Digestive enzymes are necessary for life. They act as the bridge and facilitator between turning the food we consume into the energy and nutrition we need. It turns your salad into the fiber you need for regular bowels, that steak you indulged in into the protein in your muscles, the fruits you eat into the antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals, that beloved avocado toast into healthy fats for your body’s hormone balance etc.
Both on a macronutrient and micronutrient level, enzymes are responsible for the chemical reactions that take place in our body, and there are specific enzymes needed for the specific breakdown of nutrients. This benefits your body because enzymes convert food into smaller absorbable molecules which then become useful components for our body. This is how your body builds muscles, creates new cells, grows and repairs itself, and produce and replenish energy.
With so many different kinds of nutrients our body needs to function its best, think proteins, fats, carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, your digestive system needs the right kind and the right amount of enzymes to break down these various nutrients.
To help put it further into perspective, think of enzymes as the thing you need to create. As an analogy, enzymes are what turns bricks and wood into a house, cotton and wool into clothes, paint and a canvas into art.
Do you need more enzymes?
Like mineral and vitamin deficiencies, your body too can suffer from enzyme deficiency. This is an often overlooked or underestimated deficiency because our body naturally creates its own enzymes and often the foremost thought and solution for optimum gut health is solely placed on probiotics (although probiotics are great too!).
Apart from the enzymes that your body creates, we obtain enzymes by consuming raw foods, which again stresses the point for striving for a varied whole foods diet with a lot of emphasis on eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This allows our body to get in a variety of enzymes to help break down the food and get all its nutrient-rich goodness.
When you consume too little enzymes, your body naturally tries to compensate for this by producing more of its own enzymes which is quite taxing on the digestive system and not as efficient at absorbing nutrients. With a chronic lack of fresh food, enzyme deficiency symptoms can crop up indicating that food isn’t being properly digested.
Look out for common enzyme deficient symptoms such as:
- Acid Reflux
- Diarrhea and/or irregular bowel movement
- Brain fog
- Dampened immune system
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, regardless if you eat healthily or not, you could be deficient in digestive enzymes. This is a cause for concern as over time, despite your hard-earned healthy eating habits, you still can be nutrient deficient simply because your body isn’t properly breaking down your food into a form that makes it absorbable and useful.
Food sources of digestive enzymes
As previously mentioned, different foods require different enzymes:
- Amylase breaks down carbohydrates into a variety of sugars
- Lipase breaks down fat fatty acids
- Protease breaks down protein into amino acids
To help your body break down these macronutrients, incorporate more enzyme-rich foods into your diet such as:
- Kefir and other fermented foods like kimchi, miso, yogurt, and sauerkraut (bonus points for also being rich in probiotics!)
- Raw honey
Fortunately, digestive enzymes can easily be incorporated into a healthy diet and supplements are also available to ensure that your body gets all the enzymes it needs.