Why Healthy Digestion Matters
"In addition to helping break down the food into nutrients, digestive enzymes support a number of other important functions in the body."
In today’s episode, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist is discussing the importance of digestive enzymes, and why we need to get enough digestive enzymes to improve our overall energy levels and health, especially as we age. We will get to know some great food options, lifestyle tips, and supplements that naturally improve digestion and ensure that our bodies are performing at optimal levels.
- 3:58: Where are digestive enzymes found?
- 4:28: Types of Digestive Enzymes.
- 5:39: Roles of Digestive Enzymes.
- 9:35: Now What?
- 15:17: Easy to Digest Foods.
- 19:55: Hard to Digest Foods.
- 24:18: Foods that have a high content of digestive enzymes.
- 33:04: Digestive Health Hacks.
- 39:37: Wrap Up.
As we age, our bodies produce fewer enzymes, and for some this can cause some serious issues — and you may not even realize what’s happening. Fortunately, this is easily correctable.
Where are Digestive Enzymes Found?
Digestive enzymes are naturally found in your body, especially in the mouth, stomach, small intestine, and pancreas. Specific digestive enzymes created in the body include:
- Lipase: These break down fats
- Amylase: These break down carbohydrates
- Proteases and peptidases: These break down proteins
Roles of Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes help break down the foods that we eat into smaller molecules and nutrients that are then able to be absorbed through the small intestine into your blood and then delivered throughout your body.
In addition to helping break down the food we eat, digestive enzymes support a number of other important functions in the body. It’s really important to know what they do so that if something goes wrong, then you can recognize a deficiency in digestive enzymes as a possible culprit. Some of the roles played by digestive enzymes include:
- Digestive enzymes support your body to reduce inflammation, especially chronic inflammation in the gut and in the digestive system.
- It also supports a healthy environment in the gut where good bacteria called probiotics thrive, which improves the body’s immune system.
- Enzymes reduce food sensitivities and food allergies.
- They improve the ability of your cells to produce energy.
- They reduce autoimmune responses throughout the body.
As we age, and especially when we have chronic health conditions like inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and chronic or debilitating stress, the body’s production of digestive enzymes can decrease to the point that it slows the gut’s ability to digest food. This causes constipation, gastrointestinal stress, bloating, increased gas, decreased energy levels, food sensitivity issues, and health problems resulting from increased inflammation throughout the body.
As always, keep in mind our equation on health which is: Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = A Healthier You.
That is really what we want to do. The goal every day is trying to minimize any kind of damaging inflammation that is creeping up and wreaking havoc in our bodies and making us feel ill, achy, and just less than optimal.
What are we supposed to do about this decrease in enzyme production? We are all getting older, so how do we make sure that our bodies continue to produce digestive enzymes at levels that are going to keep us healthy? Unfortunately, modern medical officials have one common solution; doctors will prescribe actual medication designed to deliver digestive enzymes to your gut. These enzymes typically have a special coating applied that allows it to survive stomach acid before the enzymes are directly absorbed by the small intestine. These prescription enzyme drugs are often harvested from pigs, cows, and even lambs.
It’s important to discuss any of your digestive issues with your doctor before making a decision on how best to address your low digestive enzyme needs but it’s worthwhile to point out that there are natural digestive enzyme supplement options from better sources. These are not prescription medications, and they are not regulated by the FDA, so if you do opt to take digestive enzyme supplements, you should choose from a company that you trust because the quality can vary. We recommend our own Smarter Nutrition Enzymes, because this broad spectrum enzyme supplement supports the stomach’s natural enzymes and improve the body’s ability to digest foods faster, and more efficiently.
"Broad spectrum" means it's a team of enzymes, each enzyme targeting a different nutrient: protein, carbohydrate, and fiber. It increases the availability of all of these nutrients in the body, providing the body with more energy. There’s nothing worse than eating a really healthy, organic, non-GMO diet and not being able to reap the benefits of what you’re eating because your belly just doesn’t have the good enzymes to process the food and absorb it. Smarter Nutrition Enzymes is a complete daily digestive enzyme supplement that performs multiple functions in the body, including:
- Increases nutrient absorption
- Helps food to pass through the digestive tract more quickly, reducing the risk of constipation.
- Relieves stress on the pancreas, liver, and kidneys.
- Helps boost the immune system.
Easy to Digest Foods
Foods that the body digests the most easily include:
- Saltine crackers (however, these are very inflammatory to the system because they contain white bread)
- White rice
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi
- Sweet potatoes
- Apple sauce
These fall under the Bread, Rice, Apple sauce, Toast (BRAT) diet, which is usually prescribed for any kind of GI issues, especially diarrhea or food poisoning. The BRAT diet includes nuts and seeds as well.
Hard to Digest Foods
When thinking of things that are easy or hard to digest, think about whether it will change the PH balance or the environment of your stomach lining. If it does, then it’s probably going to cause indigestion, or be difficult to digest. Such foods include:
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Acidic foods such as sodas and carbonated juice, orange juice, and citrus fruits throw off the PH balance of your digestive juices. Lemon juice and pineapple juice are both acidic when tested outside the body, but they leave traces of being alkaline in the body as it processes them, so these two are actually good for digestion.
The hardest meat to eat and digest is pork. It takes many hours for pork to be digested compared to beef.
Foods that have a high digestive enzyme content
There are many ways to address or prevent health issues by using natural, organic foods. Supplements are essential to fill in the gaps, but we can also address so many of these chronic issues by paying attention to the quality of the foods that we eat, and dealing with low digestive enzymes is no different. There are a number of all-natural foods that are high in natural digestive enzymes that can help improve our digestion. Try to increase your intake of:
How do you know if a pineapple is ready to eat? Check the very middle of the stalk on the very top and then pull the center of the leaf. If it pulls out easily, then it’s ready to eat. If it’s harder to pull out, then it’s not. Pineapples are amazing because they contain a group of natural digestive enzymes called bromelain which helps break down proteins into amino acids. It also helps fight inflammation, and it’s a fantastic healer. This is why pineapple is often considered a superfood.
When it’s nice and yellow, with a soft exterior, papaya is ready to eat. Unripened papaya tends to be green and hard. There are multiple breeds of papaya, and papaya contains a digestive enzyme called papain, which also breaks down proteins into building blocks including amino acids. Only eat ripe, raw papaya. Cooking or exposure to high heat will destroy these digestive enzymes. Make sure you also only eat organic, non-GMO papaya, since papaya is one of the top 10 commercially grown GMO crops in the United States. This means that they have been exposed to increased levels of pesticides and herbicides. So only buy organic, raw papaya. Do not eat the papaya seeds; scoop them out instead.
Raw Local Honey
Raw honey is delicious. Raw honey should be opaque, so you can’t see right through it. If you can see through honey, that means it's been heat treated and all of the digestive enzymes are dead, which negates the many benefits of eating honey. Raw honey is rich in digestive enzymes that break down starches, sugars, and proteins, so it’s important to get your honey raw.
These are so delicious, and they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Avocados also contain the digestive enzyme called lipase, which helps to break down fat molecules into smaller molecules that make it easier for the body to process and absorb the good, healthy fat. Avocados also contain lots of other cool enzymes for your body, including polyphenol oxidase which is responsible for turning green avocados brown when you cut them open. As we always say, an avocado a day keeps the inflammation at bay!
Used for thousands of years, ginger has tons of amazing health benefits. Besides being delicious and smelling great, it contains a digestive enzymes called zingibain. This has been shown to help food move faster through your digestive tract and boost your body’s own natural production of digestive enzymes. To keep ginger fresh, take one piece of paper towel, slightly wet it, and put in a bag inside the refrigerator.
Kimchi and Sauerkraut
These are fermented foods, where the fermentation process adds healthy bacteria and also provides enzymes and nutrients which all have important health benefits. Kimchi, for example, contains the probiotic bacillus species, which also helps with the production of a number of enzymes that help break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Digestive Health Hacks
It’s important to not only increase the production of enzymes in your body, but the amount of probiotics in your diet as well. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your GI tract. You need to feed, support, and nurture your GI tract with beneficial bacteria that will directly improve your healthy gut flora. Probiotics also help support your immune system and reduce chronic inflammation in the body. In addition to fermented foods, you can increase your intake of probiotics by taking a hearty probiotic supplement, such as Smarter Nutrition’s Gut Health Supplement which contains the top three probiotic strands.
Another digestive hack is the focus on effective eating habits. The way you eat plays a huge role in how your digestive system responds. By changing just a few of your eating habits, you may be able to improve your digestion dramatically. Here are things that you can do:
- Eat in a relaxed, quiet environment and focus on your food. No phones, no television, no texting, no social media, just you and your food. Do you know that when loud music is playing, or when it is darker and the environment includes a lot of the color red, you eat more and at a faster pace? Restaurants know about the social tendency to eat more when there are a lot of distractions, which is why there are usually plenty of screens, and dim lighting.
- Avoid eating when stressed, angry, upset, or even just in a bad mood. Put down the spoon! When you are feeling a flood of emotions, it’s not the time to eat. We have to retrain our minds to not default to that habit. It’s easier said than done but it’s important. Your brain and your digestive tract are closely connected. The way that you’re feeling when you eat really will impact your digestive system and can affect your digestive health.
- Make sure that you chew each bite of your food thoroughly before swallowing. Chew with your mouth closed as well but chew the food thoroughly. This action is actually considered the first step in your digestive process. The smaller your food is when entering your digestive system, the more efficiently it is broken down and the easier it is for the nutrients to be absorbed. Chewing is often the most overlooked step in the digestive process but not one to be taken lightly. Try chewing each bite of food 30 to 40 times and you will notice a big difference.
- Sit down when you’re eating and enjoy your food. We’re often eating on the go or in the car, and this is not beneficial. You’ll consume more calories this way, and won’t enjoy your food as much! If you make it a habit to sit down to eat, this will help with your digestive system.
- Stay hydrated. Water is extremely important for digestion. You should consume at least 80 ounces of filtered or spring water, not caffeinated or carbonated fluids, every day.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners as they seriously mess up the gut flora and the bacteria in your diet.
- Eliminate the gluten from your diet. Gluten is a common allergen and gut irritant. It causes a lot of inflammation and digestive issues.
- Drink one teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, in a small amount of water. Dilute it with some water before you eat. However, this should not be the first thing in the morning as it can really irritate your stomach lining. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar has many great health benefits including supporting digestive enzymes and overall digestive health.
Digestive enzymes occur naturally in the body. They are produced mostly in the pancreas, and are essential for helping break down food so it can be absorbed as nutrients through the small intestine, into your bloodstream. In addition to helping break down the food into nutrients, digestive enzymes support a number of other important functions in the body including reducing inflammation — especially chronic inflammation. We want the chronic inflammation to be reduced in the gut and in the digestive system particularly.
Enzymes support a healthy environment in the gut for good probiotics to thrive, which improves the body’s overall immune system, and supports proper immune function. They reduce food sensitivity and food allergies, improve the ability for your cells to produce energy, and reduce autoimmune responses through the body.
Unfortunately, as we get older digestive enzymes and their production slows down which can cause a number of health issues including increased gastrointestinal discomfort such as increased gas and bloating after we eat. Low digestive enzyme levels can also contribute to decreased energy levels, food sensitivity issues, and health issues resulting from increased inflammation throughout the body. We also talked about taking a natural enzyme support supplement daily like Smarter Enzymes.
We also discussed a number of natural food sources that are rich in their natural digestive enzymes, including pineapple, non-GMO papaya, avocados, raw honey, kimchi, fermented vegetables, and fresh ginger.
We shared a number of digestion hacks to help improve your digestive health including eating in a nice, relaxed, quiet, well-lit space, avoiding eating when you’re angry or you have a flood of emotions, chewing your food at least 30 to 40 times before swallowing, staying hydrated, avoiding artificial sweeteners and carbonated drinks, and taking a teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with water before eating.
Bonus tip: try to drink water 20 minutes before or 20 minutes after your entire meal. This is because when you drink water with meals, the water dilutes the digestive fluids and it throws off the gut.
We hope these tips help improve your digestive health. We also recommend starting Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet, which will help you learn to eat whole, natural, healthy foods that will reduce inflammation and improve your health.