The process of digestion is remarkable. How the human body – or the body of any animal, for that matter – can break down food after eating is amazing. So, how long does it take to digest food, and what happens along the way? Here’s a brief look at the elaborate process.
There is no “one size fits all” answer to the time it will take your body to digest. The time it takes for food to move through the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon, and eventually out of the body can vary from person to person. It can even vary in your own body, depending on what foods you eat.
However, in general, digestion typically takes about 30 to 40 hours once you eat something and saliva in your mouth starts breaking it down during chewing.1
If the time it takes you to digest if out of this range it may be cause for concern. If you are experiencing irregular bowel movements, stomach pain, or excessive bloating, it’s time to speak to your doctor.
Is Your Gut Showing Signs Of Potential Digestive Issues?
Evidence suggests that the time it takes for the digestive juices in your GI tract (gastrointestinal tract) to do their thing might be a marker of digestive health.
Bacteria in the small intestine and large intestine break down carbohydrates from the food you eat. Some say the longer it takes food digestion to occur, the higher the risk of dangerous microbes thriving in the gastrointestinal tract. These can potentially lead to serious problems. Eating a fiber-rich diet and drinking plenty of water may be beneficial in avoiding these problems.2
The Nutrients In Your Meal: Dietary Fiber, Fatty Acids, And Protein
The food you eat is a source of many nutrients that are important to your overall health. Digestion and absorption of these nutrients helps your body use them in many different ways. Three of the most important nutrients are dietary fiber, fatty acids, and protein. Here’s a quick look at each and why they are so critical to your well-being.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate. Although your body can’t digest all the fiber you eat, it helps to keep blood sugar at a safe level. It can also help keep you from feeling hungry all the time, and keep your digestion moving smoothly
There are two types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber can support healthy cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber is in fruits and vegetables, and many other foods, like oatmeal.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in digestive juices. It helps keep bowel movements regular. It’s found in vegetables as well as grains, like brown rice and whole-grain pasta.3
To understand fatty acids, you need to know about triglycerides. They are a major source of fatty acids in your diet. Triglycerides are a type of fat that contain fatty acids. During the process of digestion, the liver secretes salts that break down fat. Enzymes in the pancreas further break down fat, freeing fatty acids.4
One of the reasons fatty acids are so important is that they provide the energy your muscles need to work properly.5
Protein digestion occurs in the stomach and small intestine. After you eat, enzymes in digestive juices break down protein from your digested food into amino acids.6
Your body uses amino acids for energy, growth, and to repair injured tissues.7
When the food you eat goes into your stomach, your digestive juices convert it into something called acidic chyme. This is a liquid that helps produce several types of digestive enzymes that helps your body break down protein.8
GI Tract And Stomach Issues: Know When To See Your Doctor
As complex as the process of digestion is, there are a few obvious symptoms that may signal a digestive issue.
Constipation – This is a lack of a bowel movement, or bowel movements that don’t occur as often as normal. Bloating and stomach pain are common symptoms.9
Acid Reflux – Acid reflux occurs when acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus. One of the reasons is a weakness in the esophageal sphincter. This muscle separates the esophagus and stomach. Spicy foods can sometimes contribute to this problem.10
Diverticulosis – This condition causes the small intestine and large intestine to become irritated. Symptoms include constipation, stomach pain, and pronounced weight loss.11
Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that leads to gas, diarrhea, cramping, and other symptoms.12
If you have symptoms of these or other stomach issues, contact your doctor right away.
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