I bet when you are anticipating a meal, you rarely think about the digestive enzymes that are going to break down the food into smaller molecules to be used to fuel your body.
Most likely you are thinking about what you would like to eat, how it will taste, the texture, the aroma, all the elements that make eating pleasurable.
Did you know that your body is taking notice too? When you think about food, smell the aroma or start to taste the food, the digestive enzymes are beginning to be released.
That is because the entire digestive system is involved in secretion of the enzymes to make sure you are getting the full and complete benefit of eating. The enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, and the cells that line the pancreas, the stomach and small intestine, from the moment you start to think about eating and throughout the digestive process.
The primary digestive enzymes that are called into action are:
Each type is responsible for breaking up food into specific nutrients. For example, proteases break down protein into amino acids and small peptides, which play important roles in blood clotting, immune function and cell division. Amylases break down carbs into simple sugars and are found in the pancreas and salivary glands. The lipases are responsible for fat breakdown into (3) separate fatty acids and simple alcohol sugar (glycerol).
The enzymes maltase, sucrase and lactase are all made in the small intestine and further digest the food into smaller units.
As you may be able to guess, lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products and is produced by cells called enterocytes that are in the intestines. When the lactose isn’t absorbed properly it ferments from the bacteria in the gut, causing gas and discomfort. I am sure you have heard of lactose intolerance, or maybe experienced it. That is because there is not enough lactase being produced by the small intestine. This results in bloating, diarrhea, gas and abdominal pain.
Maltase is responsible for breaking down maltose into glucose, which the body uses for energy. Starch is partially transformed into maltose by amylases, earlier in the digestion process. From there, the maltase enzyme further processes it into glucose which is used by the body immediately or stored in the liver as glycogen for future use. A fatty liver can develop if too much glycogen is stored.
Sucrase is found in the villi that line the intestinal walls. These tiny, hair-like structures absorb nutrients right into the bloodstream and if they are corrupted, this can result in malnourishment or starvation, so they are very important to maintain. Often, in cases of celiac or the inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, there can be serious damage to the villi, causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Giardia parasite infection, the blood pressure medicine, olmesartan and some OTC medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can cause damage. Fortunately, discontinuing use usually repairs the compromised villi.
How can you support your digestive enzymes:
There are many foods, mostly tropical fruits, that when eaten can help support the digestive enzymes so important to our overall health. The 12 most important are:
Pineapple contains bromelain (proteases) that aid in digestion and absorption. It can be purchased in powder form to tenderize meats, and as a health supplement.
Papaya are best eaten ripe and uncooked, as heat can destroy the enzymes. Please not that unripe or not quite ripe can be dangerous to pregnant women, possibly stimulating contractions.
Mango contain amylase, the same digestive enzyme which breaks down carbs and is found in your salivary glands too. That is why it is also wise to chew slowly and thoroughly, to help ease absorption.
Kiwifruit is actually an edible berry that eases digestion, because it is a source of a protease called actinidain, also used to tenderize tough meat (protein).
Bananas contains both amylases and glucosidases, enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates. Bonus: they are also a great source of dietary fiber and reduce bloating.
Avocados contain lipase, the enzyme that helps digest fat molecules.
Fermented foods are also good for our digestion and support the enzyme production we need to break down our food.
Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains lipases, proteases and lactases.
Sauerkraut is a probiotic fermented cabbage which contains digestive enzymes, and healthy gut bacteria to boost your digestion and immunity. Eat it raw or unpasteurized.
Kimchi is an increasingly popular Korean dish made from fermented vegetables. It not only aids digestion, it may be effective at lowering cholesterol.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning made from soybeans fermented with the koji fungi, that adds the digestive enzymes lactases, lipases, proteases, and amylases.
Ginger root contains the protease zingibain, and is thought to aid digestion by promoting peristalsis and enabling the body to increase its own production of enzymes. It can also help with nausea.
Honey (raw) contains diastases, amylases, invertases, and proteases, all helpful digestion. Make sure you don’t purchase processed honey, which is often heated, therefore destroying the digestive enzymes.
Try all or some of these 12 foods for help with your digestion and improve your gut health.
And, when you are ready to really improve your gut health, go on the 90-day Vitality journey with me, in which you will find out:
Where your gut health is right now (pinprick blood test)
Embark on a wellness journey that encompasses diet, exercise, and stress reduction education and coaching to optimize gut health
Supplement your gut with identified pre- and pro-biotics and vitamins to create balance
Measure your success after 90 days, all included.