Foods With Naturally Occurring Digestive Enzymes

If you're looking to start an enzyme diet, you'll find that enzymes in food are very common. They are an essential part of the digestive process, and without them, your health can suffer. But filling your diet with these important nutrients isn't as difficult as you might think.

If you're looking to start an enzyme diet, you'll find that enzymes in food are very common. Credit: Arx0nt/iStock/GettyImages

Since there are so many fruits and vegetables rich in these nutrients, it will be easy to incorporate them into your diet. Dietary supplements may help too. Whether you need help digesting protein, fat or sugars, there may be a supplement that can provide your body with what it's missing. As with all medical decisions, you'll want to consult a physician to stay on the safe side.

Why Are Digestive Enzymes Important?

Enzymes are the biological catalysts that allow for chemical reactions to occur, according to a review published in the October 2015 edition of Essays in Biochemistry. Some increase hydration and others cause oxidation, and then there are digestive stimulators. You can get these nutrients from a variety of sources. Your body produces some, while others are found in food.

Dietary supplements are a good source of enzymes too. However, the enzymes in food will be absorbed best if taken from natural sources rather than supplements. Enzymes are critical for the digestion of food as they help break down fats, carbs and proteins.

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.

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

Read more: Are Supplements Safe? Here's What You Really Need to Know

Protease, the Protein Enzyme

An essential enzyme for your diet is protease. It helps break down protein in the small intestine, according to a review published in the February 2016 issue of Current Drug Metabolism. There are several different types of protease enzymes that all perform similar actions through various processes. And since that process involves breaking down protein, it's critical to your health.

Pineapple is an excellent source of protease, according to a study in the June 2017 issue of Phytochemistry. It has such high concentrations of proteases that it's used to create extracts of this vital digestive catalyst.

Another option is papaya. A study featured in BMC Genomics in January 2018 has found that papaya uses protease to protect itself from herbivores.

Rice bran is a healthy choice too, as noted in a study published in the July 2016 issue of PLOS One. There should be additional studies, though, since it hasn't been studied as much as other food sources. Whichever source you choose, protease from plants is particularly viable due to its sustainability at varying pH and temperature levels.

The Role of Lipase

Lipase breaks triglycerides down to fatty acids and glycerol. It's responsible for fat digestion, as noted in a review published in the journal Gastrointestinal System in March 2014. And since it regulates fat metabolism, you'll want to make sure you add it to your enzyme diet.

Avocado is a good source of lipase, according to a February 2016 review featured in Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology. As pointed out in a study from the Annals of Tropical Medicine & Public Health- Special Issue in March 2019, turmeric contains high doses of lipase as well as amylase. This spice is often used in dietary supplements because of its high enzymatic activity.

Kimchi, a popular fermented food, contains both protease and lipase. These enzymes are formed during the fermentation process, enhancing the nutritional value of pickled vegetables. Miso is another good source, along with tofu, due to the same fermentation process. Consume these foods regularly to fully reap the benefits and keep your digestive system running smoothly.

Amylase for Starches

To help break down starch, you need amylase. There are lots of different natural sources where you can find the enzyme for breaking down starch.

Amylase is found in all different types of life forms, from vegetables to animals, as noted in a study from the July 2016 issue of PLOS One. Crustaceans have large amounts of amylase, although more research is needed to determine if the meat-eating crustaceans have more than those that abstain from meat. Rolled oats are a delicious option for an enzyme diet, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology in September 2016.

A review posted in in the December 2017 issue of Clinical Biochemistry noted that high levels of amylase are a common biomarker for pancreatitis. If that's the case, you should pack your diet with foods that inhibit this enzyme. An April 2015 study from Food Chemistry states that barley may have this effect. Beans of common varieties have amylase inhibiting qualities as well.

The Maltase Enzyme

The enzyme that breaks down malt sugars, food starches and absorbable glucose is maltase. Low levels of this enzyme can make it difficult to break down starches into usable glucose. A deficiency can slowly cause weakness throughout the body. This effect is most notable in the respiratory system.

Weakness and low energy can have a multitude of causes, so consult with a doctor if you suspect that your diet is deficient in maltase. There are several delicious foods you can add to your diet if that's the case.

Bananas are a nutritious source of maltase, according to a research paper from the January 2017 issue of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Green bananas appear to be the most beneficial. Scientists noted that cereals contain some maltase as well, but at a significantly lower concentration. And since bananas are a nutritious whole food option, they're better for your digestive health.

Digestive Enzymes Found in Supplements

Sucrase is produced by your body to break down simple sugars_._ If your body doesn't produce enough sucrase, you may have congenital sucrase–isomaltase (SI) deficiency, which may result in chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. The cause of the pain and other gastrointestinal issues is a buildup of undigested sucrose. The left-behind sucrose can then ferment inside of you, adding to your digestive woes.

Lactase handles the breakdown of the sugar found in dairy, or lactose. It may benefit people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. Those who have a lactase deficiency may not be able to digest lactose properly. Eating even small amounts of cheese or yogurt can leave them feeling bloated, nauseated and gassy. In this case, lactase supplements may help.

Read more: How to Determine if a Vitamin or Supplement Is Actually Right for You

While food isn't usually a source of lactase, you can find it as an additive in certain products, such as whey protein. That's because of the prevalence of lactose intolerance. Of course, you may find that you prefer taking a supplement rather than trying to get enough lactase from food.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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