Generally, food takes 24 to 72 hours to move through the digestive tract. However, the exact time greatly depends on the amounts and types of foods you’ve eaten. It is also based on factors like gender, metabolism, and whether you have any digestive issues that could slow down the process. At first, food travels relatively quickly through the digestive system. Within six to eight hours, the food has moved its way through the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Once in your large intestine, the partially digested parts of your meal can sit for more than a day while it’s broken down even more. A Mayo Clinic study found that the average time food spends in the large intestine greatly varies by gender: it is 33 hours for men and 47 hours for women. Normally, your digestion rate is also based on what you’ve eaten. Meat and fish can take as long as two days to completely digest. The proteins and fats they contain are very complex molecules that take longer for your body to pull apart.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber, move through the system in less than one day. These high-fiber foods help your digestive track run much more efficiently. Believe it or not, the quickest to digest are processed, sugary junk foods like candy bars. Your body tears through them in a matter of hours, quickly leaving you hungry again.
Factors That Influence the Digestion Process
- The type of food you eat – some foods are easier to digest (juices, fruits, vegetables), while others take longer to process (meat, pasta, pastry, processed food).
- The quantity of food –smaller portions are easier to digest than larger ones.
- Gender – men digest food faster than women.
- Metabolism – some people have an accelerated metabolism rate, while others have a slower one.
- Digestive problems – diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, lactose intolerance slow down digestion.
What happens during digestion?
Digestion is the process by which your body breaks down food and pulls out the nutrients your body needs in order to operate. Anything left is a waste product, which your body removes. Your digestive system is made up of five main parts:
- small intestine
- large intestine
This is what happens when you digest food:
As you chew, glands in your mouth release saliva. This digestive liquid contains enzymes that break down the starches in your food. The end result is a mass called a bolus that’s easier to swallow. When you swallow, the food moves down your esophagus which is the pipe that connects your mouth to your stomach. A muscular gate called the lower esophageal sphincter opens to let the food move into your stomach. Next, acids in your stomach break down the food even more. This later produces a mushy mixture of gastric juices and partially digested food, called chyme. This mixture moves on to your small intestine.
In your small intestine, your pancreas and liver contribute their own digestive juices to the mix. Pancreatic juices break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Vitamins, other nutrients, and water move through the walls of your small intestine into your bloodstream. The undigested part that remains moves on to your large intestine. The large intestine absorbs any leftover nutrients from the food. The rest becomes solid waste, called stool. Your rectum stores stool until you’re ready to have a bowel movement.
It is completely normal not to think much about the digestive system on a daily basis. However, you’ll know when it’s not working optimally by uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Make sure to watch what you eat and stay active in order to keep your digestive tract moving smoothly and feel your best.