Digestive enzymes help your gut break down foods and deliver healthy vitamins, minerals, protein, and more to your body.
What are digestive enzymes?
When you eat, your digestive system—especially your stomach and intestines—get to work gleaning protein, vitamins, fats, and carbs from your food. These nutrients enter your bloodstream, and your body puts them to use for energy, growth, and repair.
But none of this could happen without digestive enzymes; according to the experts at Harvard Medical School, the three main types are:
- Protease pulls proteins from food and converts them into amino acids and small peptides to build and repair.
- Amylase breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars for energy.
- Lipase breaks down fats into fatty acids.
Other enzymes, lactase, maltase, and sucrase, are each responsible for breaking down different types of sugar. Lactase breaks down the sugar found in dairy. Maltase breaks down maltose, sugars in malted sugar. Sucrase breaks down sucrose, which comes from sugar cane or beet syrup.
Although your body produces the enzymes, you can give your digestive system a hand by eating foods that are naturally high in these digestive helpers. And if you’re not a fan of that food? Check out the links to supplements that supply the same enzymes.
In the dairy section, look for this fermented milk beverage that’s thick and creamy. While studies suggest it can deliver a variety of health benefits, kefir is primarily sought out for its good-gut health benefits, including probiotics and digestive enzymes. In kefir, digestive enzymes like lipase, lactase, and protease are created when bacteria in the beverage develop. As the bacteria grow and multiply, the number of nutrients and enzymes expand, too.
Despite being a milk beverage, kefir may be safe for people with lactose intolerance (their body cannot make the lactase enzyme). Research suggests, however, that kefir might improve digestion of lactose. Kefir isn’t the only dairy food that’s good for your gut.
“Honey is a superfood when it comes to enzymes since it contains amylase, protease, diastase, and invertase,” says Miriam Amselem, a holistic nutritionist. Diastase breaks starches into digestible maltose. Invertase breaks sucrose into easy-energy sources glucose and fructose. “Make sure to eat it raw,” Amselem adds. Heated honey has none of the good-for-you has fewer intact enzymes—just remember that raw honey can be dangerous for children under the age of one and pregnant women. Here are some more surprising health benefits of honey.