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digestion 6 min read

Digestive enzymes 101: why they’re key for supporting nutrient absorption & GI health

You probably already know that fiber and probiotics are important for maintaining regularity and good gastrointestinal health, but digestive enzymes also play a crucial role. These substances are naturally produced by the body to help you break down food, which is why we’ve included a blend of 5 different digestive enzymes in Ka’Chava.

Here, learn more about digestive enzymes, how to support your body’s own production of digestive enzymes, and how to get more through your diet.

What are digestive enzymes?

While the chewing action of your teeth and the churning of your stomach help mechanically break down food into smaller particles, digestive enzymes chemically break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates (a.k.a. macronutrients) into smaller molecules that can be absorbed through the intestines and into the bloodstream for use in the body. So, without digestive enzymes, you would not be able to fully break down the foods you eat and utilize the nutrients they contain.

Some key digestive enzymes produced by the body include:

  • Amylase: Breaks down complex carbohydrates (made in the mouth and pancreas)

  • Protease: Breaks down proteins (made in the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine)

  • Lipase: Breaks down fats (made in the mouth, pancreas, and stomach)

  • Lactase: Breaks down lactose (made in the small intestine)

Digestive enzymes are released at various stages of digestion to ensure the optimal breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients. The first of these enzymes are released through the salivary and lingual glands in the mouth (which initiate the digestion of carbs and fats), then additional enzymes are secreted through the stomach (which digest proteins) and the small intestine (which further digest carbs, proteins, and fats).

How to support your production of digestive enzymes + get more from your diet

There are some simple ways to support your body’s production of digestive enzymes along with overall digestive health. Here are a few to consider:

1. Stay calm and chew thoroughly. 

Ever notice how you eat super quickly when you’re stressed? Well that’s a recipe for digestive upset. Before each meal, make a point to get into a relaxed state (or at least semi-relaxed)—taking a few deep breaths and putting down your phone always helps. Then, make sure you’re chewing each bite thoroughly, as chewing triggers the release of enzymes and primes your whole GI tract for digestion.

2. Eat foods that contain natural digestive enzymes.

For overall digestive health, consuming a minimally processed diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods, including plenty of veggies, can go a long way. But adding in foods with naturally occurring digestive enzymes may offer an additional benefit. Consider incorporating some of these into your diet.

  • Ginger: Ginger contains a protease called zingibain, which helps digest protein. Preliminary research suggests ginger also increases the body’s own production of amylase and lipase.
  • Mango: Mangos contain amylases, which assist in the digestion of carbohydrates and starches.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple contains a protease called bromelain, which helps digest protein. Ever feel like your tongue was burning a bit after eating lots of fresh pineapple? You have bromelain to thank for that.
  • Banana: Bananas contain amylases and glucosidases, both of which help break down carbohydrates and starches.
  • Kiwi: Kiwi contains a protease called actinidain, which helps digest protein.
  • Fermented foods: Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and miso contain probiotics and digestive enzymes—a one-two punch for good digestive health. 

3. Consider Ka’Chava for one of your meals. 

In addition to other digestion-friendly ingredients like fiber and probiotics, Ka’Chava contains a blend of five digestive enzymes to support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. These enzymes include all those mentioned above (amylase, protease, lipase, lactase) in addition to cellulase. Unlike the others, cellulase isn’t naturally produced by the human body, but it does assist in the breakdown of cellulose, which is a component of plant and vegetable fibers.

The Bottom Line…

Digestive enzymes play a crucial role in optimally breaking down food and absorbing nutrients, so you can feel and function your best. Making sure you’re taking a moment to de-stress before you eat—and to chew your food thoroughly—can help support your body’s digestive enzyme production. And consuming a diet rich in minimally processed foods that naturally contain digestive enzymes, or taking a digestive enzyme supplement, may also help. (Keep in mind: If you’re experiencing severe GI symptoms, speak to your doctor who can run appropriate lab work and guide you on a proper course of treatment.)

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