Enzymes: An Introduction

Next week I am going to talk a little bit about enzymes and the critical role they play in our overall health. Today I just want to introduce these things that occur by the thousands inside of us.

Enzymes act as catalysts for every chemical reaction inside our bodies. This includes everything involved in digestion and metabolism. Enzymes can be reused many times - they cause a reaction and allow a desired output to be created from a specific input. However, the enzyme remains unchanged in the process. Enzymes make reaction rates millions of times faster, allowing us to continue digesting food, eliminating toxins and wastes and creating energy on a daily basis. A body with no enzymes cannot survive.

Enzymes can be made inside of our bodies and also found in the foods we eat. I am sure you have heard of the "raw food diet".  Those who follow a raw food diet do so, in part, to obtain optimal amounts of enzymes from the food they eat.  While enzymes occur naturally in raw foods, they are killed when that food is cooked or processed. When we don't receive enough enzymes from our food to catalyze the reactions inside our bodies, we draw these necessary enzymes from our organs which can then become unbalanced. When our enzyme supplies are low and enzymes are not functioning properly, we may experience digestive issues, increased fat deposits, poor circulation, cardiovascular problems, and other health disturbances. A deadly illness can be caused by the malfunction of just one of your body's 3,000 enzymes.

Some raw foods, such as all nuts and seeds and some lentils, peas and beans, contain not only enzymes but also things called enzyme inhibitors. Enzyme inhibitors neutralize some of the enzymes our bodies produce. These foods contain enzyme inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting prematurely. If you experience some stomach discomfort when you eat nuts and seeds, this may be why. There are ways to deactivate these enzyme inhibitors prior to consuming these foods, which can really aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Since it is not realistic for most of us to consume only raw foods, many people supplement their enzymes daily. There are different kinds of enzyme supplements available, and they are used by some people with each meal to aid in digestion, and by others to treat diseases like cancer and arthritis.

Enjoy your weekends and try to consume some raw foods with each snack or meal! Monday I will elaborate on the digestive enzymes and exactly how they work inside of us.


Exercise Before You Eat

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are checking in with PWN today, you are officially one of my most devoted readers!

My challenge for you today is to get some exercise before you sit down to enjoy the many tastes of Thanksgiving dinner. I read somewhere that the average Thanksgiving meal is between 2,000 and 4,500 calories (without the booze!). Obviously no one is required to “eat themself into an oblivion” (in the words of my dad - and his dad, Grampie Ed). But realistically, unless you are planning on running a marathon today, you will not burn off the meal no matter how much exercise you get. But I don’t really think about it that way anyway.

I have always noticed a relationship between exercise and my enjoyment of a good meal. For some reason food just tastes better after a workout, and any guilt you may feel for indulging in that slice of pumpkin apple pie melts away.

Exercise not only increases your heart rate and allows you to burn calories and fat, but it is also a mood enhancer. When you exercise, endorphin and serotonin levels in your brain increase. Endorphins are mood-regulating chemicals that reduce pain and stress and can induce euphoria (also known as “runner’s high”; learn more about it in this outstanding book written by my brother and sis!). Serotonin is another brain chemical that is linked to mood. For the brain to have a stabilized mood, serotonin must be present. Depression is often linked to a lack of serotonin in the brain.

I prefer to exercise outside, especially in the winter! The cold Minnesota air (which is where I usually am for Thanksgiving) is refreshing and the combination of snow and sunshine is stunningly beautiful. There is a reason Ed and I decided to get married in Minnesota in January! But inside works too. Run in your city’s annual Turkey Trot. Go for a family walk. Many gyms hold one or two morning yoga classes on Thanksgiving for people like you who are not willing to dismiss exercise just because it’s a holiday. If you have snow, take your kids sledding. If you’re in Florida, go for a walk on the beach.

This year the LaFaves are going to play a game of touch football on my Nana’s front lawn overlooking the beautiful, frozen Lake Carlos. Huge improvement from 15 years ago when my dad, whistle in hand, had my cousins and me running laps in the backyard for our Thanksgiving Day exercise (post-meal!).

Milk: Which Kind is Best?

I love milk. I think it’s because when I was a kid, we had a milk machine. You know, one of these:

We use to tell our little friends that there was a real live cow in there, and they’d watch wide-eyed as we lifted the lever and filled up a cold, bubbly glass of fresh milk.

Too bad you can’t actually get milk machines with real cows, because based on what I’ve been learning recently, raw milk is the way to go.

The best kind of raw milk is taken from grass-fed cows, cooled, and bottled. Some forms come from grain-fed cows, but grass-fed is ideal. Raw milk is not processed or treated in any way.

The type of milk you and I buy in the grocery store is processed cow’s milk. It is pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurization uses heat to slow the growth of bacteria. The USDA standardizes and controls pasteurization methods. Homogenization is a treatment used to break up fat globules, preventing the cream from separating in the milk. It also spreads the bacteria and white blood cells killed off in pasteurization throughout the milk.

So why is raw milk healthier for us than processed milk? The key word that should have raised a red flag is “processed”.

The pasteurization of milk not only helps control bacteria, but it also kills many important nutrients. For example, lactase is an enzyme, or catalyst, needed for our bodies to digest lactose (milk sugar). Pasteurized milk kills all lactase, which is why so many people have trouble digesting milk and are therefore lactose intolerant. If you are lactose intolerant, give raw milk a try. You will be surprised at how much easier it is to digest! Pasteurization kills some of the vitamin C in milk and makes most of the calcium insoluble, meaning your body cannot benefit from it. And although pasteurization can kill some of the bad bacteria, there is also good bacteria being killed. Our bodies need this bacteria for digestion and absorption, and to help fight off bad bacteria that enters the body.

Homogenization artificially modifies dairy fats to the point of not being beneficial to us anymore. Without milk fats, our bodies cannot absorb and utilize the vitamins and mineral found in milk. In addition, milk fats cause our stomachs to release a hormone that not only helps with digestion (by releasing more digestive enzymes), but also tells us when we are full.

Raw milk has many other healthful qualities as well. It contains all essential proteins that our body needs for life but cannot produce on its own (ie we have to get them from our food). In addition, raw milk has both water and fat soluble vitamins and many important minerals.

To find out if and where you can find raw milk in your city, click here.

I know what you are thinking. This all sounds great, but what about those of us that can’t get raw milk? What should we be drinking?

While I do recommend raw cow’s milk over anything else, I also realize it is difficult to obtain due to strict food regulations. So if you don’t live on or near a farm, here’s what I think:

• Buy organic or local, no exceptions (some local dairies match or even exceed organic standards, like Royal Crest Dairy in CO)

• Kids will really benefit from the fats in milk, so I would give them whole milk

• Adults also benefit from milk fat and can drink whole milk or 2% milk

Some adults prefer skim or 1% because they want to watch their fat intake. Before I started nutrition school, Ed and I would rotate between the two. But now I am researching raw milk distributors in our area and in the meantime, I will switch us to 2% or whole milk. I do think that if you are drinking milk that is not raw, you should consume it in moderation and be aware of how it is affecting your body. This is also very important in kids, as they often experience difficulties digesting milk. There are many good arguments for why pasteurized, homogenized milk is detrimental to your health. However, I think that in moderation it is fine to include in an adult diet.

Oh, and if you’re not into cow’s milk altogether, I recommend choosing almond milk over soy milk… check out my Facebook page for a good article on soy and why you should consume it in moderation.

And that milk machine I was talking about earlier? It really did exist! My parents weren't crazy... it actually just came with the house we moved into. But it did lead to a love of milk for all my siblings and me. I mean, I even dressed as Tim the Milkman for Halloween in 4th grade!

Butter: Keeping it Real

Wow, guest blogger Jessica's post on bees and raw honey yesterday was a hit! Thanks again Jessica! And based on the response, we all hope you come back soon! If you missed it, be sure to read it here.

And now on to butter...

Before you begin your two-day campout in the kitchen to prepare the Thanksgiving feast, you may want to hear what I have to say about butter. And believe me, you will like what you hear.

Butter is a health food! Yes, you heard me correctly. A health food. Butter contains large amounts of vitamin A (more than carrots!) as well as vitamins E, K and D. It is also rich in trace minerals such as selenium (a powerful antioxidant) and iodine. And as we all know, butter has fats. Some of these fats are short- and medium-chain fatty acids that remain fairly stable when heated, so are safe to use when cooking or baking. Fats in butter are used as energy for our heart, brain and digestive tract; act as anti-carcinogens (reduce occurrence of severity of cancer cells in our bodies); to stimulate immune systems and act as antimicrobials; and protect against gastrointestinal infections (especially in children and the elderly, which is one reason kids should drink whole milk).

Some people buy margarine thinking they are doing themselves a favor by reducing fat and calories. Margarine was originally used in the mid-1800s as an affordable way to feed the lower class. Margarine, the supposedly “heart-healthy” choice, is made from vegetable oils (mainly soy and cottonseed) using high heat and high pressure. Heating leads to destruction of basic nutrients in foods. Nickel, a toxic heavy metal, is added to solidify the margarine. Colorings and deodorants are added to change the final product from gray to yellow and to eliminate the rancid smell that comes with heating vegetable oils. Margarine is hydrogenated, which produces harmful trans-fatty acids. The polyunsaturated fats in margarine are more susceptible to oxidation and high levels of free radicals, and due to their chemical composition are more likely than the fats in real butter to be stored as body fat.

Many people forget that butter is a natural, whole food. We are repeatedly encouraged to stay away from processed foods, and this includes margarine. Some of you may use other buttery spreads, like Smart Balance. These tend to be a mix of different processed oils, and while they may contain fewer fats than butter, they are definitely not a natural, whole food. The hardened state of buttery spreads is indicative of the amount of processing needed to make a mixture of oils turn into a tub of spread. Many of them claim to use flaxseed oil, but fail to mention that the processing of the oil kills off its omega-3s. Many of us are deficient in omega-3s because of these processing methods. The high levels of omega-6s in buttery spreads (without omega-3s to complement them) can cause inflammation in our bodies.

When buying butter, try to choose raw butter from grass-fed cows as it is closest to its original form and contains the enzymes and healthy bacteria that would otherwise be killed off during pasteurization. Raw butter from grass-fed cows will be bright yellow or orangey in color, due to the beta-carotene from the grass. Note that not all butters labeled “organic” are raw or from grass-fed cows. If raw butter is unavailable to you, some good grass-fed cow brands to try are KerryGold (sold at Trader Joe’s!) or Organic Valley Limited Edition Pasture Butter. And if you cannot find butter that is raw and/or from grass-fed cows, organic butter is a good third choice.

So go ahead, throw some real butter into those pumpkin apple pies! They’ll taste better and you’ll be doing everyone at your dinner table a favor!

Tomorrow I will talk about milk. Like butter, milk contains the most nutrients when consumed raw. I’ll explain why, and also provide some alternatives if raw milk is not readily available to you.


Guest Blogger: Jessica on Honey

Please welcome Jessica to PWN today. A fellow health food enthusiast, Jessica is also a tennis champ, finance whiz, avid biker, and bee guru. Over the past month you've listened to me bash agave nectar and promote raw honey. Well, Jessica is going to explain exactly why raw honey should be your sweetener of choice. And as you'll see, she has a hidden talent: writing. As promised at the end of Friday's blog post, you will laugh today. So here she is!

From Jessica...

I like to refer to it as "sweet liquid ambrosia", but you probably know this gift from nature by its common name, honey. I can't exactly imagine how humans first decided to harvest honey (as a thickly covered hive of stinging insects seems to be a bit of a deterrent), but its use has been documented throughout history, with evidence of beekeeping in ancient Chinese, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. With all of honey's nutritional and beautifying properties, no wonder Cleopatra was such a hottie.

What gives honey such powerful qualities? It all starts with how it is made.... (it helps if you hear the next paragraph narrated in Sigourney Weaver's Planet Earth voice):

Honey begins when the bee takes off on its foraging flight. Buzzing to and from each blooming flower, it collects precious nectar. The nectar mixes with the enzymes in the bee’s saliva, an alchemal process that breaks down the complex sugars into simple sugars. The bee then carries it back to the hive where the industrious house bees store it in the walls and fan their wings to reduce the moisture content, rendering it hygroscopic, meaning it is so dry it will pull in moisture from the atmosphere. This is why harvested honey must be stored in sealed containers, and why baked goods made with honey rather than sugar will stay moist longer.

There are many varietals of honey available. Bees will work the nectar within a two-mile radius of the hive so each batch of honey will have slightly different flavor nuances. I like a light alfalfa honey in my morning tea whereas a darker wildflower honey is a richer, more of an after dinner honey. No, I don't have a honey rack next to my wine rack. But that's only because I can't find anywhere that sells them.

Darker honeys will have a higher concentration of antioxidants, but the most important thing to remember when purchasing honey is that it be raw and unfiltered. Honey that has been heated and pasteurized will lose most of its beneficial antioxidants. As in most cases organic is best, but I would rather buy from my local farmers market over a South American honey that has been labeled organic. Enforcement of such labeling is inconsistent, and unless the bees are being interrogated... well I have my doubts.

I use honey as a panacea for any problem, and despite the doubt that clouds my friends’ eyes when I try to talk them into smearing it on their sunburns, it truly does have some amazing natural healing properties. It is antibacterial and antiviral, and will virtually never go bad. It can be used to treat burns, cuts, sore throats, and acne. It can be a cough suppressant, an athletic performance enhancer (makes a great gift for A-Rod!), or a hangover cure. Honey's humectant properties make it a key moisturizing ingredient in many naturally formulated beauty treatments.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy honey:

Honey + almond butter. This is a hotter matchup than Brad and Angelina. Spread on toast, celery, cardboard... it doesn't matter as long as you have this combo it will work. I'm so passionate about this flavor medley that I'd like to stalk down everyone eating PB&J sandwiches and slap them out of their hands before they take the first bite. (Unless of course it was a child, then I'd gently extract the sandwich from their sticky fingers and hastily tell them to say no to drugs.) I just don't know why you'd ever go back to PB&J once you've tasted this.

Honey + grapefruit. Allows you to eat grapefruit with no chance of the sour face.

Honey + goat cheese + any cracker/bread medium. Small time investment, huge deliciousness payout.

Honey + plain yogurt. A much better alternative to sugar laden flavored yogurts, which will spike your blood sugar significantly higher than honey will. I found it surprising how little honey I had to use to attain the sweetness I desired.

Honey can also be used in recipes in place of sugar. The rule of thumb is 2/3 c honey for every 1 c sugar. Since honey is liquid you will want to slightly reduce your overall liquid content by about 1/4 c for every cup of honey. The sugars in honey will also carmelize more quickly so reduce your baking temperature by about 20-30 degrees.

Honey should not be given to infants under 12 months, but should absolutely be given to sick adults acting like infants.

Thank you to Ann, who is sweet as Tupelo honey for letting me ramble on about bees and honey on a forum where people can't visibly walk away from me.

...did I mention she's funny?

Thanks Jessica! You're the best. Please come back soon!