You are familiar with the human digestive system, if not from inside out. Digestion begins when you put food into your mouth, chew, and swallow. The complete digestion of food takes place anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. But, this duration varies from person to person based on various factors.
Factors Affecting The Duration Of Digestion
All digestive systems undergo the same process – food broken down in the mouth, passes through the esophagus, and reaches the stomach. The food is further broken down to be absorbed by the body, most of which occurs in the small intestine. Unabsorbed materials are directed to the large intestine and the undigested materials are excreted. The only thing that differs is the time taken, which depends on the following factors:
- Amount and type of food: The time taken to digest food depends on the amount and the type of food eaten. For instance, protein and fatty foods like meat and fish take longer to digest than fiber-rich foods like vegetables and fruits.
- Gender and age: As we age, digestion and metabolism may slow down. As the digestive system slows down, the body may not get enough nutrients, making the body more prone to digestive issues.
- Temperature: The chemical processes involved in digestion take place at a faster rate when temperature increases (up to 40°C).
- Existing digestive issues: Existing digestive issues like Crohn’s disease naturally the way food is processed in your system.
Why Is Digestion Important?
Digestion is important as it breaks down the food entering the mouth and makes it available for the body’s energy, growth, and cell repair. Foods and beverages contain complex molecules that should be broken down into simpler ones for the body to use. So, your body breaks down the nutrients from foods and drinks into carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vitamins.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fiber found in foods and can be divided into two types: simple (sugars) and complex (starch and fiber) carbs. Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole-grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
- Proteins: Foods such as meat, eggs, and beans consist of large protein molecules that the body digests and absorbs as amino acids.
- Fats: Fats are present in fruits like avocado and oils like canola and olive oil. These are healthy fats, good for the body, and are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol during digestion. They also aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
- Vitamins: Vitamins are classified as fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (vitamins B and C). The fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues and the water-soluble vitamins are not easily stored by the body – excess of it is removed through urine.
All of the nutrients required by the body are thus available because of digestion. Any process affecting digestion will, in turn, affect the availability of nutrients and result in mild-to-severe health issues.
Tips To Improve Digestion
To keep the digestive system running smoothly and to prevent digestive disorders, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Eat Whole Foods
Whole foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are rich in fiber and allow the food to move smoothly in the digestive system. Fiber-rich foods also keep you feeling full for longer, keeping a check on unnecessary cravings.
2. Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods have low nutritional value and most of them contain additives that enhance their color, taste, and texture. Some of these additives can cause digestive issues like diarrhea.1 Therefore, it is always good to limit or completely avoid processed foods to improve digestion and overall health.
3. Keep Your Gut Healthy
You can keep your gut healthy by adding probiotics to your diet. These increase the good bacteria in your digestive tract and fight the harmful ones. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, natto, and tempeh are good to keep your gut and, in turn, the digestive tract healthy.
4. Take A Walk After Meals
Do you always wait till you get home to engage in some physical activities? Change that to a short 10-minute walk after every meal. Research has shown that a walk after lunch or dinner can lower blood sugar levels.2 In fact, walking just after a heavy meal is more effective for weight loss than waiting for an hour after one.3 Regular exercises can strengthen the digestive tract, too.
5. Keep Yourself Hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is essential for digestion. However, it is important to note that drinking water during meals is not a healthy habit. It is advised to drink water at least 30 minutes before a meal.
6. Manage Your Stress Levels
When you are stressed enough to trigger the flight-or-fight response (the body’s reaction to something dangerous), digestion may either slow down or even stop so that all the energy is diverted to facing the perceived threat.4 So, it is important to manage your stress levels to keep digestion running smoothly. Yoga and other forms of relaxation therapy can help.
7. Get Plenty Of Sleep
When your sleep cycles are disturbed, so is your digestive system. Getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep ensures that the digestive system has time to rest and repair between meals. The lack of sleep makes you prone to stress, which increases digestive disorders like indigestion and heartburn.
Proper digestion and elimination of food are the key to good health. A good digestive system ensures that the body gets all the nutrients required for its development and growth and makes the immune system stronger, too.
|↑1||Food additives. BetterHealth Channel.|
|↑2||A 10-minute walk after a meal ‘good for diabetes’. National Health Services (NHS) Choices.|
|↑3||Hijikata, Yasuyo, and Seika Yamada. “Walking just after a meal seems to be more effective for weight loss than waiting for one hour to walk after a meal.” International journal of general medicine 4 (2011): 447.|
|↑4||Stress and the sensitive gut. Harvard Medical School.|