October 2, 2014

Do the Enyzmes In Plants Help Us Digest The Plant?

One common misconception about raw food is that they have enzymes in them that help us digest them. And, that when we cook these foods we deactivate the enzymes, which inhibits our ability to digest the food.

So let’s start with, what is an enzyme. An enzyme is a protein that helps to drive a reaction forward. Your body produces digestive enzymes that help to break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This process starts in the mouth. Along with saliva, the digestive enzyme amylase is produced to begin the breakdown of carbohydrates. You don’t produce digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates in the stomach. The next stage of digestion that helps to digest carbohydrates is in the small intestine.

Over 90% of the enzymes in plants won’t make it past the acid in your stomach, before they are broken down and deactivated. The enzymes within plants are for the plants use and not ours. Enzymes in plants help with the plants metabolism and energy pathways of the plant. They don’t help you digest the plant.

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Your pancreas produces enzymes called ‘pancreatic enzymes’ that help you digest your food. A normally functioning pancreas secretes about 8 cups of pancreatic juice into the upper intestine, daily. This fluid contains pancreatic enzymes to help with digestion and bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid as it enters the small intestine. This less acidic environment allows the digestive enzymes to do their job without being deactivated. I am using the word ‘deactivated’ loosely. An enzyme is not active as in alive – an enzyme is a protein that drives a reaction forward and it does this because it is folded in a certain way. Proteins are strings of amino acids that fold up and this structure give them certain properties. So, when an enzyme is ‘deactivated’ it is unfolded.

There are some conditions that warrant pancreatic digestive enzyme therapy; where a person is given large doses of pancreatic digestive enzymes and this is an oral therapy; given by mouth. To make this therapy even more effective, a proton pump inhibitor that inhibits the stomach’s ability to produce acid, is often prescribed alongside this therapy. This is because the enzymes will have less chance of being deactivated, or unfolded, by the acidic nature of the stomach.

So, the idea that plant foods contain enzymes that help us digest them is incorrect. What is correct, is this: Eating a lot of raw foods can trigger your body’s ability to produce more digestive enzymes.

Now, you will find plant based digestive enzymes as a supplement. These do work because they have isolated strains that have a higher chance of surviving the acids in the stomach and you are you taking such a large dose of these (compared to what you would get in food) that enough of these will make it through to the small intestine to evoke an effect.

I feel that some raw and some cooked vegetables offer a healthy balance. When you cook your vegetables you are helping to soften the plant cell wall and this allows your body to access even more nutrition from the food than if you had eaten it raw.

If your digestion is hampered at any level – you are under chronic stress, you don’t produce enough stomach acid, or you have any GI symptoms, eating all raw, or any raw for that matter, may be doing more harm than good. If you can’t break your food down, this will cause more issues and symptoms in the GI tract.

A good goal for you may be to blend your raw vegetables with a high emulsion blender into a smoothie and eat the rest of your vegetables cooked, until you can bring your digestion back into balance.

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