[permaculture] Digestive enzymes (raw spinach thread)

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Mon Sep 18 19:55:07 EDT 2006


On 9/18/06 2:17 PM, "Michael Murphy" <michael at ctsl.com> wrote:

> "I'm one of those "cook it to a fair-thee-well" folks."
> 
> That kills all the enzymes you need to digest the food, so be sure to take
> digestive enzymes.

A lot of what is quoted here is totally wrong at worst, and dressed-up
pseudoscience at best. For starters,

>Nature designed food with enough enzymes in it to digest
> the food when it is eaten.

This makes no sense. Nature doesn't design food. Nature designs living
organisms that, except for fruits, do whatever they can to avoid becoming
food. Many plants contain compounds that help make them unpalatable. Raw
plant matter, when left in a sterile environment, remains essentially
unchanged other than drying out, which suggests it does not contain enzymes
to digest itself. It's decomposing organisms that break down organic matter
outside the body, not some auto-digestion process. And inside the body?
Animals are beautifully designed to break down organic matter that is in
highly unavailable states, and also have bacterial partners in their guts
that help digest what they (we) cannot. We're really good at breaking down
what we eat. To say otherwise is to deny how effective evolution has been.

> "Food enzymes break food down so its constituents are small enough to pass
> into the blood or lymph system, enabling the body to effectively utilize them.

A misstatement and exaggeration. Beginning with our saliva, we digest foods
with our own enzymes, which are made in huge quantities that far dwarf the
amount of "digestive enzymes" in food. Also, a lot of pre-intestinal
digestion is done by acids, which hydrolyze (chemically shatter) the bonds
that hold organic matter together into fragments that are quite small enough
to be easily digested. And our gut flora finishes the job as well as
releasing vitamins and other nutrients. In cattle, over 80% of food
nutrients are released by gut flora, and all the detectable remainder by the
enzymes in the first stomach (research from U of Wisconsin). So the role of
enzymes in the herbage itself is a very small one. So-called "digestive
enzymes in food" play an inconsequential role in comparison to the work done
effortlessly by our bodies.

> Your pancreas has some ability to make enzymes in addition to its other
> functions, like making insulin and playing a major part in operating the
> immune system. If you eat a small amount of cooked food, it won't make much
> difference. But a steady diet of cooked food with killed enzymes will cause
> your pancreas to work overtime.

This is really defective biology. "Some" ability to make enzymes? That's the
pancreas's main role: enzyme production to regulate digestion. It makes
enormous quantities, along with much smaller quantities of
digestion-regulating hormones like insulin (hormones are active at much
lower doses than enzymes). I did immunology research for many years, and
know of no immune role of the pancreas, and this is supported by a look
through my physiology and immunology references. So this appears to be utter
crap.

The idea that enzymes are taxing for the body to make is silly. Enzymes are
proteins, and we are superb protein builders: they are among the easiest
compounds our metabolism can make. We fairly gush enzymes.

> When cooking or other processing destroys enzymes,
> eating that food triggers the body's immune system to donate enzymes to the
> digestive process, and it responds with a condition called "digestive
> leukocytosis.

More pseudoscientific nonsense. The immune system has nothing to do with
making digestive enzymes. Immune system compounds and cells are made in the
bone marrow and thymus. Food-digestive enzymes are made in the pancreas,
stomach and small intestine. The idea that the bone marrow will "donate" its
products (which are rarely enzymes anyway) to the digestion is just silly.
The only possible link there would be that if you eat poorly, all systems
will suffer. And there is little evidence that eating cooked foods equals
eating poorly. 

Here's why I can't buy the "raw is better" argument. Heat via cooking
denatures protein and breaks down complex carbohydrate into simpler ones and
into sugars. What the stomach does is essentially to "cook" foods, by
denaturing them with acid and enzymes instead of heat. It's similar to
making seviche, where the fish is "cooked" by marinating it in acidic
juices. So cooking food outside the body, in fact, reduces the work done by
the body, not increases it. So called "digestive enzymes" are broken down in
the stomach along with the rest of your food.

There's a good deal of research showing that many raw foods are more
difficult to digest than cooked. Obviously, it's good to eat a fair amount
of fresh, uncooked food, but many, many foods, such as starches and proteins
become far more digestible when cooked.

The raw vs cooked debate spins on which food we're talking about.  Spinach,
for example, loses much of its toxic oxalic acid when cooked. Beans and
seeds are far more nutritious when cooked, although the best way to get the
maximum nutrition from them appears to be by first soaking overnight, which
activates enzymes that destroy growth-inhibiting compounds in the seeds
whose job is to prevent them from rotting before they sprout. Soaking also
enzymically breaks down indigestible phytate starches into more palatable
compounds. But cooking grains and beans also converts more indigestible
starches into edible forms than mere soaking. And seeds, which contain food
for growing plants, are some of the more easily digested plant materials.
Roots, stems, and leaves, whose job is structural (i.e. not designed as
food) are tough and designed to avoid being eaten. And meats are far more
easily digested when cooked; cell membranes rupture, releasing their
nutritious contents with much less effort by our bodies. Thus, many raw
foods make your body work harder to get the nutrition, which is contrary to
a lot of raw food lore. I think we need to be careful of sweeping statements
like "raw is better" or "cooked is better." Some foods are great raw, like
fruits and many greens. Some are more nutritious when cooked.

Also, if you look at animals that eat raw foods, their teeth wear down much
faster than ours. Raw food is very hard on the teeth. That explains some of
of why humans didn't live much past 40 before cooked food. When the teeth
wore out, you were done for.

Sure, eating poorly is hard on your body in many ways, from reducing immune
response to causing chronic illness. But the quote from "How to Beat Your
Prostate Cancer" is full of so many blatantly untrue statements and so much
arm-waving dressed up in fancy language that it is a shame that well-meaning
laypeople desperate for a cure could be sucked into this sort of nonsense.



Toby
http://patternliteracy.com






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