We’re nearing what is essentially the indigestion Super Bowl this week and bringing you a slew of insights from registered dietitian, Keri Glassman.

Yesterday, we talked about digestion cheats that will keep you feeling well. Today, it’s all about digestive enzymes – what they are, how they work and why you need them. Keri is helping is “break it down”…

It’s fascinating what happens to our Thanksgiving feast the second it goes from fork to lips. And some things are best left as mysteries, but we are talking about our bods here, so being in the know about what’s going on in there has a few benefits – especially beating the bloat on Turkey Day. Our bodies are amazing vessels, teeming with activity you may not know much about. In the name of food coma prevention, let’s demystify together. Here are a few basics about how the digestions process works and the enzymes you need to stay well…

When any meal begins, the body enters into mechanical digestion mode. This is the chewing and chomping of your food to break it into bits that can pass through your esophagus. Most of us don’t think much about what happens next, but knowing what’s going on, may make it easier to keep your pants buttoned.

With food broken down from large to small, digestion kicks into chemical mode. This is when enzymes come into play. Enzymes are proteins that break down the food you ingest into even smaller particles, taking them all the way down to their simplest chemical forms – the forms your body can use. Enzymes help the nutrients get to your blood so they can go where your body needs them most. Between the yum in your mouth, and the comfortably full (yes it’s possible!) feeling in your belly, there are an army of digestive enzymes hard at work.

Thanksgiving is a big process from start to finish and the same is true of your digestion. Here’s what happens with each dish…

Enzymes for Carbohydrates

The spit in your mouth actually has a big purpose. It holds amolytic enzymes, like ptyalin and amylase. Like pushing the shopping cart down the aisles to get to checkout, they get to work breaking down carbs in the form of starches and sugars so the simplified nutrients can make their way to your bloodstream.

A fair amount of carbohydrate digestion happens in the mouth, but carb digestion finishes in the small intestine, thanks to enzymes like maltase, lactase, sucrase and pancreatic amylase.

The more simple or refined the carb, the faster and harder they hit your bloodstream, which is one reason why complex carbs, plant based sources of carbohydrates (the baked sweet potato or the sauteed broccoli) are a better choice than the white bread stuffing.

Enzymes for Fats

Are the fatty gravy and creamy green beans your downfall? When fats find their way into your GI tract, it is the lipolytic enzymes in your small intestine that come into play. Unlike those carbs that digest quickly during that turkey-coma nap, fats may take upwards of 40 hours to fully break down into glycerol and fatty acids, thanks to gastric lipase, which transforms fats into fatty acids and glycerides.

You need a healthy pancreas, gallbladder and liver as well as bile to break that pat of butter down.When Aunt Edna complains about how she needs to pass on the whipped cream because her gallbladder is acting up, give the poor lady a knowing nod for making a good choice. Without all of these enzymes working efficiently, she’ll be in a lot of pain.

Enzymes for Protein

What about the bird, you ask? Proteolytic enzymes like pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin, living in the super acidic environment of your stomach, break down proteins into smaller peptides, amino acids and aromatic amino acids. From here, simpler protein molecules called peptides pass into the small intestine where they are neutralized and absorbed into your bloodstream. Complicated, right? Worried your belly isn’t up to the task? Don’t stress. Your body was made to make all the enzymes you need to turn your Thanksgiving feast into energy and waste and it’s often up to the task (even if you overload it). But aging and consumption of processed foods can affect the amount of enzymes you have available. If you need a little help fighting post-meal bloat this turkey day you may want to give enzyme supplements a try.

Supplementing your digestive enzymes with a supplement is key for surviving big meals throughout the holidays.

For optimal digestion, it’s best to take a supplement before eating your (delicious Thanksgiving) meal! Look for supplemental enzymes that are organic, non-GMO and with high potency.

For large meals like Thanksgiving, try a supplement that can break down carbohydrates, fats, fiber and protein helping the body absorb nutrients and convert food into energy. I love Enzymedica’s Digest Gold which has “combined strains of enzymes that work in various pH levels.” 

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