foods) as a “salad,” and Indians of the Amazon River basin, who chew boiled yucca, spit it into jars, and let it ferment with the amylase enzyme in saliva.   This food is their main nourishment, with the average person drinking a gallon a day!

 

Because of the terrible draw on our enzyme processes when we don’t supply exogenous food enzymes, all metabolic activity is affected.   Consequently we have dental cavities, baldness, thinning hair, and breaking nails, allergies, acne, headaches, constipation, cancer, energy problems, and so many more diseases.   Animals in the wild simply don’t have the hundreds (thousands?) of diseases that modern man does as a result of destroying the enzymes in our food.   Even the “healthy” among us tend to have many of the smaller ailments that no animal eating raw food in the wild has.   Dr. Howell says that the idea that “nature cures” we’re all familiar with can refer only to metabolic enzyme activity, because “there is no other mechanism in the body to cure anything.”

 

In 1943, Northwestern University established the Law of Adaptive Secretion of Digestive Enzymes through experiments on rats.   Dozens of other research teams later strengthened this law’s premise with similar findings.   Researchers studied the amount of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas.   What researchers found was that an organism values its enzymes highly: it will make no more than are needed for the job.   So, if raw food containing exogenous enzymes are provided, the body has to manufacture very little, leaving its resources and energy well allocated to metabolic processes.

Many studies from the first half of the 1900’s prove that when an animal eats lots of starch, amylase is primarily produced.   A meat-eating animal is found to produce mostly protease.   A whale’s stomach has no amylase in it, because a whale eats no carbohydrate.   And people? When we bring in lots of exogenous enzymes in our food, our body produces very little, leaving those capacities free for other metabolic work.   Scientists missed knowing this, and Medicine and even Nutrition, as disciplines, have misunderstood or ignored these discoveries.   By and large, those charged with guiding us to good health have ignored the critical factor of helping us avoid enzyme burnout.

 

Just like people have enlarged livers or enlarged hearts when those organs are heavily taxed, the pancreas becomes enlarged when a body is fed lots of enzyme-free (cooked or processed) food.   Lab mice eating a cooked, enzyme-free food have a pancreas two to three times heavier than wild mice eating a raw-food natural enzyme diet.

defending that my diet’s not all raw

I read the raw foodists all the time (Patenaude, Wolfe, Boutenko, and lots more).   I think their diet is fantastic.   Sometimes I go all raw, for a few days, weeks, or even months.   I wouldn’t criticize anybody for a minute who wants to do it permanently, as some of my friends do–they all enjoy excellent health.

 

So why don’t I eat 100% raw and promote it on my site?   I thought I’d lay out my defense of NOT being all raw.

 

  1. Yes, when man discovered fire and begin to cook his food, he altered it for the worse, killing the life force in the food.  But I think we’ve adapted biologically to thousands of years of eating whole, cooked plant foods, eaten as part of a diet containing lots of raw plant food.   I think 60-80 percent is usually enough to provide outstanding disease prevention and an ideal weight.   EVERY meal and snack should contain raw plant food.   What we’re NOT adapted to is cooked, REFINED foods or a diet heavy in cooked food.    
  2. I think that grains and legumes are good food.   They’ve been used for thousands of years by most of the populations of the world.   They provide good energy in the form of both carbs and protein, and the perfect amount of fat (which is to say, not very much).   Hundreds of studies say they prevent disease.
  3. Most people can’t afford to eat 100% raw.   Boutenko said several years ago that her family of 4 spends $1350 monthly ($45/day).   Because I feed my family highly inexpensive whole foods in the form of legumes and grains, I spend $800/mo. to feed 50% more people than Boutenko does.   In summary, my program is very do-able financially.
  4. It’s very hard to feed kids, especially teenagers, an all-raw diet.   Without grains and legumes to give them higher calories and faster food to prepare, moms can really burn out and teenagers get surly and . . . downright hungry.   I have tried it.   It’s really hard (nigh unto impossible) to feed a house full of competitive athletes and teenagers all raw.  
  5. On the other hand, it’s not very hard to eat 60-80% raw, at least after completing a learning curve (my 12 Steps to Whole Foods program is the learning curve, as I experienced it, flattened out for my readers to skip all the rabbit holes I chased down that were a waste of time).   It is, however, nearly a quantum leap, I’ve found, to go from 80% to 100%.   It’s like the effort differential between getting a B+/A- in college, and getting an A.   That difference is MUCH bigger than the difference in your effort, for instance, between getting a C and a C+.   A 60-80% diet is achievable for anyone, allowing for social events not to become a stress and excellent health to be achieved.

So don’t get me wrong: I love the raw movement.   But Boutenko writes about people going 100% raw and then swinging to almost no raw, back and forth.   I never eat no raw–always, always 60-80 percent, even while traveling.   (You can get salads almost anywhere.)

And I think that’s the most important thing: to be consistent about eating well, and keep your “raw” above 60 percent every day and always as high as you can, so you are providing lots of enzymes and not taxing and aging your organs.   I also recommend having periods of eating as simply and as close to 100% raw as you can–like a “detox week.”

What about OXALATES in spinach?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: Some people think you should lightly cook your spinach and other greens before eating them. Is it safe to eat them raw?

Answer: This is an excerpt from Ch. 1 of my e-book, 12 Steps to Whole Foods.   It is both safe and good to eat spinach raw, which I have done every day for 15 years. Cooking, by any method, kills 100% of the greens’ enzymes.

A popular and growing theory and opinion among those interested in nutrition is that greens (especially spinach) are high in oxalates and should be avoided because oxalates cause kidney stones or gallbladder problems, since oxalates may interfere with absorption of calcium from the body.   Another popular opinion is that cooking spinach renders the oxalates harmless.

In fact, a review of the peer-reviewed research reveals that the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is small and does not outweigh the ability of those foods to contribute significant calcium to the diet, since spinach is rich in calcium.   A few rare health conditions require oxalate restriction: absorptive hypercalciuria type II, enteric hyperoxaluria, and primary hyperoxaluria.  These are not the more common condition wherein kidney stones are formed.   The research is not clear that restricting foods such as spinach helps prevent stones in those who have previously had them. Many researchers believe that dietary restriction cannot reduce risk of stone formation.   In fact, some foods that were assumed to increase stone formation because of oxalate content (like black tea) have appeared in more recent research to have a preventative effect.

Further, cooking has a small impact (about 10 percent) on the oxalate content of foods, with no statistically significant lowering of oxalates following blanching or boiling of greens.   It appears that the nutritional advantages of eating raw greens continue to far outweigh any benefit of cooking them.

Two other classes of nutritional compounds, purines and goitrogens, are found in some leafy greens such as spinach.   Eating “excessive” amounts of spinach or cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower, for instance) containing these compounds can be a problem for people who suffer with gout, kidney stones, or low thyroid hormone production.   These chemical compounds are also found in peanuts, strawberries, soy products, and other foods as well.   Lightly steaming these foods may help, as well.   However, the literature seems to support that a few weekly servings of these foods is a good idea for almost everyone.