Starch and fiber. One we’re told to avoid because as much as we can because it can spike blood sugar, and the other we’re told we don’t get enough of. Want to hear something funny? They’re nearly the same thing – both are made from simple sugars. But don’t stop there cause there is a difference in how they’re formed and digested.
Both starch and fiber are what’s called long-chain polysaccharides: multiple sugar molecules connected together with a bond. While both are comprised of these simple sugars it’s the bond between their various parts that makes the difference.
In starches, otherwise known as complex carbohydrates, the sugars are bonded together with a bond scientists call “alpha.” We humans have digestive enzymes (mostly amylases) in our guts that has no problem breaking this alpha bond. When this bond is broken these simple sugars (glucose) are now quickly released into the blood stream and this free glucose is what’s behind the spike in blood sugar after a starch heavy meal. Dr. Mark Hyman’s new book The Blood Sugar Solution goes into plenty of detail on why these blood sugar spikes are so dangerous for our health.
The sugars in fiber are connected with a bond called, you guessed it, “beta.” Our digestive enzymes are no match for the beta bond. The beta bond is completely unaffected by our enzymes. Beta bonded fiber (cellulose) is much stiffer than starches as you can see its work in leaves and stems, forming the structural parts of plants.
In the small intestine starches are broken down into glucose then absorbed. Cellulose passes through unchanged. Then when cellulose reaches our large intestine it meets the hosts of microorganisms that live there (both good and bad bacteria). While we don’t have the enzymes to breakdown cellulose, the bacteria do, and they do so with a vengeance. They ferment the cellulose which releases smaller molecules and, everyone’s favorite, gas. And that is why meals high in undigestible vegetable fiber (poor broccoli always gets tossed in the ‘gas’ conversations) can lead to bloating, flatulence, and other discomfort.
By no means do we want to limit vegetable consumption, right? The more the better. If you find that leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables can be difficult on your system, a digestive enzyme may be helpful.
The trick is to choose an enzyme supplement that aids in the breakdown of fiber but won’t accelerate the breakdown of starches, increasing the dangerous rush of free glucose blood spikes.
When looking for enzyme support, avoid those that contain amylase or oligosaccharidases. Insteap opt for supplements that have cellulase, hemicellulase, xylanase, pectinase, physase, and beta-glucanase. These will partially breakdown indigestible cellulose, making digestion easier and more comfortable.
So now let’s hear from you. What have been your experiences with digestion and the use of digestive enzymes? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.