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5 Different Types of Food Enzymes: Complete Guide

A close up of stomach lining and enzymes.

Enzymes are found in plants, animals, and microorganisms and play vital roles in nature. Our bodies produce endogenous enzymes, but we can also obtain these beneficial molecules from foods. So, what are the principal food enzymes, and what is their significance for our health and well-being?

Common dietary enzymes include proteases, amylases, lipases, lactase, and invertases. These enzymes are involved in the healthy functioning of the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems. Enzymes occur naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables, and fermented foods.

Having a basic understanding of food enzymes can help us make better dietary and health-related decisions. If you’re wondering what food enzymes are, what they do, and where you can find them, you might benefit from the knowledge presented below.

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A Brief Introduction to Food Enzymes

Enzymes are protein molecules that catalyze, direct, or otherwise support countless vital biochemical processes in the natural world. Animals (including humans), plants, and microorganisms synthesize enzymes.

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Enzymes play a crucial role in virtually every vital system in the human body. Deficiencies of essential enzymes can result in a panoply of health issues.

NOTE: Many foods we eat regularly contain natural enzymes, such as certain fresh fruits. We also consume beneficial enzymes produced by microorganisms when we eat fermented foods.

5 Different Food Enzymes: Functions, Significance, & Dietary Sources 

The topic of dietary enzymes is complex. To provide some elementary insights into this complex topic, let’s look in more detail at some of the primary food enzymes. Here is a guide to five types of food enzymes that can support and enhance our health and well-being.

#1. Proteases

Proteases are a class of enzymes involved in a host of fundamental physiological processes. Proteolytic enzymes are in many fresh fruits and fermented foods, including:

  • pineapples (contains a protease called bromelain),
  • ginger (has a protease named zingibain),
  • papaya (contains the protease called papain),
  • honey
  • miso
  • kimchi
  • kefir
Honey in a jar with a honey wand.
Honey has natural proteolytic enzymes

Protease enzymes play a crucial part in the digestion of proteins. These enzymes catalyze the process of breaking down complex protein molecules into simple and more bio-available amino acids. Proteases are also involved in regulating and modulating protein activation in the body.

Other vital functions of protease enzymes are involved in inflammatory responses and contribute to ovulation and fertilization.  In addition, proteases are responsible for cellular activities like:

  • cell signaling
  • differentiation
  • apoptosis

Due to the critical functions proteases are involved in, deficiencies of endogenous proteolytic enzymes are associated with many health issues:

  • gastrointestinal conditions
  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • inflammatory disorders

#2. Amylases

Amylase enzymes initiate and participate in the body’s metabolism of starches and carbohydrates. This category of digestive enzymes occurs naturally in foods such as:

  • mango
  • honey
  • kimchi
  • miso

Amylase enzymes catalyze the biochemical transformation of carbohydrates, starches, and polysaccharides into simple sugars like glucose and maltose. By doing so, these enzymes support the functions of the following:

  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • gastrointestinal system
Fermented foods surrounding a chalk drawing of a digestive tract.
Kimchi is a good source of digestive enzymes

NOTE: This means amylases are essential for healthy metabolic functioning. 

Excess or insufficient amylase can lead to serious metabolic disorders. For example, elevated levels of amylase in the blood are found in people suffering from chronic or acute pancreatitis. There is also a correlation between high blood amylase levels and intestinal blockages.

Insufficient amounts of amylases in the body are also associated with numerous health challenges. There is a link between genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and amylase deficiencies. In addition, there are correlations between insufficient amylase production and pancreas, kidneys, and liver diseases.

#3. Lipases

Lipases are an enzyme group responsible for the digestion of fat in the body. Lipase enzymes are synthesized by bacteria, yeasts, and fungi rather than plants and animals we consume. These micro-organisms are used in the fermentation of many traditional foods, so we can access lipase enzymes by eating:

  • miso
  • kimchi
  • kefir

Lipases are critical for breaking down triglyceride fats into glycerol and fatty acids, which help the intestines to absorb fats. These enzymes also contribute to the healthy production of low-density lipoprotein.

NOTE: Lipase enzyme deficiency or dysfunction causes multiple physiological problems pancreatitis, and hypertension.

#4. Lactase

The digestive enzyme that breaks down the lactose sugar in dairy-based foods. Our bodies synthesize endogenous lactase, but these bacteria produce this crucial enzyme too:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus

NOTE: Lactase is also biochemically synthesized by Aspergillus oryzae fungi.

We can obtain lactase by eating foods that are fermented by these lactase-synthesizing micro-organisms, for example:

  • yogurt
  • miso
  • kefir

These sources of lactase are particularly effective for improving the digestion of lactose because the enzyme is protected from stomach acids by bacterial cells. This protection gives the lactase enzyme more time to digest the lactose in the stomach.

Milk kefir and grains in a spoon.
Milk kefir is fermented by lactase-synthesizing microorganisms

FACT: Lactose intolerance is the most common health issue associated with lactase enzyme deficiency or dysfunction.

#5. Invertases

Invertase enzymes act as catalysts in the hydrolysis of sucrose. In this critical process, invertases enable water molecules to break sucrose into fructose and glucose. Dietary sources of invertases include:

  • honey
  • fresh asparagus heads

Invertase enzymes are also involved in the healthy functioning of the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. Another health-promoting role of invertases is their antioxidant properties.

Invertases prevent the development of stomach ulcers because these enzymes prevent the toxic accumulation of undigested sugars in the gut. Consequently, a deficiency of invertase enzymes may be linked with stomach ulcers.

Given their involvement in sucrose metabolism, invertases play a significant anti-glycemic role. For this reason, invertase enzyme deficiencies are closely-associated with insulin-related conditions like diabetes.

NOTE: Our ability to produce invertases diminishes with age, which decreases our body’s absorption of nutrients.  Consuming invertase enzymes from dietary sources may help ensure that we receive adequate nutrition from our food as we get older.


Food enzymes support a myriad of vital physiological functions. Dietary enzymes catalyze and regulate countless biochemical processes throughout the body, including the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems.

Deficiencies or dysfunctions of enzymes like proteases, amylases, lactase, lipases, and invertases are associated with many health challenges. Fortunately, these enzymes occur in numerous fresh fruits and fermented foods, from pineapples to asparagus, miso, and kimchi. 

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