Column: Digestive Enzymes, Prebiotics, and Probiotics as Keys to Diet

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A good diet begins with the intake and intake of more than 40 essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat components. What may seem like a simple process at times involves many types of digestive enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics.

question: What is the Difference Between Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics, and Prebiotics?

reply: The absorption of nutrients from food and absorption into the body requires a complex digestive process. First, the food components are broken down by stomach acid and special proteins called digestive enzymes. These smaller pieces of food are then absorbed through the intestinal wall and transported around the body to repair or build new tissue and perform thousands of other functions. Specific digestive enzymes help the body process fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

The digestive and absorption process requires maintaining healthy intestinal cells and a balanced mix of beneficial microorganisms – often referred to as a healthy microbiome. Probiotics provide beneficial organisms that can promote health in the lower part of the intestine. Prebiotics are food components that escape digestion in the upper intestine and essentially nourish the microbiome. Overall, this combination of enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics supports the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Q: Which foods contain digestive enzymes, prebiotics or probiotics?

ON: Some foods that contain digestive enzymes for protein are pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and ginger. Mango and banana contain an enzyme that converts starch into sugar. The effects of these enzymes are small compared to the digestive enzymes normally produced internally by the body. Prebiotics are generally found in high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Probiotic bacteria are found in cultured and fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, poi, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Some foods are considered both prebiotic and probiotic.

Q: Can Taking Additional Digestive Enzymes, Prebiotic, or Probiotic Products Improve Intestinal Health?

ON: Many healthy people do not need digestive enzymes. In people with lactose intolerance, taking the enzyme lactase immediately before consuming dairy products digests the milk sugar lactose and prevents symptoms of lactose intolerance. In addition, Beano is an enzyme product that can reduce gas by breaking down complex carbohydrates found in foods such as beans, some vegetables, and whole grains. Gluten-degrading enzymes are a promising therapeutic approach for gluten intolerance, but not yet for celiac disease.

Other digestive enzyme products are available, but their benefits are less predictable.

The effects of prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements can vary from person to person. Some of this may be due to the uniqueness of an individual’s microbiome. It could also be related to the wide-ranging composition and strength of prebiotic and probiotic supplements.

Many probiotic supplements require refrigeration, which can degrade quality if not properly stored. Eating foods that promote a healthy gut can be a more reliable source of promoting a healthy microbiome.

Alan Titchenal and Joannie Dobbs are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa.