You Should Be Eating Digestive Enzymes—Here Are 9 Foods High in Them
Help your body break down meals like a pro by adding these foods to your repertoire.
These days, it seems like digestive drama has become the status quo—but it doesn’t have to be. Besides steering clear of foods that cause you distress and relieving discomfort with over-the-counter meds, you can also give your body a leg up in the digestion department by eating more foods that contain natural digestive enzymes.
“Digestive enzymes naturally occur in the body to help break down what we eat so that important nutrients get to all the right places for proper utilization,” says NYC-based registered dietitian Brittany Linn, RD. However, if the body doesn’t make enough of certain enzymes (say, the enzymes necessary to break down the lactose in dairy products), this can slow the digestion process and lead to GI symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Fortunately, there are many foods that contain these important enzymes, the majority of which are best consumed raw to maximize the digestive benefits. “Many enzymes are very fragile and can be easily disrupted with chemical, pH, or temperature changes,” says Linn.
Below are nine foods that can help give your digestion a boost—plus, how to seamlessly add them to your diet:
“Pineapples contain bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that help to digest protein,” says Connecticut-based registered dietitian Alyssa Lavy, RD. Since bromelain, like other digestive enzymes, are sensitive to heat, upping your raw pineapple quota is the best way to maximize your intake. Try blending pineapple into your smoothies, adding pineapple chunks to your salads, or using pineapple as a meat tenderizer.
View Recipe: Banana-Pineapple-Kale Smoothie
If high-fat meals tend to give you trouble, consider avocados your new partner-in-crime. They contain lipase, an enzyme necessary for the metabolism and digestion of fat, says Kansas-based dietitian Cheryl Mussatto, RD, author of The Nourished Brain. Bonus: Avocados are super easy to incorporate into your diet—add to your morning smoothie, top your desk salad with avocado cubes, enjoy some guac, or bust out your favorite avocado toast recipes.
View Recipe: Avocado, Black Bean, and Charred Tomato Bowl
Best known as a go-to potassium source, bananas are also a source of enzymes like amylase and maltase, says Mussatto. Amylase helps to break down complex carbs, like those found in bread and cereals, while maltase helps to break down the malt sugar found in carbohydrate foods, like starchy grains and veggies. Top your cereal or oatmeal with bananas, blend one into a smoothie, or eat one straight-up the next time you’re in the mood for a snack.
View Recipe: Banana Nut Muffins
Like bananas, mangos also contain amylase, making it easier for your body to break down starches into smaller carb molecules and absorb them. Mussatto recommends sliced or chunked mango as a refreshing snack on its own or as a green salad topper for a healthy—and delish—splash of color.
View Recipe: Tuna Poke, Mango, and Avocado Bowl
The enzymes found in papaya are called papain, which help to break down protein, says Lavy. Heat can damage papain, so make sure to consume papaya raw for maximum digestive perks—for example, papaya wedges as a breakfast side, or cubed and added to salads and smoothies.
View Recipe: Papaya Breakfast Boats With Honey and Granola
6. Raw Honey
Among others, honey contains digestive enzymes called diastases, invertases, and proteases. These help to break down starches, sugars, and proteins, respectively. “Eating honey in raw form allows your body to yield all of the digestive benefits,” says Linn. “If you buy processed honey, it’s often heated during treatment, which can destroy the beneficial enzymes.” Drizzle it on toast, mix it into yogurt, or use it to sweeten your oatmeal.
View Recipe: Pecan-Crusted Honey Mustard Salmon
“Kefir is basically fermented milk with added yeast cultures, lactic acid bacteria, and acetic acid bacteria,” says Linn. It contains the digestive enzymes lipase (which breaks down fat), lactase (breaks down lactose), and proteases (protein). You can drink it straight up, add it to overnight oats, or blend it into your next smoothie bowl.
View Recipe: Thai Kale-Mango Salad With Coconut Kefir Dressing
Thanks to the fermentation process, sauerkraut is an excellent source of various digestive enzymes that can help your body break down proteins, fats, and starches. If going with store-bought, buy sauerkraut made with water and salt, not vinegar, says Mussatto. (This means that the sauerkraut was fermented and not pickled, leaving the digestion-friendly enzymes in tact.) Eat on its own, or as a side to any meal.
View Recipe: Savory Broccoli-and-Sauerkraut Salad
Not only does ginger contain an enzyme called zingibain that helps the body digest protein, it may also help to increase digestive enzyme production in the body, says Linn. This is on top of the role it already plays in nausea relief. Enjoy ginger in tea form, add it to your next stir fry, or grate some into citrusy drinks for that extra zing.
View Recipe: Chicken Thighs With Sesame-Ginger Glaze