Have you ever wondered how the macronutrients in food – fats, carbohydrates and proteins – get where they need to be in your body? This is where digestive enzymes come into play: They move macronutrients, vitamins and minerals out of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream where they participate in functions such as growth and repair. If the body is deficient in these enzymes (due to genetics, illness, or food allergy), food cannot be properly digested.
Major Digestive Enzymes:
- Proteases break down protein into amino acids and peptides.
- Lipases break down fat into three types of fatty acids.
- Amylases break down carbohydrates into simple sugars.
Other enzymes target specific sugars:
- Lactase breaks down the sugar in milk.
- Maltase moves maltose, which is produced from starch, and converts it into glucose that the body uses for quick energy.
- Sucrase works on sucrose and converts it into other sugar molecules.
Deficiencies in digestive enzymes often result in gastrointestinal distress after eating food that contains a starch, fat, or protein the body cannot break down. For example, if you’re deficient in lactase, you’ll feel ill (bloating, cramps, gas) after eating dairy products.
Digestive enzymes are naturally present in many foods. Pineapple and papaya are rich in proteases and can help ease symptoms of IBS. Mango and banana contain enzymes that break down starches. Other excellent sources of digestive enzymes include kefir, sauerkraut, honey and ginger. To reap the benefits, eat these foods at their peak freshness and chew mindfully as saliva activates many enzymes. Eat fruits raw as heating destroys the enzymes.
When treating digestive dysfunction, food allergy or sensitivity, a holistic physician may recommend dietary changes along with enzymes in pill form. Many factors influence how you should take these enzymes (before, during, or after a meal). Your holistic practitioner can help determine how digestive enzymes can best support your health.
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