Green kiwifruit consumption has long been thought to assist in the digestion of food proteins due to the presence of the proteolytic enzyme actinidin. This chapter reviews the recent findings of both in vitro and in vivo studies on the effect of green kiwifruit (which contain the enzyme actinidin) on the gastro- and small-intestinal digestion of a range of common food proteins and protein-rich foods including milk, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, and cereal proteins. Clear evidence is provided that green kiwifruit, and the enzyme actinidin itself, can provide enhanced upper-tract digestion (particularly gastric) of a variety of food proteins, which lends support to a role for dietary kiwifruit as a digestive aid. Kiwifruit influences the digestion patterns of food proteins to varying extents. For some protein sources, digestion in the presence of green kiwifruit resulted in a substantially greater digestion of intact protein, and different peptide patterns were produced compared with those seen after digestion with mammalian digestive enzymes alone. Kiwifruit extract alone (in the absence of other digestive enzymes) has been observed to be capable of digesting some proteins present in foods, particularly those in yoghurt, cheese, fish, and raw eggs. An in vivo (pig) study including a positive control of added actinidin and a negative control where the actinidin in green kiwifruit had been inactivated showed conclusively that actinidin is responsible for the enhanced gastric hydrolysis of food proteins.
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