We hear about enzymes and that they’re important to our health, but what are they really? And what function do they serve in our bodies? Here I’ll break it down into straightforward terms and offer tips on the best way to obtain them.
Enzymes essentially act as a trigger for a range of chemical reactions and interactions in our bodies. They are the catalysts for regular functions like thinking, sleeping, eating and digesting, but they themselves don’t actually change. We need enzymes to live, as they pair with vitamins and minerals (coenzymes) to work in our bodies. This is the reason they are so vital to good health, since missing certain enzymes may cause an imbalance in us and make an aspect of what should be an automatic body function work abnormally, or not at all.
Enzymes exist in every cell in the body and are the worker bees of the cell. They help to fight the signs of aging, assist in the repair of damaged tissues, and support us in fighting off inflammation, disease and infection. Each type of enzyme has one specific function.
Enzymes can be broken down into three categories:
- Digestive enzymes
- Food enzymes
- Metabolic enzymes
These worker enzymes break down food into much smaller particles, creating nutrients that our bodies can absorb. They naturally exist in our bodies but can also be obtained from supplements. They start in our mouths, where they are specific to starches and there are several other types at different stages along the digestive tract.
Starches are complex sugars (carbohydrates) – think of a string with small beads in a row, all linked together. This is why chewing is SO important! Especially when eating breads and pasta, we need the enzymes in our mouths to prep the food for smooth sailing down the digestive line, enabling other enzymes to do their work properly. I recommend biting down at least twenty times before swallowing any mouthful of food. You shouldn’t strain to swallow or need water to get a mouthful down. Just try it, and then pay attention to how you feel after that meal. Are you bloated? Experiencing acid reflux? Feel overly full? If you chewed well, chances are the answer is no. If it’s not, something else is likely going on. One statistic I love to share is that it takes twenty minutes for the stomach to communicate to the brain that it’s full. TWENTY MINUTES! People can wolf down a lot of food in that period of time? Want to lose a few pounds? Take the time to chew.
Here are a few of the barriers for to us naturally produce vital enzymes ourselves:
- Stress -How many of us can say we always eat in ideal circumstances, calm and focused on our meal? How many meals do you eat at your desk or on the go?
- Eating only cooked foods -Any raw food haters out there? Salad is your friend.
- Overeating -I still do this from time to time and always regret it.
- Ingesting the same types of foods, over and over – Favourite meal anyone?
- Existing digestive challenges -Lactose intolerance, or gluten or soy sensitivity.
- Taking certain medications – If you can’t avoid this, look for supportive options.
- Toxins – Many toxins exist in the environment.
These factors put added stress on the pancreas, which plays a large role in digestion and produces many digestive enzymes. I place a big focus on the digestive element since small changes can often have a large, positive impact on people feeling better.
Digestive enzymes also act as the clean-up crew for any unwanted products in the body, such as toxins and bad bacteria. The more nutrients we can absorb, the more toxins are removed and the better we feel. Those who aren’t absorbing nutrients properly may face a lack of energy or the inability to sleep through the night. There are suggestions on what you can do in the key.
It’s obvious where these come from, but it’s important to note that plant enzymes, unlike animal-sourced enzymes, begin the process of breaking down food independently of our enzymes or digestive process. Variety should be the main focus here, and only raw and traditionally fermented foods count (so does supplementation) if you’re looking to get the most enzyme density. Cooking at any temperature begins to kill food enzymes, so the hotter it gets, the fewer the food will contain. Eating traditionally fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut alongside a meal introduces helpful enzymes, as well as good bacteria that support balance in our digestive tract. It seems like plants exist on this planet for us to eat since they work so well with our bodies! One of my personal mantras is Eat-A-Rainbow because we obtain different enzymes from different coloured foods, so get out of your comfort zone next time and try some varied veggies to give your meals a spectrum of colours.
Our bodies make these important enzymes, as you may have guessed, they relate to our metabolism. They work to keep our cells healthy – they are involved in tissue growth and regeneration, proper organ function, blood health, energy level, and cleaning out damaged portion of our cells. Digestive enzymes can be absorbed and used as metabolic enzymes, which reduce inflammation and offer healing functions. They may work as a support tool for anyone with a history of poor eating habits, as enzymes can assist in repairing damage within the digestive tract.
As you have seen, the enzyme world is a complex place! The upside of knowing what they do for us is that you can safely try my tips at home and see if you notice any difference. One final tidbit I’d like to share is about enzyme supplements, which can be very helpful if you’re newly including more legumes and/or raw veggies into your diet and are experiencing gas and bloating. Papain (from papaya) and bromelain (from pineapple) are the two that I recommend. Renew Life has some fabulous options.
- CHEW! And chew, and chew. Avoid beverages thirty minutes before and after meals. This allows your stomach acid, which most of us lack, to do its work. Acid reflux often occurs due to a LACK of stomach acid even though it feels like too much is present when experiencing that burning sensation.
- Incorporate raw foods each day, especially veggies. Hate salad? Try carrot, celery and pepper sticks with a chickpea hummus. This is a great snack that will help keep you full.
- Allocate time to focus on your meal and only your meal. Thirty minutes is a good start.
- Eat a rainbow of colours. Food enzymes come in all colours so create colourful combos.
- Enzymes are generally best taken with meals to support the breakdown of foods at mealtime.
- Enzymes can be used therapeutically (to heal the body) when taken between meals.
- Plant and algae sourced enzymes do exist, but there is less variety on the market since animal sourced (from animals or humans) one have a higher density of enzymes.
- Enzymes are not habit forming. While they do offer the body a break from having to produce all the enzymes necessary to properly digest foods, they don’t cause the body to lose the ability to create them.
Before deciding on a digestive enzyme, ask yourself – Am I eating the right way to obtain the enzymes my body needs?
Link to my site http://www.nutritiouslife.ca/2016/11/24/enzyme-importance/