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What are Digestive Enzymes? + 9 Foods With Naturally-Occurring Enzymes for Better Digestion!

Updated: May 24, 2023

What Are Enzymes and What Do They Do?

Enzymes are proteins made from amino acids which speed up chemical reactions in the body, allowing them to occur at a rate necessary for life!

Enzymes are used for essential body functions such as:

  • digestion + gut health

  • cell growth + repair

  • muscle building

  • nerve function

  • respiratory health

  • toxin breakdown by the liver

DIGESTIVE enzymes act on the surface particles of the foods we eat, breaking them down into smaller, more easily digestible pieces. This process starts in the mouth (thanks to enzyme-rich saliva) and reduces gastrointestinal upset such as bloating, gas and heartburn.

Digestive enzymes also serve an extremely important purpose to our overall health, as they directly increase the absorbability of the nutrients found in the foods we eat! Without digestive enzymes, many of the nutrients we consume would completely go to waste!

There are 3 main digestive enzymes produced in the body, including:

  1. Amylase (found in salvia): breaks down carbs + starches

  2. Lipase (found in saliva): breaks down lipids (fats + oils)

  3. Protease (found in the stomach): breaks down proteins

Better Digestion For Better Gut Health

A healthy digestive system is dependent on proper nutrient breakdown + absorption (as well as prebiotic & probiotic-rich foods) to promote a HEALTHY GUT. A healthy gut contains optimal levels of "good-gut" bacteria which provide the body with immunity to infections from things such as "bad" bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

In fact, did you know 70% of the immune system lives within your gut?!

Gut status not only affects our immune health, but also our overall health due to the 100 million nerve cells lining our digestive tract. Through these nerves (as well as hormones), the gut actually communicates with the brain, impacting mood and mental health through the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin!

Is it Necessary to Supplement with Digestive Enzymes?

Typically, a healthy individual with no digestive food sensitives or intolerances does not require any form of digestive enzyme supplements.

On the other hand, those who do suffer from specific food sensitivities or intolerances sometimes find their gastrointestinal upset decreased and digestive function increased with the use of digestive enzyme supplementation.

Here are a few things to consider if you feel these supplements may be beneficial for you:

  • Talk with a Medical, Health, or Nutritional Professional You Trust

It's always recommended to consult with a qualified nutrition professional or health care physician before adding any type of supplementation to your regimen.

  • Take Digestive Enzymes as Directed

This often includes taking your supplement with, or immediately before, any meals containing the foods you have a difficult time digesting. Be mindful of following the directions and usage instructed on your supplement bottle.

  • MATCH the Digestive Enzyme to Your Food Sensitivity/Intolerance

Each type of digestive enzyme can only act on the specific food group it's intended to break down. For example, an individual with a lactose intolerance would supplement with a "lactase" enzyme which breaks down the milk sugars (lactose) in dairy products. Remember, in order for digestive enzyme supplements to serve their purpose, they should only be consumed when eating that specific food type.

IMPORTANT: food sensitives and intolerances can sometimes be a SYMPTOM of a deeper underlying issue. Things such as Leaky Gut, SIBO, toxin build-up, infection, or chronic stress are frequently considered and should be addressed with your primary care physician or practitioner if suspected.

Who Shouldn't Consider Supplementing with Digestive Enzymes?

It's advised the following individuals refrain from using digestive enzyme supplements:

  • Diabetics

  • Pregnant/Breastfeeding women

  • Those with ulcers

  • Those with inflammation of the gut lining

  • Those taking blood-thinners

  • Those taking anti-inflammatories

  • Those about to undergo surgical procedures

Foods Which Naturally Contain Enzymes

It's important to remember, for most individuals — your body's GOT THIS! It already has the tools it needs to properly break down and assimilate the food and nutrients we eat!

However, while your body is hard at work naturally producing enzymes, you can always add in foods to your diet that actually CONTAIN enzymes!

9 Foods Which Naturally Contain Enzymes include:

  1. Kefir

  2. Sauerkraut/Kimchi

  3. Pineapple

  4. Papaya

  5. Bananas

  6. Kiwi

  7. Ginger

  8. Raw Honey

  9. Avocado

Consider adding some of these foods to your next grocery haul to reap all the amazing digestive & nutrient-rich benefits they have to offer!

Did you find this post helpful? Have any questions?

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