While at school, all of us studied the digestive system with great interest, and marveled at the journey of food from mouth to the elimination tract. But, did you ever give a thought to the time required for completing this long journey? Probably not. Just like everything else in our body, the answer to this question is also unique to every individual. Yet, there is an upper and lower limit on the time taken for digestion of food. If your digestion time is within this range, you can say that there is no problem with your digestive health.
How Long Does it Take to Digest Food
After you ingest food through mouth, it takes several hours for the food to travel through the various components of digestive system. In fact, this process begins even before you consume food. Surprised? Just like any other process in the body, the process of digestion is also controlled by the brain. When you are about to eat, your brain sends the signal to the digestive system (stomach and intestines to be precise) to be prepared for digestion. When you chew food, the saliva in your mouth mixes with the food, releasing various digestive enzymes. Saliva facilitates the pushing of the food through esophagus due to its lubricating action. The same effect can be achieved with water.
After the food travels down to the stomach through esophagus, it stays in the stomach for 3 to 4 hours. Stomach produces various digestive juices and enzymes, required for the proper digestion of food. It also mixes the food well by contracting and expanding the stomach muscles. This mixture is then passed to the intestine, where it spends another 6 to 7 hours. Nutrient absorption takes place in the intestine after which it is sent to the colon for excretion. Colon function is to absorb the water from the waste food material, and prepare it for excretion. The undigested food remains in the colon until it is expelled out. Thus, in all, digestion process is completed within 12 to 24 hours.
Time Taken for Complete Digestion
On an average, it may take 24 to 72 hours for the food to digest completely. In fact, it may be several days before all the traces of food can be removed from the body. The time taken for digestion is greatly dependent upon the type of food you consume. Steak takes about 3 to 5 days for digestion. Similarly, white flour foods also take a longer time to completely get eliminated from the body. High fiber foods like fruits and vegetables can be easily digested by the body.
Knowing the time taken for digestion by your body is essential to predict your general health. If you are passing stools too frequently, it means your body is not absorbing sufficient nutrients. Similarly, if your body takes too long to excrete waste materials, it puts you in danger of colon diseases, as the wastes stay inside the colon for long. You can check your digestion time by eating 3 to 4 beets in your meal.
Since beets turn your stools bloody red, you should be able to calculate the end to end time. If you pass loose stools, you may try incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. The fibers in these foods absorb the water in loose stools. High fiber diet is also a remedy for constipation as fibers help in formation of larger, softer stools. However, it is important to drink enough water since fibers work only when the body is well hydrated.
Certain diseases may cause the digestive system to move too fast or too slow. Similarly, high sugar foods, alcohol, processed foods impede the function of the digestive system. Hence, if you wish to have a smooth moving system, make appropriate dietary changes.