Digestive enzymes are protein molecules that serve as catalysts in speeding up the digestion processes in our body. They do this by breaking down nutrients in food particles such as carbohydrates, protein and fats into smaller and simpler molecules, such as glucose, amino acids and fatty acids to be absorbed into the bloodstream easily.
As our body is capable of producing its own enzymes, there is no need for a healthy person to consume external enzyme supplements to “improvise” the digestive processes. However, if one experiences various digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating or flatulence (especially after having heavy meals or overindulging in festive CNY snacks and cookies), taking some enzymes could be handy to facilitate digestion (and resolve our guilt of course). Instead of relying on extracted or even artificial enzymes, why not munch on some foods listed below for their naturally-occurring enzymes to give your burdened, over-working belly a quick break this festive season.
Ever heard of the saying “When you eat a pineapple, it eats you back”? Pineapples contain a group of digestive enzymes called bromelain, which breaks down protein into its building block, including amino acids. Fresh pineapple juice is often used as a marinade as it helps to tenderise tough cuts of meat.
Since our body tissues, including our tongue are essentially made up of protein, you now know why eating too much pineapples in a short span of time causes the stinging sensation in your tongue. However, do not attempt to use this excuse for gobbling more pineapple tarts as you want as bromelain is destroyed under high baking temperatures.
Papaya is another good source of digestive enzymes known as papain, which also breaks down protein the same way as the pineapple. A lot of the enzyme supplements out there uses papaya extract as the main ingredient which claims to relieve constipation and reduce body toxins (at a hefty price of course) when you could have just eaten a slice of papaya. However, always go for unripe or green papaya to reap the benefits of the enzymes as they are no longer present in the ripe ones.
For pregnant mothers, be very careful though about eating unripe papaya as they contain latex that could cause unwanted contractions and increases risk of miscarriage.
Honey is one of the most popular health foods around, containing various beneficial compounds and exhibiting antibacterial and antifungal properties at the same time. As a healthier alternative to white or processed sugars, honey is rich in natural antioxidants and various enzymes such as diastases, amylases, invertases and proteases, which work together to break down starch and protein into smaller molecules for easier digestion.
However, since most commercial honeys are heavily processed and pasteurised which destroy all the enzymes during these processes, you should look for raw, unfiltered honeys such as Biogreen Raw Honey or Etblisse Pine Honey to enjoy the natural goodness.
Unlike any other fruits, avocados are uniquely high in fat content – not just any fats, but healthy monounsaturated fats which can help to lower bad cholesterol and fighting inflammation, causing it to fast gaining popularity in the past decade as a “Superfood”. Other than its amazing nutritional profile, avocados also contain digestive enzyme known as lipase, which helps to break down fats into smaller fatty acid molecules to be absorbed easily. Just throw in a few slices of avocado next time you are expecting to eat some really fatty foods (no pun intended)!
Both as a spice and traditional medicine that has been used for thousands of years, the benefits of ginger on our digestive system are unquestionable. In addition to containing digestive enzyme zingibain which helps in digesting protein, spices like ginger also can help to boost our body into making its own digestive enzymes such as amylases and lipases. The benefits of ginger does not end here, as it also helps to speed up stomach emptying to improve digestion, relieve bloating, reduce stomach cramping and soothe nausea and vomiting, making it one of the best home remedies to deal with any stomach upset.
This article is written by KC Lim (BSc Nutrition and Community Health (UPM) │ Biogreen Nutritionist) for Green Image Organic Enterprise Sdn. Bhd.