Creating the wellness diet (5)
In this series, I have written about such plant components as the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients among others). Another component of plants that a lot has not been discussed, are the enzymes. Enzymes are equally as important as the other components of the plants and they play very important roles in the life of man. In this article, I intend to discuss the plant enzymes, their roles and benefits to man.
For the purpose of definition, enzymes are catalysts that help in the breakdown of food into its component nutrients. In other words, they make the nutrients available for utilization in energy production and other functions of the body. These functions include cell division, hormone and neurotransmitter production, and transport and muscle contraction. Furthermore, enzymes function in the maintenance of our physical structure and repair of same, if there is any damage.
Reasons why these plant enzymes are necessary:
Naturally, human beings do not produce enough enzymes endogenously for the digestion of food. Organically grown raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains contain enough enzymes in themselves to breakdown food and release their nutrients. These enzymes in the plants complement the amount of enzymes produced in the body so as to digest the food completely. They have certain characteristics that give them an edge over the enzymes produced in the body by the pancreas. Firstly, they operate over a range of temperature, which incorporates the temperature of the body. However, when the temperature becomes too high as that at which we cook our food, the enzymes being protein, become denatured.
Secondly, the plant enzymes function over a wide pH range because they are stable even in an acidic environment. These enzymes are capable of functioning in the acidic stomach and in the intestines, which is alkaline. In fact the plant enzymes start breaking down food in the stomach before it gets to the intestines. Completely, or partially digested food in the intestines become easy for the pancreatic enzymes to handle. Not only that, as digestion is complete, more nutrients are made available to the body, and less wastes generated. The end result is that regular bowel movement is achieved and faecal wastes are promptly eliminated.
There are some far reaching consequences when there is a deficiency of plant enzymes or none at all as a result of destroying the enzymes by over cooking. These consequences can also arise when the raw plant foods that contain the enzymes are not properly chewed to break up the cells and release the enzymes. The plants may be planted in nutrient-deficient soil, which makes the plants deficient in enzymes also.
Consequences of improper digestion due to plant enzyme deficiency
These include headache, migraine, tiredness, body pains, skin rashes, bloating, gas, burping, heart burns, diarrhoea or constipation, weight increase, indigestion, food fermentation and proliferation of bad bacteria in the gut and food allergies. Others include thinning of the hair, which begins to fall off, the nails become brittle and break easily, and lack lustre skin. Incomplete digestion can also cause premature aging.
Types of plant enzymes
There are commonly four groups of plant enzymes distributed according to the kind of substrate (food) that they act upon.
These are proteases, amylases, lipases and cellulases.
The proteases act on the proteins and break them down to shorter amino acid chains and individual, single amino acids. Amylases break down the polysaccharides to disaccharides such as sucrose, lactose and maltose, which can further be converted to glucose. Lipases act on the triglycerides converting them to fatty acids and glycerol. The cellulases break specific carbohydrate bonds present in fibre for absorption purposes.
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