Our bodies produce substances called digestive enzymes that break down what we eat into smaller building blocks that we can absorb. There are three main types of these enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. They can be found in our saliva, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. As we get older, we get wrinkles, aches, pains, and BONUS: we produce fewer and fewer of these enzymes. That makes the business of digesting a LOT more difficult. Ugh.
We can spend our entire paycheck at Whole Foods and eat all the veggies, but if we don’t have enough enzymes to break those healthy foods down, our bodies won’t absorb the nutrients we need. Fortunately, there are several pretty simple things we can do to boost the production of these enzymes.
CHEW. YOUR. FOOD.
I wrote an entire post on this subject alone. Chewing your food and allowing your mouth an opportunity to create more saliva is key to the digestive process. That mouth is the first stop that your food makes along the digestive tract, and it’s overlooked as the important gateway that it is. Though we can safely swallow bits of food without choking, you notice some of those same bits of food coming out the other end, if you know what I’m sayin’. Try chewing each bite until it’s in more of a puréed state
Try these foods
Turns out, mother nature has our back. She wants to help us out, so she packed certain foods with digestive enzymes to make our lives easier. Pineapple and papaya contain high levels of protease, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down protein. Mangoes and bananas have a different enzyme type called amylase to help us process starch. And the good news we’ve all been waiting for….AVOCADOS also have digestive enzyme superpowers, since they contain lipase that helps us break down fat. Yup, I just gave you another reason to eat avocado everything. You’re welcome.
Probiotic rich foods also contain hearty amounts of all three types of digestive enzymes, so go ahead and throw in some sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and apple cider vinegar, too. Raw honey is also a badass and contains protease and amylase to help our bodies process proteins and carbohydrates.
Experiment with a supplement
Getting what we need from whole foods is always the best way to go, but when your gut is a hot mess, you might need some extra support. And that’s ok! Supplements aren’t the answer to all of life’s problems, but they aren’t the enemy either. In certain situations, supplementing is a good way to support the body during times of illness, trauma, or healing. If you’re in a state of digestive distress or working on repairing your gut, that counts.
When choosing a digestive enzyme supplement, look for one that has a combination of protease, amylase, and lipase to cover you for a variety of food choices. Some digestive enzyme supplements also include hydrochloric acid, which gives your stomach acid a boost. Take it as directed on the label with a small sip of water just before your first bite of food. You can safely double the dose as well to experiment with the effects, especially for a heavy meal. Then wait and feel the magic happen! (And by magic, I mean not feeling awful/gassy/bloated/heartburny.) Be willing to try more than one brand if your first pick doesn’t pack the punch you’re looking for.
Digestive problems can sometimes be complex, and it can seem like all the healthy foods and supplements in the whole damn world won’t make a difference. If you’ve tried the tips in this article and are still clutching your tummy on the toilet, there’s hope! Working with a functional medicine practitioner or health coach is a path forward to get you the individualized support you need to get better. Schedule a free consultation here or search for a functional practitioner in your area to start taking small steps towards better gut health.