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Does cooking food make it less healthy by destroying the enzymes contained within it?

answered by Rob Hanna

Proponents of eating raw foods assert that enzymes which exist in foods are destroyed by the heat when food is cooked, and that raw foods are subsequently much more healthy. Is this correct?

There are millions of enzymes within each of us. Humans naturally produce enzymes to speed chemical processes along throughout our entire bodies, not just digestion. Even so, there are not an infinite supply of them. Our bodies place incredible value and expense on the enzyme supply we produce internally, i.e. it won't make up new ones on a gamble. The body so values enzymes that the pancreas can reabsorb its own digestive enzymes, as well as any valuable exogenous enzymes from food eaten, and does so.

Cooking denatures the chemical bonds in food from natural states to denatured ones, resulting in broken and/or malformed molecular chains. Our natural enzymes do not fully bond with or catalyze these broken and denatured molecular bonds, but we love them nonetheless, like the seared flavor due to Maillard reactions on an expertly cooked steak:

  • When denatured proteins from cooked meats bond with the natural sugars in the meat we get that delicious flavor in our nostrils and on our palate; but, since meat doesn't digest by orally-secreted enzymes (it has to get to the acid bath in our stomach first) these Maillard compounds enter our bodies in an undigested state. And along the way even the ones that make it to our stomachs don't always end up being fully catalyzed there; plus,
  • Maillard compounds have been considered carcinogenic factors in some lab studies... uh oh.

Lab tests are one thing if you are a rat, a scholar, or a research professional. However, the rest of us should aspire to be more classical, amateur scientists by studying our own experience and effects first – this is where applied value lies.

It also used to be called living a life.

The averages of statistical evidence pushed upon us by pop media (well-intentioned or not) is non-correlative to any single individual. Yet that is how so-called professionals love to dispense research advice and charge for it. The total honesty all professionals well know is that in the lab one gets very different results than in the field...

Where do you want to live?

Try eating cooked meals of naturally edible (i.e. without cooking) foods for a bit. Take notes. Then contrast that experience and effects to eating raw meals of the same naturally edible foods for the same time period. You will notice a difference. It will likely even be a big positive one.

My clients always find that raw foods win out in regards to significantly better effects, especially when they compare protein meals in all categories (red meat, fish and fowl). Their challenge is always cultural and social, never academic or personal – they now know what works the best in terms of actual experience, it is simply finding the right balance of eating style for all their social intentions and personal purposes.

And that learning is always in the doing.

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