There is a lot of confusion about enzymes. On the one hand, raw food enthusiasts insist that all cooked food is bad for you because the enzymes are destroyed by heat, resulting in “dead” food that is difficult to digest. Then there is another view (promoted in Chinese Medicine,) that says too much raw food “chills the spleen,” (i.e. inhibits pancreatic output,) and makes for chronic indigestion and malabsorption. The truth lies somewhere in between.
To understand this it helps to be clear about the three different types of enzymes: food, digestive, and metabolic. Food enzymes are the chemical components of raw food that make it possible for that food to digest itself, that is rot. When you leave a sliced apple out on your counter and it turns brown, that is the effect of food enzymes in the apple. Digestive enzymes, on the other hand, are specifically made by your pancreas to break down three different types of food–carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These enzymes, called amylase, lipase, and protease, are the workhorses of the digestive system, and make it possible for you to absorb nutrients through the small intestine. The third type of enzymes, metabolic enzymes, are made in other cells of the body to catalyze important cellular functions.
It’s true that when you eat raw food, the naturally occurring enzymes in it will contribute to its break down, especially if well chewed and mixed with digestive juices. This relieves your pancreas of some of its burden, but does not provide enough enzyme activity to digest the portion of your diet that is cooked. For that, you need a strong pancreas that makes an abundant supply of enzymes. Without sufficient pancreatic enzyme production, a number of problems can occur ranging from gas and bloating to malabsorption and allergies.
So what can you do to promote your own abundant enzyme supply, short of taking supplements? Well, a certain amount of raw food is helpful, but not the whole answer. One of the problems with the “all raw” approach is that the nutrients in some plant foods are locked up and unavailable unless at least lightly cooked. So you still need your own healthy pancreatic supply. Many people take enzyme supplements, and receive good benefit from them. But if you don’t like the idea of taking supplements for the rest of your life, you’ll want to support your pancreas to produce enzymes on its own.
The key to this, the big secret that most nutritionists skip, is trace minerals. Each enzyme contains a specific trace mineral that is essential to its function. Without an abundant supply of trace minerals, the pancreas doesn’t have the raw material to make enough digestive enzymes. So the important question is, how to get an adequate supply of trace minerals, given that much of our food is severely mineral deficient due to modern industrial agricultural practices.
I recommend two food based approaches. One is to start using unrefined Celtic sea salt. This salt is rich in trace minerals. Refined salt is pure sodium chloride, and has none of the trace minerals that occur naturally in unrefined sea salt. Use of refined salt can contribute to hypertension whereas unrefined Celtic sea salt usually doesn’t because of the balanced trace minerals it contains. If you are severely salt sensitive and have high blood pressure, make sure to incorporate abundant potassium rich fruits and vegetables as well. (High blood pressure has more to do with Potassium/Sodium ratios than Sodium alone.)
The second thing is Calcium Montmorillonite clay. This specific form of clay, found in only a few places around the world, is formed through the interaction of ancient oceanic sediment and volcanic activity. It is an abundant source of easy to assimilate macro, micro, and trace minerals. In addition to providing the body with a rich source of minerals, it also acts as a detoxifier. You can find this product on line at www.calearthminerals.com. Stir a teaspoon into a glass of water each day between meals, or take in capsules. You’ll provide your pancreas with the minerals it needs to make enzymes, and remove toxins from your intestinal tract at the same time.
Also, be sure to include enzyme rich lacto-fermented foods in your diet as well. Things like naturally fermented sauerkraut and cultured milk are vital to restoring and maintaining the finely tuned ecosystem of the gut. We’ll get more into this when we discuss probiotics and the health of the colon.