Once in a while I get an email admonishing me for not emphasizing raw foods as a source of digestive enzymes. Often it is pointed out to me that if we all just ate more raw foods we would not need to take enzyme supplements.
While I appreciate their input and passion about dietary concerns, I must take issue with their argument.
Raw foods do contain enzymes. These enzymes are destroyed by cooking or processing. If you have ever canned or preserved foods, you know that it is essential to blanch or heat the food prior to canning. Otherwise the food will spoil. This is the primary function of enzymes found in fruits, vegetables, and meats as well.
If you have ever purchased green bananas, you know that in a few days the bananas will turn yellow and taste sweeter. If you wait too long, however, you end up with a pile of brown, sticky goo that goes into the trash.
Plant fruits contain enzymes in order that their seeds can be dispersed or sprout, using the remains of the fruit as cover or fuel for sprouting. Digestion, on the other hand, must be accomplished in a matter of hours, not days or weeks.
If we relied solely on the enzymes in raw foods to accomplish digestion, we would be in very poor shape.
Enzyme supplements are much more concentrated and contain many other enzymes as well. An enzyme found in a specific food is specific for the spoilage of that food. An enzyme supplement contains additional enzymes to breakdown any other foods consumed, raw or cooked.
I love raw foods. Sushi is one of my favorites and I like steaks on the rare side. I try to eat more raw veggies, too. However, I am careful with uncooked foods as the risk of bacterial contamination is higher than with properly cooked foods. Also, certain raw veggies bother my digestion.
So, I always make sure I take the appropriate enzyme supplement for the particular foods in my meal - my own enzymes, of course!
Devin Houston, Ph.D.