Enzymes In Food: High-Enzyme Foods
Enzymes in food add to the enzymes made by our bodies. This is a nutritional benefit in addition to the vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients in the food. Some foods—all raw or cultured—have a high level of enzymes and are listed here. For the benefits of these foods, see the discussion below the list.
Here’s how food combining works:
Each macro nutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) digests at a different speed and each requires different digestive enzymes to be broken down. If you eat foods at the same meal that have opposing digestive requirements, they’re considered bad food combinations. Bad food combinations can result in an intestinal backup, which can cause symptoms such as gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps.
General Food Combining Guidelines
1. Eat Fruit Alone
Fruit is a simple sugar that digests very rapidly (under 30 minutes), so combining fruit with other foods can slow down the process and cause digestive distress. You should eat fruit 30 minutes before a meal and 1 hour after. It’s still important to eat fruit even though it doesn’t combine well with other foods. It’s an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals that we need for healthy cells, energy, and digestive function.
Let’s take eggs with fruit for example: Eggs are a protein, which can take between 3 to 4 hours to digest. Since the fruit only takes 20 to 30 minutes to digest, combining it with a protein will create digestive backup. Eat fruit alone and on an empty stomach so that it doesn’t have the chance to ferment. Fermentation in your GI tract not only leaves you feeling gassy and bloated, but can also create a feast for bad bacteria.
One exception to the rule would be smoothies: Fruit in smoothies already “chewed up”, so fruit can be combined with other nutrients in smoothies, such as chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, dark leafy greens, and plant protein. Because smoothies are already liquid they don’t stress the digestive system. Keep this in mind with other meals – chewing your food until it’s liquid will help support digestion, assimilation of nutrients, and overall health.
2. Pair Protein with Non-Starchy Vegetables
In order for protein to be digested, it needs an acidic environment and plenty of digestive enzymes. Protein can be paired with leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, peppers, celery or broccoli. Since vegetables have their own enzymes, they don’t require an alkaline environment for digestion and therefore don’t interfere with the acidic environment required by protein.
List of High-Enzyme Foods
This list is compiled from Edward Howell’s Enzyme Nutrition, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, Anthony Cichoke’s The Complete Book of Enzyme Therapy, and Steve Meyerowitz’s Wheatgrass, Nature’s Finest Medicine.
All foods are raw or (in the case of some fermented foods) never heated after fermentation.
Certain foods are high in enzymes, too, though they’re broken down during digestion. While certain cultures eat high-enzyme foods for the perceived benefit of boosting digestion, there’s not much evidence to show that enzymes help. Several high-enzyme foods offer other benefits, though, so they’re still worthwhile additions to your diet.
Fermented chilli peppers, cabbage, radishes and seasonings give kimchi its spicy and sour flavor, and researchers say the traditional Korean side dish has numerous health properties. Bacteria in kimchi produce beneficial enzymes, according to a review published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Biotechnology International. For example, the dextransucrase enzyme kimchi bacteria produce helps break down starches and the sugar sucrose. In addition, kimchi contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, fiber and chlorophyll.
Apricots are rich in a mixture of enzymes, including invertase, according to Anthony J. Cichoke, author of “Enzymes: The Sparks of Life.” The invertase enzyme breaks sucrose down into fructose and glucose units so your body can use these rapidly absorbing carbohydrates for quick energy. Invertase is also an antioxidant enzyme with free radical-scavenging activities. Antioxidants in your diet play a crucial role in preventing free radicals — unstable molecules — from causing cellular damage.
Avocados are a good source of various enzymes, including lipase, according to Cichoke. The lipase enzyme is needed to break down dietary fat. Your pancreas produces lipase, so it’s typically not vital to get it from your diet. Lipase supplements might help relieve indigestion, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but it’s not clear whether dietary lipase offers the same benefit. Enjoy avocados on salads, and make guacamole by blending avocado with chopped tomato, onion and cilantro.
In addition to their rich potassium content, bananas are a good source of the enzymes amylase and maltase. Amylase is one of the primary enzymes that breaks down carbohydrates found in foods like bread, potatoes and cereals. Like lipase, your pancreas produces amylase to facilitate digestion. Maltase breaks down maltose, also called malt sugar. Maltose is a less common sugar composed of two glucose units and found in corn syrup and beer.
Pineapples contain bromelain, which consists of various enzymes that digest proteins. According to a review published in the journal Cancer Letters, research indicates bromelain may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. When a bromelain supplement was tested on human platelets in the lab, it prevented them from sticking together, so it may be helpful for preventing blood clots, although more research in humans is needed.
Saw palmetto berries
Vegetables, Grains, and Herbs
Sprouts (According to Howell, sprouts contain the most enzymes when they are 1/2″ long.)
Wheat germ (raw)
Nuts and Seeds
Coconut (but not coconut oil)
Germinated tree nuts
Sea Vegetables and Algae
Butter (raw and unpasteurized)
Milk (raw and unpasteurized)
Other cultured dairy products
Pickled vegetables (raw)
Soy sauce (traditionally made)
Benefits of high-enzyme foods
Enzymes are special proteins that act as the life force in living beings. In both plants and animals, enzymes carry out all the activities of metabolism. Some enzymes from the plant or animal’s life are retained in uncooked food. When you eat this food, the enzymes can continue their activity.
One activity is to help digest the food itself!
- The raw avocado contains the enzyme lipase that breaks down the fat (lipids) in the avocado.
- Unpasteurized milk contains lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the milk protein lactose. People with lactose intolerance actually lack the ability to produce enough lactase in their digestive system. They often can’t comfortably drink pasteurized milk, but can drink unpasteurized milk that includes its own lactase.
- Raw beef contains the enzyme cathepsin. Beef that is aged is tenderized by the action of this enzyme.
Other foods contain enzymes that affect other foods.
- Raw pineapple and raw papaya contain protease enzymes that digest protein. They are often used as tenderizers and marinades.
As we age, or under toxic conditions, our body’s ability to produce enzymes is compromised. Enzymes in food, or enzyme supplements, help take the pressure off our need to produce digestive enzymes. In particular, an overworked pancreas can be relieved.
Consumed enzymes do indeed help our bodies in ways not thoroughly understood, but the case for their promoting health and alleviating disease has been well made.
High-enzyme foods are high-calorie, special superfoods such as those listed above that are also raw or never re-heated.
The heating of food destroys its enzymes. Cooking, canning, pasteurization – all permanently deactivate any enzymes in food.
All foods that have ANY enzymes are raw. They are:
- Raw: never been heated
- Raw cultured (fermented) foods
- Foods cultured after cooking and never re-heated. These contain enzymes from the fermentation process, not from the original food.
Specific enzymes work on specific foods. You need the right type of enzyme for the foods you want it to break down. Think of the foods you have problems with and then choose a product that contains at least those types of enzymes. Here is a list of the common enzyme types and foods they act on.
Digestive enzymes are enzymes that break down food into usable material. The major different types of digestive enzymes are:
• amylase – breaks down carbohydrates, starches, and sugars which are prevalent in potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and many snack foods
• lactase – breaks down lactose (milk sugars)
• diastase – digests vegetable starch
• sucrase – digests complex sugars and starches
• maltase – digests disaccharides to monosaccharides (malt sugars)
• invertase – breaks down sucrose (table sugar)
• glucoamylase – breaks down starch to glucose
• alpha-glactosidase – facilitates digestion of beans, legumes, seeds,
roots, soy products, and underground stems
• protease – breaks down proteins found in meats, nuts, eggs, and cheese
• pepsin – breaks down proteins into peptides
• peptidase – breaks down small peptide proteins to amino acids
• trypsin – derived from animal pancreas, breaks down proteins
• alpha – chymotrypsin, an animal-derived enzyme, breaks down proteins
• bromelain – derived from pineapple, breaks down a broad spectrum of proteins, has anti-inflammatory properties, effective over very wide pH range
• papain – derived from raw papaya, broad range of substrates and pH, works well breaking down small and large proteins
• lipase – breaks down fats found in most dairy products, nuts, oils, and meat
• cellulase – breaks down cellulose, plant fiber; not found in humans
• other stuff
• betaine HCL – increases the hydrochloric acid content of the upper digestive system; activates the protein digesting enzyme pepsin in the stomach (does not influence plant- or fungal-derived enzymes)
• CereCalase™ – a unique cellulase complex from National Enzyme Company that maximizes fiber and cereal digestion and absorption of essential minerals; an exclusive blend of synergistic phytase, hemicellulase, and beta-glucanase
• endoprotease – cleaves peptide bonds from the interior of peptide chains
• exoprotease – cleaves off amino acids from the ends of peptide chains
• extract of ox bile – an animal-derived enzyme, stimulates the intestine to move
• fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – helps support the growth of friendly intestinal microbes, also inhibits the growth of harmful species
• L-glutamic acid – activates the protein digesting enzyme pepsin in the stomach
• lysozyme – an animal-derived enzyme, and a component of every lung cell; lysozyme is very important in the control of infections, attacks invading bacterial and viruses
• papayotin – from papaya
• pancreatin – an animal-derived enzyme, breaks down protein and fats
• pancrelipase – an animal-derived enzyme, breaks down protein, fats, and carbohydrates
• pectinase – breaks down the pectin in fruit
• phytase – digests phytic acid, allows minerals such as calcium, zinc,
copper, manganese, etc. to be more available by the body, but does not break down any food proteins
• xylanase – breaks down xylan sugars, works well with grains such as corn
Other general terms for enzymes referring to their general action instead of specific action
- Endopeptidase: Enzymes that cleave proteins only on the inside
- Exopeptidase: Enzymes that cleave proteins only on the outside (terminal) part
- Aminopeptidase: Exopeptidase that cleaves at the amino terminating end
- Carboxypeptidase: Exopeptidase that cleaves at the carboxy terminating end
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