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Nom noms go in, poop comes out… but what happens in between? Digestion is how your body turns food into fuel. On average, the process takes 24 to 72 hours, but how long it takes for your body to digest food will depend on factors like:
- what you eat
- how much you eat
- digestive issues
- activity levels
Here’s everything you need to know about digestion — from munching to the porcelain throne.
Even if your deuces drop like clockwork, it’s important to understand the digestive process. It’ll help you realize if something is off after you’ve eaten. Plus, who isn’t a little intrigued by human anatomy? #Science
During digestion, you break down food and absorb the nutrients you need to function. Poop is everything your body passes on.
The digestive system has five main parts:
- small intestine
- large intestine
They all work together to help food travel from your mouth to your bum.
Here’s a play-by-play of the digestive system’s steps:
- Mouth: Digestion begins in your mouth. As you chew food into smaller pieces, you start to salivate. Saliva has enzymes that start breaking down starches.
- Esophagus: Once you swallow, your digestive system goes on autopilot. The food moves down your esophagus, and peristalsis starts. This is when involuntary muscles help push the food to its next destination.
- Lower esophageal sphincter: This muscle is at the end of your esophagus. It relaxes to let food pass into your stomach and then tightens to prevent food from coming back up.
- Stomach: Stomach acids go to town on food to turn it into chyme — a mushy mass of partially digested nom noms and gastric juices.
- Small intestine: Chyme then moves into your small intestine. The walls of your small intestine start to absorb nutrients and water.
- Large intestine: Your small intestine soaks up the good stuff, and your large intestine takes care of the waste. It absorbs water and converts all that liquid waste into a stool.
- Rectum: This is the endgame. Your rectum stores digested food until it’s ready to make its grand debut. (💩 hi!)
Digestion time varies depending on what you eat. Some foods need different enzymes from different organs to be broken down.
|Food type||Typical nutrient absorption time||What happens|
|meat||1 to 3 days||Protein is made of amino acids. It takes time to be broken down and absorbed.|
|dairy||30 minutes to 2 hours||Enzymes in your stomach break down fat and protein. It then travels to your small intestine to be broken down further.|
|vegetables and fruit||usually less than 1 day||Starchy vegetables (like corn and potatoes) may take longer to digest than vegetables with a higher water content (like cucumber and peppers). Cooked vegetables usually don’t take as long to digest because the cooking process breaks down fibers.|
|carbs||15 minutes to 3 hours||Breakfast cereals, cookies, pretzels, and cakes are absorbed quickly. Whole-grain foods take more time because of their high fiber content.|
A healthy gut can improve your overall physical and mental health. Here are some awesome ways to keep your digestive system on fleek:
Eat your fiber
There are two forms of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in H2O and turns into a gel-like substance. It’s found in foods like oats, peas, beans, lentils, and apples.
Insoluble fiber is commonly known as roughage. It helps get the food flowing through your digestive system and can improve your poops. Some examples are whole grains, nuts, and root vegetables.
Fiber can stave off constipation and irregular bowel movements. Bulky stools are easier to pass, so adding fiber to your diet can keep you regular.
Add good bacteria
Probiotics are sold as dietary supplements. If pills aren’t your jam, you’re still in luck. Fermented foods also contain helpful bacteria strains. Try:
Cut the bad habits
Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Research has shown that smoking can double the risk of developing acid reflux. It can also cause stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal cancers.
Alcohol can cause your stomach to produce more acid, which can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. Plus, studies suggest a link between alcohol and leaky gut, changes in gut bacteria, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Keep it movin’
Staying physically active can help your digestive system do its thing. In a small 2005 study, participants who added 30 minutes of walking to their day had significant improvements in chronic constipation.
Exercising can also reduce inflammation in your body, which can alleviate symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Avoid trigger foods
Have you ever pooped fire? If so, you’re not alone, and it might have been the dirty deed of a food you’d least suspect.
Some possible trigger foods:
- spicy foods
- artificial sweeteners
- carbonated drinks
- refined carbs (think white bread and pasta)
- milk or white chocolate
- foods high in saturated fats
- greasy foods (sorry, pizza 🍕)
For most people, these foods are OK in moderation, but for some they can cause the digestive tract a lot of distress. Take note of which foods aren’t working for you.
Indigestion can really ruin your day. An occasional flare-up is nothing to worry about, but if you’re experiencing issues on the reg, call your doctor.
Types of indigestion:
- stomach cramps
- an overly full feeling
- diarrhea or constipation
- gas 💨
Here are some common culprits behind digestive issues.
Milk and dairy products contain a sugar called lactose. To break down that sugar, your body uses an enzyme called lactase. An estimated 30 to 50 million Americans lack this enzyme.
If you feel discomfort after every ice cream cone, you might be lactose intolerant. Common symptoms include:
- stomach cramps
Gluten is a protein found in foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. For people with celiac disease, gluten creates an autoimmune reaction: The body identifies gluten as a foreign object and attacks it as soon as it gets to the small intestine.
Symptoms typically include:
- abdominal bloating and pain
- unusually bad-smelling stool
- fatty-looking stool
- unexplained weight loss
Acid reflux happens when your lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close properly. This allows stomach acid to make its way up your esophagus. Ouch!
Certain foods can trigger GERD, including:
- fatty foods
- spicy foods
- acidic foods (such as tomatoes)
- citrus fruits
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Just like the name says, this condition really irritates your bowels. Around 3 to 20 percent of Americans have some form of IBS. The condition is more common in people with vaginas.
- abdominal pain
- bloating and gas
There’s no cure for IBS, but dietary and physical changes can help you manage the symptoms.
The digestive process is complex, but your body does most of the work for you! You can do your duty to your doody to help keep your digestion healthy. That means choosing the right foods and listening to your body’s needs.
All right, time to go! Both figuratively and literally. 👋🏻🚽