Monday, December 15, 2008

Enzymes, Raw Food & Omar's

What would we be without enzymes? Health and healing are all about the little enzyme workhorses that are responsible for metabolism as well as digestion.

Did you know that a lot of metabolic enzymes get shunted over to digestion when we eat the wrong foods (hard-to-digest meats, fried foods, and even soy products) and too few live foods (live foods are those that have never been heated above 104-118 degrees F and thus retain active enzymes).

Enzymes, you see, are a part of every living cell. Without them, vitamins and minerals would be inert. With enzymes, the work of converting raw nutrients into effective energy and information for the body's use is quite literally sped up.

Yep, even product marketers know that enzymes speed up chemical reactions. That's why so many cleaning products use enzymes--to speed up biochemical reactions required in cleaning. Think of food stains on clothing. Enzymes help break down the fats and proteins from food, just like they do in digestion.

Why am I so fascinated with enzymes of late? It was a big topic at the Hippocrates Health Institute, where the lectures emphasized how overtapped our natural enzyme production process is. When we overeat, eat bad foods, combine foods poorly, or eat constantly, we put huge requirements on our pancreas to produce enzymes for digestion. Basically, with a bad diet, we waste our precious enzyme (or "life-giving") resources.

Scientifically, here's a disturbing blurb from the Wikipedia entry on enzymes (bold type my addition):

Involvement in Disease
Since the tight control of enzyme activity is essential for homeostasis, any malfunction (mutation, overproduction, underproduction or deletion) of a single critical enzyme can lead to a genetic disease. The importance of enzymes is shown by the fact that a lethal illness can be caused by the malfunction of just one type of enzyme out of the thousands of types present in our bodies.

So, when the pancreas cannot deliver enough enzymes during digestion, the Hippocrates folks argue that white blood cells can even get enlisted to help out with digestion, taking them out of commission for immune system work. Sounds sinister, eh? Little immune system soldiers being deployed for dietary crossing guard duty means they are not able to conduct proper search and destroy activities against true invaders. I haven't validated this claim yet though.

As we age, our enzyme production naturally drops, so adding enzyme-rich foods (raw foods) seems prudent. Adding digestive enzymes also helps lessen the load on an overworked pancreas.

I'm eating more raw foods now that I'm back. I haven't committed to a fully raw foods diet but I did feel good on the raw diet while at Hippocrates. I'm also being really careful to add Pancreatic Enzymes (ours are vegetarian) before or with every meal these days. Can't be too careful when trying to heal the old gut and give my pancreas a little rest whenever possible!

Today, I experimented with menu items from a raw foods restaurant, Omar's Living Cuisine, in Sugarhouse (a neighborhood in Salt Lake City), run by a young Lebanese guy. I can highly recommend the raw "pizza" (it's more like a raw tostada of sorts, complete with perfectly-ripe avocado slices and delightful spices) and the hemp protein "milk" with its own chai spices!

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