Enzymes are the catalysts for specified biochemical reactions. They are present in all living things and play an important role in chemical reactions within those entities. Enzymes are the worker bees of your body, and they affect every single one of its functions. They enable your body to break food down into usable nutrients through the integral role they play in the digestion process. Your digestive health (gut health) directly impacts the health of your brain and immune system. If your gut is in disarray, there’s a strong likelihood that your overall health is as well. Consequently, enzymes are key to optimal health.
Your intestines and pancreas create many kinds of enzymes, but many foods also contain enzymes or the bacteria that produces them. However, because the modern diet is primarily made up of cooked and processed foods, we don’t reap much of the potential benefits of dietary enzymes. This is because when you cook food (above 118 degrees), process or pasteurize it, you destroy its natural digestive enzymes. We must therefore rely on our bodies to produce most of the enzymes we need to help us break down and utilize the food we eat. This is why adding raw, non-pasteurized, unprocessed and high-enzyme foods to your diet can be advantageous in the quest for optimal health.
There are many fruits, vegetables and fermented foods that contain relatively high amounts of useful digestive enzymes. One reason for the presence of these enzymes is to help digest that particular food. For example, raw beef contains an enzyme called cathepsin. The activity of this enzyme is how aged beef becomes tenderized. While some food contains enzymes necessary for digestive action upon itself, many other foods contain enzymes that affect entirely other types of food. From the most popular fruits to some less obvious choices, we’ll explore some high enzyme foods.
Foods that contain natural digestive enzymes include pineapples, papayas, mangoes, honey, bananas, avocados, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kiwifruit and ginger. Adding any of these foods to your diet may help promote digestion and better gut health.
Fruits High in EnzymesBananas are a great source of potassium, as well as the enzymes maltase and amylase. Maltase breaks down the malt sugars present in your body, which allows for easy digestion. Amylase is found in your saliva and serves to break down foods like carbohydrates.
Pineapples contain protein-digesting enzymes called bromelain, which is known for its powerful ability to break down protein chains. In fact, bromelain is an excellent meat tenderizer that is capable of causing the meat to fall apart if marinated too long. Bromelain also hydrolyzes the protein of gel networks, thereby preventing or weakening its formation. As a result, pineapple won’t form into jelly or jam because this enzyme breaks down the gelatin. However, you can neutralize this reaction by adding agar-agar.
Papaya also contains a protease enzyme called papain that aids in the digestion of protein. As the fruit ripens, the amount of papain present decreases. Like bromelain from pineapples, papain is often used as a meat tenderizer or in marinades, especially in South America. It is a key ingredient in today’s powdered meat tenderizers.
Kiwi contains the proteolytic enzyme known as actinidin, which aids in the digestive process of various substances, including protein, gluten and gelatin. Actinidin is also used as a meat tenderizer. Like the bromelain found in pineapples, it also breaks down gelatin.
Apricots contain a treasure trove of enzymes. One of these enzymes, called invertase, facilitates quick energy absorption in the body by breaking down sucrose into glucose and fructose.
Avocado enthusiasts will be happy to know that this superfood is a great source of a variety of enzymes, most notably lipase. Dietary fat is broken down by the lipase enzyme. The presence of lipase, as well as their high-fat macro-nutrient composition, make avocados a fantastic addition to a ketogenic dieter’s menu. Although lipase supplementation may help relieve digestion issues, it’s not yet entirely clear if dietary lipase can produce the same relief. The presence of lipase in avocado is naturally designed to aid digestion of the avocado itself, because it’s such a high fat fruit. However, adding this superfood to your diet yields a variety of additional nutritional benefits.
Fermented Food Sources of EnzymesMiso is a paste that is made by fermenting soybeans, barley or rice, and salt. It’s commonly found in Asian dishes and facilitates the digestive process via digestive enzymes that result from the fermentation process.
Raw kimchi is a well-known fermented food commonly associated with traditional Korean cuisine. Kimchi contains bacteria that produces beneficial enzymes. One example of this is the kimchi bacteria enzyme dextransucrase, which assists in breaking down sugar sucrose as well as starches. The probiotic cultures that are produced by the fermentation process can assist digestion and support immune function.
Kefir is consumable as a drink because it has a texture that resembles a less creamy yogurt. There are even more gut-friendly, natural bacteria that aid digestion in kefir than there is in yogurt. This drink is made from milk, yeast and fermented enzymes that aid with digestion.
Tempeh is well-known in vegetarian circles as a great substitute for providing the protein you would normally get from consuming meat. Its fermentation process takes soybeans and converts them into a form reminiscent of cake. Tempeh naturally contains cultures that aid with digestion, and because of the fermentation process, it retains its digestive enzymes, among numerous other health benefits.
Sauerkraut is another fermented food that aids the digestive process. It is made by allowing shredded cabbage to ferment in its own natural juices. Because it isn’t heated, cooked or pasteurized, raw sauerkraut is a great choice when looking to add high-enzyme foods to your diet.
Soy sauce is a condiment that contains enzymes whose function is to break down carbohydrates and proteins. It’s made through a fermentation process that includes soybeans, water, wheat, yeast and salt.
Additional Food Sources of EnzymesGarlic contains a sulfur compound called allicin that promotes antioxidant activity and is also a potent antimicrobial agent. This compound is created when you chop, mince, dice or press the garlic clove. These actions rupture the cellular structure, which allows the once separated alliin to co-mingle with an enzyme called alliinase. During the next 5-10 minutes, they combine to form new phytonutrient compound called allicin, which adds to the many health benefits of raw garlic.
Onions also contain both the sulfur rich phytonutrient of alliin and the alliinase enzyme. As with garlic, they are separated in the cellular structure of the onion when it’s whole. Similarly, when you chop, slice or dice the onion, the newly ruptured cellular structure releases these two elements and they begin to co-mingle. The finer the cut, the more extensive the sulfur compound’s transformation. They form a new, potent compound called thiopropanal sulfoxide, which increases the health promoting benefits of the onion. The allicin is also what makes your eyes tear up and gives garlic and onion their very pungent smell. Thus, the more intense the smell and the more tears that well, the more you’re benefiting your health.
The health benefits of bee pollen are numerous enough to justify their own separate blog article. It contains over 5,000 unique enzymes and can be added into things like smoothies and oatmeal. Not only do these enzymes aid the digestive process, but bee honey also contains natural antioxidants and helps to support immune system function.
The consumption of dietary enzymes is widely believed to add to our enzyme potential. All foods that contain any enzymes are raw. It is important to keep in mind that meats and eggs can be dangerous when consumed raw, because there is a risk of bacterial contamination.
Many high enzyme foods are also calorically high foods. As such, if you struggle with weight, there may be good cause to avoid consuming copious amounts in the pursuit of increasing your enzyme intake. For these reasons, enzyme supplementation is an excellent alternative when looking to optimize your health by increasing your enzyme consumption.
To support general digestive health, try supplementing with Enzymedica Digest Chewables, Enzymedica Digest, Enzymedica Digest Basic +Probiotics, Enzymedica Digest Basic, Enzymedica Digest Gold +Probiotics, or Enzymedica Digest Gold with ATPro.
To support with digestion of a high fat diet like the ketogenic diet, try supplementing with Enzymedica Lypo Gold.
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