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We all heard it as kids: “Eat your vegetables!” Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Yes, like animal cells, plant cells are full of proteins. The problem is that most plant proteins—and many other nutrients—can’t be easily accessed because plant cells are surrounded by cell walls made of cellulose. Since human beings lack the cellulase enzyme, they cannot effectively digest cellulose. As a result, the majority of plant nutrients will pass right through us, unused by our bodies.
The Cellulose Problem
The fact of the matter is mammals cannot digest cellulose at all. Most herbivores tend to be large animals because they need a large digestive system to handle eating nothing but plant material. Cows, for example, have multiple stomachs and have to re-chew their food once it’s partially digested to get the most nutrition possible from the plants they eat. To digest cellulose, you have to be something like a termite, which can eat wood.
Vegetarians and vegans need access to these plant nutrients. Vegans, who not only avoid meat but also avoid dairy and eggs, need plant proteins. But how can we access these proteins and fats found in vegetables if cellulose cannot be digested?
Supplemental Enzymes Help Your Body
Raw fruits and vegetables grown in nutrient-rich soils already contain the enzymes needed for us to digest the plants’ proteins and carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables with the most enzymes when eaten raw include papayas, mangoes, pineapples, apples, avocados, carrots, grapefruit, spinach, and tomatoes. However, most people eat cooked, canned, and prepared foods that can destroy the naturally-occurring enzymes that help us with digestion.
One way to make up this deficit is to take supplemental enzymes with meals. Digestive enzymes can help your body break down vegetables for nutrition. Furthermore, because humans do not make cellulase, those needing to access more nutrients from vegetables should certainly supplement their diets with cellulase enzymes.
The American Diet and the Microbiome
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that a more plant-based diet can improve the gut’s microbiome by ensuring a wider range of healthy organisms. The typical American diet of processed foods can be so detrimental to the gut microbiome that we may not respond as healthfully to a plant-based diet we’d expect. Eating more raw fruits and vegetables is one way to change this situation.
Eating vegetables will undoubtedly improve your health, but if you can better digest those vegetables, they will provide you with even more benefits. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, it’s important to make sure your body has access to all the nutrients possible from your plant-based diet. Consider taking an enzyme supplement and see if you have fewer abdominal issues and better overall health.
To learn more about how enzymes work to improve digestive health, visit Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes at https://deerland.com/swallow/enzymes-101/.
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John Davidson has been formulating enzyme based dietary supplements for more than 30 years, with a particular focus in human digestion. Davidson’s wide range of experience encompasses nearly all aspects of supplement manufacturing; including QC/QA, blending, encapsulation, tableting, research & development, product development and technical services. In his current role as the Director of Education and Innovation for Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, Davidson is responsible for both new product innovation, collaborating with R&D and Sales to bring new products to market.