Meat to be eaten and digested

Foods rich in protein like meat, cheese and beans take much longer to digest compared to fruit, vegetables, grains or fat. That’s because long chains of amino acids have to be converted into single building blocks. You can improve the protein digestion process significantly if you’re eating the right foods after having a protein rich meal. That way you’ll help your body and avoid feeling heavy and sluggish. Find out more about foods that help digestion of protein.

Protease enzymes

The digestion process of proteins begins in the stomach with the help of hydrochloric acid and pepsin- a protease enzyme. Proteins consist of long chains of amino acids that can’t be used as such but have to be broken down into individual building blocks. These building blocks are then used to build specialized protein molecules like hemoglobin, muscle cells, hormones and many others that are essential for life. Protease enzymes are breaking the bonds in protein molecules and make individual amino acids available. As such they are essential in the process of digesting protein from meat, fish, dairy and eggs.

protein digestion process

Protease enzymes are produced by the pancreas and activated in the stomach and small intestines where most of the protein digestion takes place. But the pancreas isn’t all mighty. A diet filled with processed food, stress and pollution makes your body work very hard to provide the necessary enzymes for food digestion. In fact enzyme deficiency and low pancreatic enzyme levels are quite common due to modern lifestyle habits. An additional problem is that enzyme levels naturally decline with age. This results in bloating after meals, loose stools and vitamin deficiencies.

There exist different kinds of enzymes which are not only involved in the digestion of proteins but in many other essential processes. Digestive enzymes in particular regulate the whole digestion process and make it possible to extract nutrients from food. The more enzymes you have the less stress you put on your body while it is digesting food, which gives it a chance to regulate and heal itself. Enzymes are essential for your health and the more you have the better.

How you can help the digestion of proteins

Fortunately your body doesn’t have to do all the work by itself. There are several ways you can help your body process proteins faster and more efficiently. Here are some of them:

1. Eat enzyme rich foods that help digestion

Certain foods contain enzymes that your body doesn’t produce, but can effectively digest proteins. When you’re eating these foods you’re speeding up the digestion of proteins in the stomach and help your body process food more quickly. This can make you feel better and “lighter’ especially after having a large protein rich meal. Here is a list of the most protease rich foods.

  • Kiwi
    Kiwi fruit

    Kiwi is the first on this list because it contains a powerful proteolytic enzyme called actinidin. Actinidin has been proven to digest food protein even better than pepsin, the main protease enzyme found in the human body. As an added benefit with a kiwi fruit comes vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, potassium, antioxidants and excellent sources of fiber. Simply eat some kiwi fruit after eating a meal to help digestion.
  • Pineapple

    The stem and juice of pineapples contain bromelain which is a protease enzyme that helps digest protein in a similar way like pepsin. Pineapple juice is traditionally used as a meat tenderizer because of its bromelain content. Bromelain has also been linked to many health benefits like the reduction of swelling after surgery, preventing the forming of blood clots, preventing pulmonary edema and even preventing cancer.
  • Papaya
    Papaya contains papain a protease enzyme that similar to bromelain has traditionally been used as a meat tenderizer. It’s a powerful enzyme that can effectively help your protein and fat digestion.  It’s also used against inflammation and for treating infected wounds and skin conditions.
  • Mango
    mango sliced
    Mango also contains protease enzymes which help the digestion of proteins. Mango is a good choice to help digestion because it also contains amylase, an enzyme that helps digestion of carbs and starch. That way you’ll help your metabolism even more. Eating one of the most popular fruits in the world will also give you a boost in vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, potassium and magnesium.
  • Figs
    fresh figs

    Fresh figs contain ficin, another protease enzyme that helps break down protein. Ficin is commercially extracted from the fig tree but is also found in fresh fig fruits. Figs are a good addition to any diet as they are high in fiber and potassium.
  • Ginger
    Ginger root

    Ginger protease or zingibain is the reason why having a cup of ginger tea isn’t a bad idea after a big meal. Due to this enzyme, ginger can help digest your meal more quickly.
  • Sprouted seeds and legumes

    Whole grains are a good source of protease enzymes but the amount of enzymes increases several times if you sprout the seeds. Sprouted seeds are a rich source of enzymes including protease. For example wheat and rye contain high levels of protease. When you sprinkle some fresh sprouts over your salad you’ll definitively get a boost of enzymes.
    The only down side to sprouted grains is the fact that they carry a risk of food poisoning. Seeds need warm and humid condition to sprout, unfortunately these are the same conditions bacteria thrive in. That’s why sprouts have been associated with several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses worldwide. They are not recommended for children, older people, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems. Unfortunately the only safe way to consume sprouts is to cook them but that will destroy all the beneficial enzymes in them.

As you can see many of the foods rich in protease enzymes are fruits. Don’t hesitate to eat fruit on a full stomach because it doesn’t have any negative effect on your health. The myth about fruit rotting in your stomach if you eat it right after a meal is not based on any scientific evidence. By eating these fruits you’ll help your body digest food more easily and get all the health benefits associated with consuming fruits.

Eat more fruits and vegetables raw

One more way to provide more enzymes to your body is to eat fruit and vegetables raw. Enzymes are found in raw fruits and vegetables, but they are very sensitive to cooking. You shouldn’t heat fruit and vegetables over 116 F (47 ° C) or the enzymes will be destroyed. In other words it’s best to eat more raw fruit and vegetables.

Lower caloric intake

If you’re overweight or consume more calories than necessary you should consider to lower your caloric intake to help your body. When you eat less, less digestive enzymes are necessary which gives your body the chance to put its energy into other important metabolic process. This way you’re helping your body to do its magic and repair itself as much as possible.

Eating protein is essential for your health but it makes your body work hard. If you’re eating a protein rich diet you’re putting a lot of strain on your metabolism. Simply help your body do the hard work of protein digestion and take care to provide your body with plenty of enzyme rich foods.

Photo credit: Mango with section on a white background,  Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site., Jun 19, 2013.