Enzymes are crucial to your health as they enable your body to break down food components into usable nutrients. Your intestines and pancreas produce a wide variety of enzymes, and certain foods contain these beneficial constituents or contain bacteria that produce them.
Certain foods are high in enzymes, too, though they're broken down during digestion. While certain cultures eat high-enzyme foods for the perceived benefit of boosting digestion, there's not much evidence to show that enzymes help. Several high-enzyme foods offer other benefits, though, so they're still worthwhile additions to your diet.
Fermented chilli peppers, cabbage, radishes and seasonings give kimchi its spicy and sour flavor, and researchers say the traditional Korean side dish has numerous health properties. Bacteria in kimchi produce beneficial enzymes, according to a review published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Biotechnology International. For example, the dextransucrase enzyme kimchi bacteria produce helps break down starches and the sugar sucrose. In addition, kimchi contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, fiber and chlorophyll.
Apricots are rich in a mixture of enzymes, including invertase, according to Anthony J. Cichoke, author of "Enzymes: The Sparks of Life." The invertase enzyme breaks sucrose down into fructose and glucose units so your body can use these rapidly absorbing carbohydrates for quick energy. Invertase is also an antioxidant enzyme with free radical-scavenging activities. Antioxidants in your diet play a crucial role in preventing free radicals -- unstable molecules -- from causing cellular damage.
Avocados are a good source of various enzymes, including lipase, according to Cichoke. The lipase enzyme is needed to break down dietary fat. Your pancreas produces lipase, so it's typically not vital to get it from your diet. Lipase supplements might help relieve indigestion, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but it's not clear whether dietary lipase offers the same benefit. Enjoy avocados on salads, and make guacamole by blending avocado with chopped tomato, onion and cilantro.
In addition to their rich potassium content, bananas are a good source of the enzymes amylase and maltase. Amylase is one of the primary enzymes that breaks down carbohydrates found in foods like bread, potatoes and cereals. Like lipase, your pancreas produces amylase to facilitate digestion. Maltase breaks down maltose, also called malt sugar. Maltose is a less common sugar composed of two glucose units and found in corn syrup and beer.
Pineapples contain bromelain, which consists of various enzymes that digest proteins. According to a review published in the journal Cancer Letters, research indicates bromelain may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. When a bromelain supplement was tested on human platelets in the lab, it prevented them from sticking together, so it may be helpful for preventing blood clots, although more research in humans is needed.
- Biotechnology Research International: Fermented Fruits and Vegetables of Asia: A Potential Source of Probiotics
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Bromelain
- Enzymes: The Sparks of Life; Anthony J. Cichoke
- Unviersity of Maryland Medical Center: Lipase
- Elmhurst College: Maltose
- Cancer Letters: Bromelain's Activity and Potential as an Anti-cancer Agent: Current Evidence and Perspectives
- In Vivo: Bromelain Proteases Reduce Human Platelet Aggregation in Vitro, Adhesion to Bovine Endothelial Cells and Thrombus Formation in Rat Vessels in Vivo.