8 Foods High in Digestive Enzymes for a Healthier Gut

Eating foods with digestive enzymes can help support your health.
Image Credit: LeszekCzerwonka/iStock/GettyImages

Enzymes play a role in many of the chemical reactions in your body that keep you healthy and alive. They're particularly important for your digestive health, as they help your body break down and absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.

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What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes are biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions, according to a November 2015 study in ​Essays in Biochemistry​. When an apple starts to turn brown from exposure to the air, for example, it's because enzymes in the apple are reacting with the oxygen. There are several types of enzymes, and each has a specific function.

Digestive enzymes are involved in every part of the digestive process, from the time food enters the body until the time it's eliminated. There are enzymes that help break down fats, carbs and proteins, and others that help with hydration, according to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

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You can get enzymes from a variety of sources. Your body produces some, while others are found in food. Eating foods with digestive enzymes as part of a well-balanced eating plan is a great way to support your health.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

According to the NIDDK, there are three main types of digestive enzymes that help break down macronutrients in your diet:

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  • Proteases​ help with the breakdown of proteins, so your body's tissues can repair and grow.
  • Amylases​ help break down starches, which provide most of the energy your body uses.
  • Lipases​ are enzymes that do the job of digesting fats. They break triglycerides down into fatty acids and glycerol.

Some of these digestive enzymes are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and other foods. Keep scrolling for a list of foods with digestive enzymes.

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Warning

Having high levels of amylases is a common biomarker for pancreatitis, according to a December 2017 review in ​Clinical Biochemistry​.

If you have or are at risk for the condition, eat foods that inhibit this enzyme instead. Barley may have this effect, according to an April 2015 study in ​Food Chemistry.

1. Pineapple

Pineapple is rich in an enzyme called bromelain, a protease that helps with protein-breakdown, according to a September 2016 paper in Biomedical Reports. Bromelain may help reduce inflammation, particularly sinus and nasal inflammation. It's also been linked to improved immune function and wound healing.

On top of that, bromelain has antimicrobial properties, per the ​Biomeidcal Reports​ research. The research found that it can help fight a type of bacteria called candida albicans, which may cause fungal infections.

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2. Papaya

Papaya is full of papain, a protease which helps with protein digestion. Some research suggests that papain may help in relieving heartburn, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Other research on papaya supplements show that it may be helpful in treating digestive symptoms, such as constipation, bloating and heart burn, per the results of a 2013 study in Neuro Endocrinology Letters.

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If you're looking for something to add to your diet that might support your digestion, there's no harm in cutting yourself a slice of papaya. Just make sure you don't eat too much.

3. Honey

Honey has entire list of digestive enzymes. That makes it one of the most potent enzymatic foods out there. The enzymes in honey include amylase, diastase, invertase, glucose oxidase and alpha-glucosidase.

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Diastase was found to help break down starch in a August 2017 study in Food Chemistry. Similarly, amylase helps the breakdown of starch by turning it into sugars, according to March 2017 research in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

4. Bananas

Bananas share an enzyme with honey: amylase. As mentioned, amylases break down starch into sugars. Amylases cause the sweetening of bananas as they ripen, according to a March 2016 study in Scientifica.

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Bananas are also a nutritious source of maltase — the enzyme that breaks down malt sugars, food starches and absorbable glucose — according to January 2017 research in ​Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition​. Green bananas appear to be the most beneficial.

The scientists noted that cereals contain some maltase as well, but at a significantly lower concentration. And because bananas are a nutritious whole-food option, they're better for your digestive health.

5. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that has a sour taste and is frequently touted for its health benefits. It is loaded with one of the best digestive enzymes: proteases.

As mentioned earlier, proteases help break down proteins in your diet. Kefir also contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support your gut health.

6. Avocado

Avocado is a good source of lipase, according to a February 2016 review in ​Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology​. Lipases break down fats into smaller fatty acids that are easier for the body to absorb.

Your pancreas makes lipase, but eating avocados may help support digestion in other ways. They're also high in fiber and healthy fats.

7. Kimchi (and Other Fermented Foods)

Kimchi, a popular fermented food, contains protease, lipase and amylase. These enzymes are formed during the fermentation process, which enhances the nutritional value of vegetables, according to Janauary 2017 research in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Other fermented foods that have naturally occuring digestive enzymes include miso, saurkraut and tofu.

8. Garlic

Good news for garlic-lovers: This delicious bulb is full of alliinase, according to a December 2018 study in ​Integral Blood Pressure Control.​ Alliinase has been linked to lower blood pressure, making it one of the best digestive enzymes for people at risk for heart problems.

Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

Some people are deficient in these compounds, making it difficult for them to eat certain types of food. Over time, nutrient deficiencies can lead to a variety of health issues.

According to Clinical Education, digestive enzyme deficiency symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • GI issues, such as IBS
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Feeling full after eating very little

If left unaddressed, chronic enzyme deficiency can lead to:

  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Poor immune function
  • Fatigue
  • PMS
  • Crohn's disease

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references

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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