DIGESTIVE ENZYMES – WHAT THEY ARE AND WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT
Have you ever wondered how that apple you just ate becomes part of the fuel your body will use? Enzymes play a big role in breaking down the food we eat into usable components for absorption, acting like a solvent. They mainly work in the upper areas of the digestive tract, whereas probiotics do similar work in the lower regions of your body.
Most of the important digestive enzymes are produced by our own body in the stomach, salivary glands, pancreas and the liver. Raw foods contain many natural enzymes that make their own digestion easier, but the more refined a food gets, the more digestive enzymes your body must produce to absorb nutrients effectively.
Additionally, as we age, the body becomes less efficient in many basic functions and one of these, unfortunately, is our ability to produce enough digestive enzymes. As it becomes more difficult for our body to break down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates in our diet, this leads to a host of digestive problems like excess gas, bloating, food allergies and intolerances.
The three main enzymes groups to help us digest nutrients are:
- Proteases for digesting protein
- Lipases for digesting fats
- Amylases for carbohydrate digestion
Eating foods high in natural enzymes can really improve our digestion and many tropical fruits are an easy way to add more digestive enzymes to your diet. Heat tends to deactivate digestive enzymes, so these fruits are best eaten ripe and uncooked. These include:
- Papaya (or Paw Paw) – contains a protease enzyme called papain, used commercially to tenderise meat. Also helps ease inflammatory digestive systems such as bloating and constipation
- Pineapple – contains another group of protease enzymes called Bromelain, which help break down proteins into individual amino acids. Bromelain powder and tablets are also available as a food supplement for this purpose.
- Mangoes – Ripe mangoes contain the digestive enzymes amylases for carbohydrate digestion. They are a group of enzymes that break down carbs from starch (a complex carb) into sugars like glucose and maltose. The amylase enzymes in mangoes become more active as the fruit ripens. This is why mangoes become sweeter as they start to ripen. Amylase enzymes are also made by the pancreas and salivary glands. They help break down carbs so that they are easily absorbed by the body. That’s why it’s often recommended to chew food thoroughly before swallowing, as amylase enzymes in saliva help break down carbs for easier digestion and absorption.
- Bananas – contain amylases and glucosidases. As with mangoes, these enzymes break down complex carbohydrates like starch into more easily absorbed sugars as bananas start to ripen. That’s why ripe yellow bananas are much sweeter than unripe green bananas. Similar to papaya, bananas are a great source of dietary fibre, which further assists digestive health.
- Avocados are uniquely low in sugar but contain high levels of healthy fats. They also contain the digestive enzyme lipase. This enzyme helps digest fat molecules into smaller molecules, such as fatty acids and glycerol, which are easier for the body to absorb. Lipase is also made by your pancreas, so you don’t need to get it from your diet. However, extra lipase in the diet can help ease digestion, especially after a high-fat meal.
Other foods rich in digestive enzymes include raw, unprocessed Honey, Miso, Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Kefir. ‘Vital All-In-One’ also contains a range of natural food-based enzymes, especially Bromelain and Papain. With just a few small adjustments to the diet to include extra dietary enzymes many digestive disturbances can be a thing of the past.
Vital Everyday has a range of daily supplements to support good health. Discover more about our natural supplements here.