As a beginner to the raw food diet, you’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time researching to ensure your transition is the easiest. In addition to that, you’ve probably run into discussions with enzymes, especially digestive enzymes. You may have noticed that we provide live digestive enzymes in the form of organic, non-GMO, nutrient-packed supplements and have perhaps thought to yourself: do you need them? Should you get these? What are digestive enzymes and their importance to your diet anyway?
Can digestive enzymes help fight bloat, improve a leaky gut, or improve symptoms of diabetes? Surprisingly, there are some very valid, scientifically proven benefits to cultivating suitable digestive enzymes both in plant and supplement form. Let’s dive into everything about it!
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Our bodies make enzymes within our digestive systems, including the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and small intestines.
Digestive enzymes are released when we:
- Anticipate eating
- Smell and taste food
- Go through the digestive process
Without healthy digestive enzymes, our bodies wouldn’t break down our foods to absorb the nutrients we need. A lack of beneficial digestive enzymes can lead to various GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms and issues and leave us dangerously malnourished, even when eating raw food.
Healthy digestive enzymes assist our bodies in breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from the food we eat. Enzymes are crucial for the optimal absorption of all the nutrients our body needs to function and ensure that those nutrients in food don’t go to waste.
Certain health conditions can interfere with the production of digestive enzymes. When our bodies lack healthy digestive enzymes, this can lead to poor digestion and malnutrition. One such condition is called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI. When this happens, healthcare providers and experts will recommend digestive enzyme supplements.
Digestive Enzyme Types
Each of the many different digestive enzymes is created to target a specific nutrient to be split up and absorbed by our body. The essential digestive enzymes are:
Amylase is pivotal for digesting carbohydrates. Amylase breaks down starches and turns them into sugars. Both our salivary glands and pancreas produce this enzyme.
Our small intestines release maltase. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down malt sugar (maltose) into glucose (simple sugar.) Our bodies use glucose for energy. During digestion, amylase breaks down starch into maltase, in which the maltase enzyme changes maltose into glucose. Our bodies then use the glucose immediately or store it in our livers as glycogen for future use.
Lactase-phlorizin hydrolase or Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. This enzyme changes lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. This enzyme is produced by cells known as enterocytes that line our intestinal tract. Lactose that is not absorbed or cannot be absorbed, such as for those who are lactose intolerant, ends up fermented by bacteria in the gut, which causes gas and upset stomach. This enzyme is only necessary when eating dairy products or drinking cow milk.
The lipase enzymes aim to break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol (simple sugar alcohol). These enzymes are produced in small amounts inside our mouths and stomach, with more significant amounts being released by our pancreas.
Also known as peptidases, proteolytics, or proteinases, these digestive enzymes break down protein and turn it into amino acids. They also play an essential role in numerous body processes, including:
- Cell division
- Immune function
- Blood Clotting
Proteases are created in the stomach and pancreas.
Secreted by our small intestine, Sucrase breaks down sucrose (the sugar found in table sugar, for example) and turns it into fructose and glucose, which are simpler sugars that the body can absorb.
How Do Digestive Enzymes Work?
Whether your body produces digestive enzymes naturally or through supplementation, these break down the vital nutrients you need from food, converting them into vitamins, minerals, energy, and other essentials that your body can absorb more fully. Once the digestive enzymes have worked to break down the food we eat, the broken-down nutrients get absorbed through the wall of the small intestine and then distributed throughout the bloodstream.
As a result of that absorption and distribution, digestive enzymes can help prevent malabsorption and many related digestive discomforts that come from foods that are difficult to digest.
What Are Some Natural Raw Sources of Enzymes?
To help your body in breaking down meals, try adding some of these foods into your raw diet meal plans:
- Pineapple. Pineapples contain bromelain, a mix of enzymes that help digest protein.
- Avocados. These contain lipase, which helps metabolize and digest fats.
- Bananas. Not only a great source of potassium but an excellent source for amylase and maltase to break down complex carbs.
- Mangos. Like bananas, mangoes also contain amylase.
- Raw, certified organic honey. Raw, organic honey contains diastases, invertases, and proteases, helping break down starches, sugars, and proteins.
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso tend to have amylase, lipase, and protease altogether, making fermented foods a powerful source of enzymes.
The Importance of Digestive Enzymes to your Diet
In short, enzymes are vital for good health. Your body produces them, and they can be found in raw fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods and available in supplemental form.
If you have:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Pancreatic cysts or benign tumors
- Blockage or narrowing of the pancreatic or biliary duct
- Pancreatic cancer
- Pancreatic surgery
- Cystic Fibrosis
And you aren’t taking supplementary digestive enzymes, now is the time to start!
Should you suffer from EPI (Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or frequently suffer symptoms such as:
- Excessive gas
- Cramping after meals
- Yellow, greasy stools
- Foul-smelling stools
- Weight loss even though you are eating well
Then adding digestive enzymes to your diet could prevent these symptoms and allow you to digest food and get the optimal nutrients your body craves, even if you don’t suffer from EPI or any chronic diseases above.
Without digestive enzymes in our bodies, the food we eat can soon lead to uncomfortable symptoms, leading to food intolerances and eventually nutritional deficiencies which can cause further damage. With healthy digestive enzymes, your body can absorb the powerful nutrition in the fresh, raw, non-GMO, pesticide-free fruits, and vegetables we eat to further fuel our body’s natural ability to heal.