Having good digestion is very important for being able to absorb and use nutrients we obtain in our diet. Our digestive system naturally produces enzymes to break down the food we eat, but due to many factors, we sometimes can’t produce enough to break down our food and absorb all the nutrients from our diet.
Think about it this way: if you have a car, you would want to be able to use that fuel efficiently, so you get more ‘bang for your buck’ so to speak. It’s the same with food, you want to maximize the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients so you don’t have to be consuming mountains of food just to meet your daily requirements.
If you’ve been on a standard western diet, then you’ve probably already put your digestive system through a lot of stress and things probably aren’t working optimally. The same goes if you’ve taken lots of antibiotics before, you’ve likely got some improvements to make.
You see, the great thing about a plant-based diet is that it contains natural enzymes already. Take pineapples, for instance, these contain an enzyme known as bromelain which helps break down protein.
That’s why raw foodists and vegans make a big deal over eating mostly raw. It’s so you don’t destroy the nutrients and enzymes in the plant foods which help you break down, absorb and assimilate the nutrients from your diet.
Why should vegans take digestive enzymes?
This will be different for each person, as not everyone needs to take enzymes while they’re on a vegan diet. Enzymes are useful because they act as catalysts and can help people with impaired or weak digestive systems and those trying to heal from diseases.
Below are a few indications that enzymes may benefit you:
Digestive conditions in the west are one of the most common complaints. This is because of poor diets which are packed with processed foods. Once the damage has been done, it can take months or longer to heal the digestive system once you’ve adopted a healthy vegan diet.
- Digestive symptoms – If you have any kind of frequent bloating, gas, stomach pain, acid reflux, you may benefit from taking digestive enzymes. Many of these symptoms fall under IBS or IBD, which digestive enzymes have been shown to be beneficial for improving symptoms. 
- Crohn’s disease – Many people have had success using digestive enzymes to help with Crohn’s disease by assisting the body in breaking down food and putting less stress on the digestive system.
- Enzyme insufficiency – As people get older, they produce fewer enzymes and other factors which trigger acid production in the stomach.
- Low gastric acid – A condition known as Hypochlorhydria is a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Due to this problem, usually from old age or medications, the body has a harder time breaking down and absorbing nutrients.
If you have any of these specific issues, then you may benefit from taking an enzyme supplement. Even if you are healthy and want to put less stress on your digestive system, so your body can focus on healing other parts of the body, they could be useful in this case as well.
You’re new to a vegan diet
When transitioning to a vegan diet you might notice all sorts of strange things happening. It’s not always the easiest of rides for everyone, because you old symptoms and problems can reappear before they go away again and existing problems can worsen before getting better.
It’s not uncommon for people to need a little bit of time to adapt to their new diet and digestive enzymes can help speed up this process. I’ve written an article about people who are vegan and experiencing stomach pain, which I encourage you to take off for more tips on how to improve digestion on the diet.
What are the best vegan digestive enzyme supplements?
There are different sources of enzymes, but today we will focus on enzymes derived from fruits and plants (including fungus).
#1 Rainbow Light – Advanced Enzyme System – Whole Food Enzyme Supplement
In just one serving you get 10 plant-sourced enzymes to help you break down starches, fats, protein, as well as other digestive enzymes to improve absorption, lower inflammation and have other beneficial systematic effects.
Aside from the digestive enzymes, it includes bromelain derived from pineapples and papain from the papaya fruit. Both of these fruits have known and proven benefits beyond the digestive system.
What I also like about this supplement is the addition of other digestive foods and herbs like ginger, turmeric, fennel, apple pectin and green papaya. They’ve also included peppermint, which can help reduce stomach related problems like gas, bloating and nausea.
Who should take this supplement?
Vegans who want a comprehensive and broad enzyme complex supplement should opt for this supplement. It covers the main digestive enzymes and adds in a few other systematic enzymes which have been shown scientifically to improve health and help speed up healing.
Overall, reviews are very positive for the enzyme supplement. Some people have found it to be helpful in reducing symptoms of acid reflux, gas, bloating and other symptoms. There are also reports by some people who have had their gallbladder removed, and this supplement has been helpful for them.
The supplement is plant-based and includes whole foods rather than synthetic ingredients. All ingredients are vegan-friendly, non-GMO, and does not contain any of the common allergens like soy, nuts, eggs, gluten etc.
#2 Nested – Super Enzymes to help improve the digestive system
Nested Super Enzyme supplement contains 11 enzymes to help improve the break down of starches, protein, and fats, and also relieve symptoms related to digestion.
Like the previous supplement, it also contains amylase, protease, lipase, and other enzymes to break down food. As well as peppermint, ginger root and fennel seed: all of which can improve symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
Who should take this supplement?
The enzyme supplement was designed to help improve digestion and symptoms such as bloating, gas, heartburn, and constipation. It contains active enzymes to break down the food, and other ingredients to soothe the digestive system and relieve symptoms of digestive distress.
This supplement has a lot of great reviews, with many people saying that it helped with their bloating, stomach pain and other digestive issue related to stomach infections.
If you’re healing from any kind of digestive condition, overuse of antibiotics or even recovering from years of eating a bad diet, this supplement may help relieve the stress on your digestive system while you transition from a meat-based diet to a vegan one.
Contains 11 strains of active plant-sourced enzymes to improve digestion, making it completely natural and suitable for vegans. All of Nested products have been third-party tested and certified, so you know that you’re getting a high-quality supplement.
#3 DigestWise – Enzyme Supplement for Vegans
It contains 10 enzymes which have been independently tested in the lab to show their effectiveness and exceeded in most cases what was on the label.
Unlike the previous supplements, this one mainly focuses on enzymes that will improve digestion. And that’s expected given that this product is more budget-friendly compared to the previous two.
Who should take this supplement?
If you’re after an enzyme supplement which is low cost but contains a large number of digestive enzymes, then this supplement is perfect.
It would be great for people who are just transitioning to a vegan diet and want to assist their body in breaking down the new foods being introduced into the diet.
There are also many positive reviews on this supplement with people saying it helped them improve stomach pain, as well as reduce bloating when eating certain types of foods.
The supplement was created to help with three things:
- Better digestion – As the supplement contains a broad spectrum of enzymes, it can help you digest all macronutrients from your diet and help reduce the likelihood of digestive problems such as bloating, cramp, and gas after eating commonly problematic foods such as beans and legumes.
- Improves absorption – The more nutrients we can obtain from the food we eat, the less we need to make up for it from taking other supplements (which can be costly).
- Better energy – The theory is that if you spend less time on digestion, your body can focus its resource and energy elsewhere.
Contains 10 plant-based enzymes to help improve digestion. The supplement does not require any refrigeration to retain its potency, so it’s great for travel. It also has been manufactured in the United States and independently tested by a lab.
Frequently asked questions about digestive enzymes
I’m sure that you have any questions related to enzymes and how they work, so I’ll do my best to answer a few common questions that I get asked and see people asking.
Can you just eat raw food to get enzymes instead?
This is a question asked a lot. In fact, it’s encouraged that you eat a 100% raw food diet because you retain all the enzymes in the plant. And that’s great, I support people eating as close to a raw food diet as possible (I aim for 70%), but you simply cannot get the number of enzymes from food as you can with a supplement.
Below is a list of foods which contain natural enzymes:
- Pineapple – contains bromelain which aids in the digestion of protein.
- Papaya – contains papain which also helps with the digestion of proteins and may help improve IBS symptoms according to some studies . This enzyme is also included in many enzyme supplements (see above).
- Mango – Contains digestive enzymes called amylases. This help to break down foods high in starch to simple sugars like glucose.
- Avocados – Avocados contains an enzyme known as lipase. Lipase helps break down fats from our diet.
- Kimchi – A great vegan probiotic source, which includes bacteria that produce lipases and amylases.
- Ginger – Contains zingibain which helps digest proteins and also improve symptoms like bloating, nausea, and gas.
Won’t the enzymes be destroyed by the stomach if I take them?
Obviously, nobody wants to be throwing money away. Many of the enzymes present in these supplements are active in the stomach and survive (remain intact) the stomach (bromelain is a good example) where it can go on to have beneficial systemic effects.
Many of these plant-based based enzymes can be effective and used in a broad range of condition (pH range) in the stomach and small intestine.
Where do enzymes come from which are not produced by the body?
Enzymes are found in all kinds of plants, fruits, and vegetables. In pineapples, there is bromelain, which proteolytic enzyme. In papayas, we can find papain. One enzyme less well known is from kiwis and it’s called actinidin and it’s found in kiwis, mango, bananas and other fruits.
Some of the enzymes found in foods have uses purely as an aid to improving digestive health, while others can be absorbed and utilized and have anti-inflammatory, immune system modulating, and healing effects.
Are enzymes dangerous to take?
Some people are worried that by taking an enzyme, it will cause your stomach lining to break down or digest the soft tissues in your mouth and gut.
This is not the case: the enzymes act to help break down the foods we consume and are prevented from breaking down healthy nondenatured proteins in the body. The are many mechanisms by which plant-based enzymes are prevented from doing any kind of damage to the digestive system.
Will you need to continue taking them?
One of the worries some people have about taking enzyme supplements or even other supplements like melatonin (a sleep-enhancing supplement) is that when you take a supplement, your body stops producing it naturally.
Fortunately, this is not the case. While there are exceptions where your body or brain might adjust accordingly from the feedback it’s receiving, you should not worry about your body stopping its production of natural enzymes that help break down food.
If there is any (small) decrease in enzyme production, it will return to normal shortly after discontinuing the supplement.
When should you take a digestive enzyme supplement?
Ideally, you should take it before you have your meal. Some recommend you take a supplement for up to 30 minutes before you eat your meal for the best results.
Vegan enzyme supplements can be a useful addition for people with a history of digestive issues and may struggle to adjust to a vegan diet which contains a large number of plant foods and legumes that can be difficult to digest at first.
If you want to improve your digestion and reduce stress on the digestive system, plant enzymes are a good choice, especially in combination with vegan probiotics.