How do we digest food?
How long does it take to digest food?
The amount of time it takes to digest food will always depend on what types of different foods you have eaten. Generally, it takes around 24-72 hours of food to move through your digestive tract. Different factors such as metabolism, gender and whether someone suffers with digestive issues could all contribute to the rate of digestion, either slowing down or speeding up the process.
Food travels fairly quick through a person’s digestive system, the first process may take around 6-8 hours for food to travel from the small intestine to the large intestine. However, once the food has reached the large intestine it can sit there for at least a day to be broken down even more into smaller particles.
The rate of digestion also depends on what foods you may have eaten, for example; fish and meat products can take as long as 2 days to fully digest compared to foods such as fruit and vegetables taking as quick as a day due to being high in fibre. Foods that are high in fibre help the digestive tract course run with added efficiency.
What happens during the digestion process?
The digestive system is made up of five main components:
- Small Intestine
- Large Intestine
Digestion is the process by our bodies which breaks down food, and gives you the main nutrients our bodies need to fully function. Anything else left over becomes a waste product which our bodies remove naturally.
- The first process begins with the mouth, as you pass food into the mouth you start to chew the food breaking it down into smaller pieces, this is where your mouth releases saliva. The saliva contains enzymes that breaks down the starch in the food, resulting in the food becoming easier to swallow.
- Once you have swallowed the food travels down to the oesophagus. The oesophagus connects your mouth all the way down to the stomach. The oesophageal sphincter opens to allow food to travel and transfer into the stomach.
- As soon as the food has entered the stomach, acids that are in the area will break down the food particles even more. This creates partially digested food and gastric juices within the stomach.
- When food has entered the small intestine the liver and pancreas also aid in the contribution of breaking down food. The pancreas aids in breaking down fats, carbohydrates and protein. The main three food groups. Other nutrients such as vitamins, fibre and water move through the small intestine wall and into the bloodstream. Then whatever is left over will transpire into the large intestine.
- This is the final part of the digestive process where the large intestine will absorb any remaining water and get rid of any nutrients that the body does not need. Turning it into solid waste, where the body will naturally get rid of any of these products, completing the procedure.
Common Digestive System Complications
It is vital to seek help when suffering with any digestive system complications and understand the signs and symptoms. If left for to long other issue may develop and may lead to further serious illness.
- Acid reflux- This occurs when the oesophagus sphincter is weakened. Resulting in acid from the stomach to travel back up into the oesophagus, causing a sensation of heartburn.
- Food Intolerance- Some digestive issues may have underlying causes of the development in allergies. This is largely triggered by certain food groups/ types not being able to be processed in the body by a certain digestive enzyme.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)- Common signs of IBS can be shown as bad stomach cramps, constipation or diarrhoea. These can all be affected by what food type you consume but are commonly cause by food/drinks such as dairy, alcohol, caffeine and gas producing foods.
- Weight fluctuation and bloating- Weight loss and weight gain are common indications of digestive issues. If the body is unable to absorb the nutrients it needs from food then this could explain unexpected weight loss. Bloating is also common with conditions such as IBS which may be mistaken for weight gain; however, this is normally just signs of poor digestion. A person may also suffer with slow bowel movements which may contribute to weight gain.
A Few Tips for Better Digestion
- Limit the amount of red meat and processed foods
- Eat more nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables
- Get plenty of sleep and be in a good sleeping routine
- Exercise daily
- Manage stress levels
- Eat smaller meals more frequently, rather than larger meals