While on holiday I overheard a lady asking for papaya to complement her breakfast and to aid better digestion. This inspired me to write this month’s article – how we can eat foods to speed up our metabolism. The summer holidays can often result in periods of overeating so it’s worth thinking about how we can help our digestive system to recover and help get us back into ‘pre-holiday’ shape!
Digestive enzymes are produced in the body and found in the gastrointestinal tract.
They are secreted from salivary glands, small intestine, pancreas and stomach. Known as metabolic enzymes they play an important metabolic role in digesting food. Food is digested in order for it to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine and into the blood stream.
Although raw papaya may not be so popular due to its pungent smell, nutritionally this fruit has very much to offer. It is a great source of fibre, Potassium, Mg and Calcium (1). Papaya fruit contains the proteolytic enzymes papain (which is very similar to our digestive enzymes and hence can smell a little like vomit!) and chymopapain before ripening, however the enzymes are not found in the ripe fruit.
Proteolytic enzymes help to break down proteins into smaller protein parts called peptides and amino acids and aids better digestion. Papaya is commonly used as an ingredient in meats tenderisers. Carotenoids are also found in papaya fruit which help to increase beta-carotene and vitamin A in nursing mothers (2).
Pineapple (ananas), similar to papaya contains a mixture of proteolytic enzymes, specifically the digestive enzyme bromelain. This group of enzymes is found in the flesh and stem of the pineapple plant. The active ingredients in bromelain include proteinases and proteases which help to break down protein into smaller fragments.
Bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in treatments to reduce nasal inflammation in sinusitis. Animal studies have suggested (3) that bromelain can reduce the symptoms (such as diarrhoea) associated with intestinal infection caused by bacteria Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholera (4).
Naturally, raw honey contains small amounts of enzymes. The main ones are diastase (amylase also found in the saliva), invertase and glucose oxidase. Depending on the type of floral combination, others can also include different variations of enzymes such as catalase and acid phosphatase. Diastase and amylase convert complex carbohydrates (such as starch) into simpler, smaller soluble sugars such as glucose or maltose and helps to accelerate the rate of its digestion in the stomach aiding faster absorption (5).
Kimchi contains bacteria of the Bacillus species, which produce enzymes lipases, proteases, and amylases (6). These enzymes help to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Breaking down these components into smaller parts helps food to move faster through the digestive tract aiding better digestion. Kimchi is also a great source of vegetable probiotic food which contain lactobacilli bacteria. Probiotics also help to maintain healthy digestion.
Alongside many health benefits such as immune promotion or anticancer benefits, probiotics also support colorectal health and help with weight loss. Studies confirm that overweight participants eating food containing Lactobacillus fermentum or Lactobacillus amylovorus reduced their body fat by 3–4% over six weeks (7). This suggest that probiotics may have microbiome and body composition modifying properties by altering energy and maintaining a healthy lipid profile.
Ginger root contains the digestive enzyme zingibain, which is a ginger protease. This enzyme helps to break down protein into smaller particles which are then digested and absorbed more effectively. Ginger is also known for relieving flatulence and for promoting the removal of excess of gas from the digestive track. Its carminative properties help reduce the symptoms of nausea, motion sickness and indigestion. Ginger has also been used as a natural laxative, improving bowel movement and relieving constipation.
Ginger promotes an increase of salivary flow and gastric motility (8). These factors combined help to move food through our system so that issues like fermentation in the gut or gas build up are less likely to occur. Ginger has also historically been used as a meat tenderizer (9), adding it to marinades will help to achieve very tender and tasty dishes!