9 Foods That Are Naturally High in Digestive Enzymes

Help your body break down meals like a pro by adding these digestion-friendly foods to meals and snacks.

These days, it seems like digestive drama has become the status quo. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they've experienced at least one gastrointestinal woe over the past week, according to a 2018 article published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Pictured Recipe: Green Goddess Sandwich

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 registered dietitian Brittany Berman, RDN. 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 Berman.

Below are nine foods that can help give your digestion a boost—plus how to seamlessly add them to your diet:

1. Pineapple

"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, is 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. Try this Pineapple Green Smoothie.

2. Avocados

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 salad with avocado cubes, enjoy some guac or bust out your favorite avocado toast recipes. Want some inspiration? Go for this Avocado-Egg Toast.

green goddess sandwich
Victor Protasio

3. Bananas

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. Want more? Try one of these 26 Healthy Recipes to Make with a Bunch of Ripe Bananas.

4. Mangos

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. This Mango & Avocado Salad hits the spot when paired with grilled chicken or fish.

5. Papaya

The enzyme found in papaya is called papain, which helps 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. For info on how to cut papaya the right way, check out these instructions.

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 Berman. "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. Spread this Homemade Honey Butter on some whole-grain toast.

7. Kefir

"Kefir is basically fermented milk with added yeast cultures, lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria," says Berman. 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. Never had kefir before? This Berry-Kefir Smoothie is a great recipe to start out with because the sweet berries help balance kefir's tang.

8. Sauerkraut

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 intact.) Eat it on its own or as a side to any meal. You can make sauerkraut at home, too. Try this Simple Sauerkraut recipe.

9. Ginger

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 Berman. 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. Feeling adventurous? Go for these Turmeric & Ginger Shots.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles