Digestive enzymes: what they are, what they are for, where they are found

The point on digestive enzymes, fundamental for our body, with the nutritionist Giulia Temponi

Maria Elena Perrero

Bromelain, lactase, amylase, transferrase: names you may have already heard, but not many know what they mean. Let’s talk about enzymes, protein molecules present in every living being, which perform very important functions for all the chemical reactions of the organism, including digestion. “The enzymes they have the role of catalyzing all the reactions that take place in our organism, or of favoring or accelerating certain chemical reactions “, he explains to Official Active Dr. Giulia Temponi, nutritionist biologist.

Enzymes: what they are

An important distinction is that between metabolic and digestive enzymes: “Digestive enzymes are the basis of all processes digestive occurring in the gastrointestinal tract. There are different types, depending on the nutritional element that the enzymes must break down. The main ones are lactase for lactose, amylase for starches, protease for proteins, lipase for lipids (or fats), glucosidase for glucose (or sugar), transferrase for iron, beta-glucanase for beta glucans. Each substance has its own enzyme that separates it – explains Dr. Temponi -. The metabolic enzymes instead, all the other enzymes are needed for all the biochemical reactions of the body ”.

What are digestive enzymes for?

In the field of food and nutrition, the role of enzymes is critical. “Already during the chewing of food a pre-digestion takes place thanks to the enzymes present in the saliva. Then, continuing with the digestion of food, there are various enzymes in the stomach, pancreas, liver and intestines ”.

Lack of enzymes and food intolerances

L’Lactose intolerance it is probably one of the best known and most widespread food intolerances, and is due precisely to the lack of an enzyme, lactase. And so it is for other food intolerances. “A deficiency of some enzymes determines phenomena of food intolerance since the molecules that make up the food are not adequately broken down into smaller parts suitable for absorption in the small intestine. This over time can lead to inflammation in the intestinal villi which will be followed by abdominal swelling, inadequate production of B vitamins and weakening of the immune system. If we are deficient in enzymes, our digestion will take longer and the body will tend to accumulate waste and swelling ”, warns the nutritionist.

Where are the enzymes found

However, there are many foods that contain enzymes. “Certainly vegetables, and in particular broccoli, green leafy vegetables, fennel, carrots, courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers – explains Temponi -. Fruit also contains enzymes: especially papaya, rich in papain, which improves digestion; pineapple, which it contains bromelain, enzyme that favors the breakdown of proteins ingested during the meal; strawberries, rich in enzymes capable of activating fat metabolism; kiwis, which they contain actinidin, an enzyme with proteolytic activities that can, among other things, be used to soften meat before cooking. And then there are fresh sprouts, fermented foods (like kefir), ginger, oil seeds and dried fruit ”. If it is true that all of these foods contain enzymes, because the effect is the desired one, it would be good to consume them before a meal: “In this way digestion is favored and intestinal and abdominal swelling are avoided, preventing phenomena of fermentation. A salad before the meal would be optimal, while eaten at the end of the meal it tends to ferment more. Fruit should also be consumed between meals for the same reason. Furthermore, to fully exploit the enzymatic activity of fruit and vegetables, these should be consumed fresh and raw, since the high temperatures denature the enzymes “. Other enemies of enzymes are alcohol, smoking and stress, which “can reduce their assimilation”.

Enzymes and supplements

If you follow a balanced and varied diet, therefore, it is usually not necessary to resort to integrations of enzymes. “Then there are certain enzymes that can be useful in the case, for example, of intolerances, such as lactose. In this case, if I do not always want to give up lactose-containing foods that time I eat a pizza or cheese, I can take a supplement at the time of the meal. But not every day – underlines the nutritionist -. Then there are supplements formulated with more enzymes than they are digestive-enzymes, that is, able to split several molecules. They are used with meals to avoid fermentation phenomena when our body is unable to break down all the introduced molecules. But even these should only be taken as part of a correct and balanced diet ”, explains Dr. Temponi.

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