Enzyme inhibitors are another type of anti-nutrient. Before we get into enzyme inhibitors, let's talk about what enzymes are. Enzymes are catalysts for every chemical reaction in our body - from walking and talking to healing and digesting. Without these enzymes we could not live. When the food we eat does not contain the enzymes it needs to be digested, our pancreas must produce them for us. It is said that our body is born with a finite supply of enzymes and so, the faster we use up our existing supply, the faster we age. Since heat destroys enzymes, this is the basis of the raw food diet - eat raw food high in enzymes in order to spare your body the extra work.
Enzyme inhibitors are just that - molecules that inhibit the actions of enzymes. They are present in all seeds and prevent premature germination until environmental conditions are right for sprouting. Enzyme inhibitors are what allows us to store grains and seeds for long periods of time. However, grains that have their enzyme inhibitor intact when consumed will bind to the body's own digestive enzymes causing gastrointestinal and pancreatic stress.
Eating foods with enzyme inhibitors provides a double whammy for our system - not only do we have to produce enzymes for digestion, but then we have to produce them all over again because the enzyme inhibitors knocked out the first round. Cooking helps destroy some enzyme inhibitors, but not all. Soaking is essentially the key to removing them completely.
I don't eat grains or legumes, but I do eat a limited amount of seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin) and nuts (like almonds, pecans and walnuts). Before I eat these, I always soak them in a saline solution according to the guidelines set out in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. The ratio is four cups of nuts/seeds to one teaspoon of salt dissolved in enough water to cover everything. Let them sit 8 hours and the dry them on your lowest heat setting in the oven or in the dehydrator.
The Raw Gourmet, by Nomi Shannon
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon