What are enzymes & how do they help keep us healthy?
Enzymes are proteins that speed up reactions that take place within our body. They are found throughout our bodies and without them we would not be able to live. Digestive enzymes are a category of enzymes that help us breakdown and assimilate the nutrients from our food at a much faster rate. The most important thing to remember when it comes to enzymes is that they allow us to extract and absorb more nutrition from the food we eat. Higher nutrition from our food provides us with more nutrients to build, repair and maintain a healthy body. Enzymes have been shown to increase our energy production, increase the absorption of oxygen, fight infections, speed wound healing, reduce inflammation, carry out toxic waste, dissolve blood clots, regulate hormone function, and slow the aging process.
The body produces many enzymes naturally, but real food often comes with added enzymes to assist further with digestion. Although our body produces enzymes, food enzymes are also needed as we do not produce enough enzymes on our own. For example, lets consider the breakdown of an avocado. Our body produces an enzyme (called lipase), which helps in the breakdown of fats. Lipase is released as soon as our body begins digesting fatty foods like avocado. Lipase can also be found in fatty foods like avocado, which further assists us in the breakdown fats. Having enzymes present in food relieves the body of having to do all the work on it's own and helps us to reserve enzymes and energy.
Foods high in enzymes
Are you getting enough enzymes?
Unfortunately, the majority of us are not getting enough enzymes from our foods. If you eat a natural diet high in real foods, including the ones listed above, and prepare your meals fresh you are more than likely getting the enzymes you need. However, if your diet consists of packaged and/or processed foods or you eat out often, chances are you are not getting enough of natural enzymes.
For thousands of years humans have consumed foods high in enzymes, as they ate a diet filled with foods directly from nature. Our modern world, however, looks much different. Many foods today are made to last (be shelf stable) and are highly processed. This processing destroys the enzymes that we once got from our diet naturally. Enzymes are sensitive and are easily destroyed during heating and processing. Packaged and processed foods (foods that come from a box/package) are most often devoid of enzymes, as this helps them stay stable (last) on the shelf. Remember, from above, it is an enzymes job to breakdown food and that is exactly what it does. If your food does not spoil in a timely manner (as is the case with packaged & processed foods), chances are it is missing the necessary enzymes. Each time we eat we need these enzymes to be present to properly digest and absorb nutrients from that food.
The problem with a diet low in enzymes
A diet low in enzymes can cause many problems but primarily it over taxes our system. We need enzymes to breakdown our food, so a diet low in enzymes will cause the body to work harder creating extra enzymes. Low enzyme diets can place extra stress on organs such as the pancreas and gallbladder, causing them to constantly be working at building new enzymes. Over-stressed organs can begin to wear out and experience dysfunction. This is where digestion issues can arise. In addition, we also use more resources and energy when creating new enzymes, which can lead to fatigue. Lower amounts of body produced enzymes can result in improper digestion of food resulting in inflammation. Inflammation is believed to be a key cause in many chronic diseases and is important to control. Making sure you are getting enough enzyme rich foods is one way to help keep inflammation at bay and maintain healthy and happy digestion.
Enzymes & Food Intolerance/Sensitivities
Food intolerances and sensitivities are quickly becoming common as a result of our modern food system. As mentioned above, processing and heating kills beneficial enzymes making them harder for our body to properly digest. Modern dairy is one such example. Most dairy products are heated (pasteurized), which kills and destroys naturally occurring enzymes, including the enzyme Lactase. Lactase helps to break down Lactose, a sugar found in milk. The Lactase enzyme is needed for us to be able to properly breakdown and absorb nutrients from milk. However, when this enzyme is destroyed during the pasteurization process, milk and dairy become much harder to digest, resulting in poor digestion and even lactose intolerance. Raw milk and dairy products contain this valuable enzyme and many people who are lactose intolerant can consume raw dairy products without problems.
Gluten sensitivities and intolerance are also on the rise as well. Properly prepared whole grains, including whole wheat, contain enzymes necessary to assist with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. The problem arises when grain products are processed. Again, the over processing and improper preparation of grain products kill important enzymes making digestion of them difficult. Proper preparation of grains and bread require either soaking or souring (think real sourdoughs) to enhance enzyme activity, improving and easing digestion.
How To Get More Enzymes In Your Diet
Consuming plenty of the foods listed above will help ensure you are getting enough digestive enzymes to support your health. Listed below are some of the foods with the highest levels of food enzymes.
Posted by Dr. Keri Linane, D.C., Chiropractor
Revive Chiropractic Studio
Montclair Village, Oakland