The important role of enzymes is recognized by raw foodists, but not by most media or conventional medicine. While many athletes, doctors, and everyday people are discovering the importance of eating raw foods, it's still not commonly recognized. In order to understand the importance, you have to understand enzymes.
At any given moment, all of the work being done inside any cell is being done by enzymes. If you understand enzymes, you understand cells. A bacterium like E. coli has about 1,000 different types of enzymes floating around in the cytoplasm at any given time.
Enzymes have extremely interesting properties that make them little chemical-reaction machines. The purpose of an enzyme in a cell is to allow the cell to carry out chemical reactions very quickly. These reactions allow the cell to build things or take things apart as needed. This is how a cell grows and reproduces. At the most basic level, a cell is really a little bag full of chemical reactions that are made possible by enzymes.
In other words:
Your body can not make use of the minerals and vitamins you eat without enzymes.
Enzymes are made from amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When an enzyme is formed, it is made by stringing together between 100 and 1,000 amino acids in a very specific and unique order. The chain of amino acids then folds into a unique shape. That shape allows the enzyme to carry out specific chemical reactions; an enzyme acts as a very efficient catalyst for a specific chemical reaction. The enzyme speeds that reaction up tremendously.
"Enzymes are biological compounds that increase the rate of a chemical reaction within the body. Almost all enzymes in the human body are made up of amino acids that form proteins. These 'enzyme proteins' than cause something to happen faster than it normally would. [Causing you to be able to heal faster, digest faster, etc, as well as do so more efficiently.]
"The body controls the rate at which many things happen by controlling the amount of individual enzymes it produces. If the body wants to slow down the rate at which something happens, it stops making a certain enzyme, or even creates a different enzyme to destroy the first enzyme. By using enzymes, the body is able to micromanage the rates of many different activities inside the body. There are literally thousands of different enzymes in the body that regulate nearly every activity." -Peter Sedesse
Scientists have identified over twenty-eight hundred different enzymes. There are over three thousand active enzymes at work in our bodies at one time. Thirteen hundred enzymes are required to make one cell.
Getting the picture? You need enzymes, and you need a lot of them.
The cycle of enzyme absorption and production begins with what we ingest. The nutrients which are required to make metabolic enzymes come from the foods we eat. (Metabolic enzymes are those which are produced by the body, and are used in all stages of digestion to obtain nutrients from our food.)
But unfortunately, if you're eating the Standard American Diet (also known as S.A.D.) then you're probably not getting any enzymes. Enzymes become "bound" (sometimes called "dead") when they are cooked. Some are "killed" at 105 degrees, and some last up until 115 degrees. When the enzymes are bound, your body can no longer make use of them. They become "dead waste" inside your body, which is simply fodder for bacteria that lives inside the intestines.
According to Markus Rothkranz, a raw food enthusiast who looks remarkably young for his age and lives off of an entirely raw-food diet; Most of the enzymes a plant contains die off within the first few minutes of being picked. Which means that grocery-store raw foods don't pack nearly the punch that a fresh plant does. (Fresh plants, incidentally, are the basis of what animals eat. Notice that animals don't have exceedingly high cancer rates on the rise... Unless they're being fed by humans.) Which means it's very important to add as much extremely fresh raw food to your diet as possible. For more information on incorporating raw into your diet, regardless of how you eat now, read this article.
The Role of Digestive Plant Enzymes:
Proteases: breaks down protein
Lipases: breaks down fats
Amylase: breaks down carbohydrates/starch
Cellulases: breaks down fiber
Lactases: breaks down milk sugar
Maltases: breaks down malt sugar
Sucrases: breaks down sucrose (refines dugar)
Humans can produce 10 of the 20 amino acids. The others must be supplied in the food. Failure to obtain enough of even 1 of the 10 essential amino acids, those that we cannot make, results in degradation of the body's proteins—muscle and so forth—to obtain the one amino acid that is needed. Unlike fat and starch, the human body does not store excess amino acids for later use—the amino acids must be in the food we eat every day.
The 10 amino acids that we can produce are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.
Tyrosine is produced from phenylalanine, so if the diet is deficient in phenylalanine, tyrosine will be required as well.
The essential amino acids are arginine (required for the young, but not for adults), histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids are required in the diet. Plants, of course, must be able to make all the amino acids. Humans, on the other hand, do not have all the the enzymes required for the biosynthesis of all of the amino acids.
Click here for an index on amino acids.
I like to say that there is no such thing as a "superfood." All raw foods are super foods when they are fresh-picked and eaten immediately. When food is eaten in it's most fresh and pristine state, your body is flooded with powerful enzymes that allow your body to produce cells: brain cells, muscle cells, skin cells, etc. The level of enzymes in a food in it's freshest state is the amount your body is intended to get with the exact composition of the fructose, glucose, fiber, starches, fats, nutrients and vitamins. Each plant is created with a perfect balance.
To further this point, raspberry leaves, blueberry leaves, and the green parts of the top of the carrot are all immensely good for you and complement the flavor and nutrition of the part we most commonly eat.
One incredibly effective way to get incredibly fresh plants into your diet is to grow your own sprouts. If you really like sprouts, there is no reason not to get a sprouter and start growing your own immediately. It's not difficult, and it's much cheaper than simply buying sprouts at the store. You can grow sprouts without a sprouter, but I recommend getting one anyway because it makes the process easier and gives you a specific and permanent "space" for growing them.
If you don't like sprouts, consider how many types of sprouts out there are. "Sprouts" is just a general term for the very small part of the plant that grows directly from the seed. There are the sprouts of beans, the sprouts of grains, the spouts of melons, and so forth.
Also, you can add sprouts to a conventional cooked diet even if you don't like them by adding small amounts of them to cooked meals with potent flavor, like to a spicy burrito or something. It's not going to solve all of your problems just to add sprouts, but it can make a critical difference just to do that alone.
Click here to learn more about improving your health.