Digestive enzymes are proteins that break down nutrients from food into smaller particles for absorption. There are digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach and small intestines. Enzymes called amylases convert starchy food into sugars, proteases yield amino acids from protein and lipases break down fat, which is absorbed in the small intestines. Fiber is composed of molecules that resist digestion; therefore, they pass through the digestive system without being broken down by enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are necessary for this process, as they break down molecules like fats, proteins and carbs into even smaller molecules that can be easily absorbed.
There are three main types of digestive enzymes:
• Proteases: Break down protein into small peptides and amino acids
• Lipases: Break down fat into three fatty acids plus a glycerol molecule
• Amylases: Break down carbs like starch into simple sugars
Enzymes are also made in the small intestine, including lactase, maltase and sucrase.
If the body is unable to make enough digestive enzymes, food molecules cannot be digested properly. This can lead to digestive disorders like lactose intolerance.
Thus, eating foods that are high in natural digestive enzymes can help improve digestion.
Pineapples contain a group of digestive enzymes called bromelain, which helps break down proteins into amino acids. Bromelain is also available as a supplement.
Papayas contain the digestive enzyme papain, which breaks down proteins into building blocks, including amino acids. Make sure to eat papayas ripe and uncooked, as high heat can destroy their digestive enzymes.
Mangoes contain the digestive enzyme amylase, which breaks down carbs from starch (a complex carb) into sugars like glucose and maltose. Amylase also helps mangoes ripen.
Honey contains a variety of digestive enzymes, including diastase, amylase, invertase and protease. Just make sure to purchase raw honey, as it is not exposed to high heat. Processed honey may be heated, which destroys digestive enzymes.
Avocados contain the digestive enzyme lipase, which breaks down fat molecules into smaller fatty acids and glycerol. Although lipase is made by the body, consuming avocados or taking a lipase supplement may ease digestion after a high-fat meal.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables.
Kimchi contains bacteria of the Bacillus species, which produce proteases, lipases and amylases. These enzymes digest proteins, fats and carbs, respectively
The kiwifruit is an edible berry that is often recommended to ease digestion
Kiwifruit contains the digestive enzyme actinidain, which helps digest proteins. Moreover, consuming kiwifruit may ease digestive symptoms like bloating and constipation.
Ginger has been a part of cooking and traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Some of ginger’s impressive health benefits may be attributed to its digestive enzymes.
Ginger contains the digestive enzyme zingibain, which is a protease. It may aid digestion by helping food move faster through the digestive tract and boosting the body’s own production of digestive enzymes.
Adding any of these foods to your diet may help promote digestion and better gut health.