How long does it take to digest food

Why do you feel full for hours after eating certain foods, but you’re looking for a snack within minutes after eating others?  This is due to the reason that various foods digest at different rates in our bodies. These are the amount of time they stay in the stomach before they pass into the intestine. There are also some other things that affect how food is digested. Let’s see, How long does it take to digest food?

 

In order to avoid digestive discomfort or problems, it’s vital to understand when food digests. People suffering from irritable bowel syndrome should check if they’re mixing foods digested at different rates to compound the problem.

 

This article approximates digestion times since digesting time varies according to different factors, including age, health, metabolism, and other conditions.

 

But before going through “How long does food take to digest?” let’s first see what is digestion and what factors affect its rate? 

Also see, 18:6 Intermittent Fasting and How To Boost Metabolism Naturally?

Digestion infographic

What is digestion?

Digesting is the process of breaking down food into nutrients that your body can absorb. It begins in your mouth and ends at the end of the small intestine (terminal ileum) [1].

 

Digestion steps

Digestion has the purpose of providing the body with nutrients for function. Large and small intestines are responsible for most of this absorption. Digestion extends across many parts of the body, including the small and large intestines, including these organs:

Mouth

You enter your digestive system through your mouth, including teeth and saliva, which use both to break down the food into smaller pieces that are more easily digested.

Esophagus 

Food is pushed down towards the stomach when the muscles contract. An esophageal sphincter near the middle of it relaxes to let food enter the stomach before contracting again to prevent acid from entering the esophagus. 

Stomach

The stomach produces a mixture of acids and enzymes that further break down food during digestion.

Small Intestine

The small intestine measures 22 feet in length, over three times as long as a person’s body. The pancreas and liver produce enzymes and bile that break food down again. Nutrition is absorbed into the bloodstream as water is digested by the small intestine’s walls. Food stays in the small intestine for about two to six hours until absorbed.

Large Intestine

After leaving the small intestine, waste enters the large intestine, which measures five feet long. The waste enters the body mainly as liquid, but it becomes more solid over the 36 hours it travels through the large intestine. The colon empties into the rectum after it has filled with stool.

Rectum

Rectums are 8-inch chambers that contain stool and signal the brain when it is time to use the facilities[2].

Factors that affect the digestion process

Food digestion takes a different amount of time depending on the following factors:

 

  • Type of your body.
  • Your metabolism.
  • The Medications that you are taking.
  • Different types of food that you consume.
  • Level of the physical activity you perform and your exercise fitness as a whole.
  • Living a physically active versus sedentary lifestyle.
  • The past surgeries that you have endured.
  • Stress level.

 

Your genes and age also matter. Some people have faster metabolism by their birth. Getting older causes our metabolism and molecular processes to slow down. Eventually, people also develop health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. Medication to treat these disorders may delay digestion [3].

 

There are various supplements and medications that may affect digestion time, including:

 

  • Parkinson’s disease medications.
  • Arthritis medications.
  • Antispasmodic medications.
  • Diabetes medications.
  • Oral contraceptives [4].

 

After learning about the process of digestion and factors that affect digestion, let us now know “How long does food take to digest?”

digestive system

How long does food take to digest?

Generally, food moves through your digestive tract within 24 to 72 hours. Your exact time will depend on how much and what kind of food you eat.

Foods with fast digestion pass through your stomach fast, so they don’t keep you full. As a result, people overeat and consume more calories, resulting in weight gain.

 It is often fruit juice that is the leading cause of gaining weight because it is fast digesting. It is high in calories and sugar and easily consumed in large quantities [5].

 Slow-digesting foods will provide your body with constant energy at a steady rate since they are slowly absorbed. However, consuming too many slow-digesting foods can overwork your digestive system and prevent it from resting.

How long do different foods and drinks take to digest?

Let us learn How long different foods and drinks take to digest:

Water Digestion

Water immediately leaves an empty stomach and enters the intestines. The first thing you should do in the morning is to drink a glass of water before eating anything. Try to drink water about half an hour before eating, not as a digestive aid but to stop the erosion of nutrients.

Juices and Broths Digestion

Smoothies, Juices, or broths contain no fiber and will digest in 15 to 20 minutes. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins and minerals. This can be absorbed quickly through the use of fresh juice. According to health authorities, it’s recommended to have at least half of the juice from vegetables to avoid having too much sugar from fruit.

 

Fruit, vegetables, or salads are blended to produce smoothies that preserve fiber. Due to their 20-30 minutes of digestion time, they are better for filling you up than juices.

Fruit Digestion

The digestion of watermelons takes 20 minutes, and other melons take 30 minutes. In addition, bananas, grapefruit, oranges, and grapes also take 30 minutes.

 

Similarly, other fruits like apples, pears, cherries, plums, and kiwis take 40 minutes to digest [6].

 

The best way to avoid digestive issues and IBS is to eat only fruit that is digested at the same time. Watermelon, therefore, should always be eaten separately.

Vegetable Digestion

It takes 30 minutes to digest raw vegetables high in water, such as salad vegetables, including tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, cucumber, and radishes.

 

Kale, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, other leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables take 40 minutes to digest.

 

Root vegetables, aside from potatoes, such as beets, carrots, and parsnips, take 50 minutes to digest [7].

 

The digestive process of butternut, corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, chestnuts, and other starchy vegetables takes 60 minutes.

Grains and Concentrated Carbohydrates Digestion

 

The digestive process for buckwheat, brown rice, oats, and cornmeal takes 90 minutes.

It takes about 120 minutes for beans and pulses to digest. Among these are red kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and soybeans [8].

Seeds and Nuts Digestion

The digestion time for seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame is approximately 2 hours. You should soak seeds like those in my pumpkin seed candy for better digestion.

 

It takes approximately 3 hours to digest the nuts. These include all the nuts like cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, brazils, and legume peanuts [9].

Meat and Dairy Digestion

Even though healthier steps is a vegan recipe site, I will include the digestion times for meat and dairy products for completeness.

 

It takes 90 minutes to digest skim milk and low-fat cheese products completely. In addition, to digest cottage cheese and soft cheeses, it takes 2 hours. In comparison, hard cheeses take about 5 hours to digest [10].

 

Egg yolk requires 30 minutes, and the whole egg requires 45 minutes to digest. The digestion of meat and fish can take up to two days. Hence, we can say that your body has a hard time pulling apart proteins and fats that contain complex molecules, such as meat and dairy.

Can eating affect sleeping?

Yes, eating can affect sleep. Heartburn and acid reflux can occur if you eat too soon before bedtime. The most common causes of diarrhea are overeating, eating too fast, and eating foods high in fat. Allow yourself time to digest your food completely before going to sleep. Choose foods that digest quickly and eat smaller, lighter meals [11].

What should you eat before sleeping for healthy digestion?

It’s not a good idea to eat a heavy meal before you go to sleep, but if you must, then you may want to avoid eating some foods.

 

In general, lamb, bacon, beef, whole-milk hard cheese, and nuts take a long time to digest. These foods take your body about 4 hours.

 

Even while sleeping, digestion continues. That means our stomach acids and digestive fluids continue to function while we are asleep. After eating, your esophagus presses against your stomach acids and food as you sleep, increasing your risk for heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion.

 

If you choose to eat before bed, make sure you eat foods that will digest quickly and easily, like eggs, seafood, vegetables, and fruits, to lower the risk of problems such as these.

Is it possible to know when your stomach is empty?

You will usually be left with an empty stomach several hours after eating. In some circumstances, you will be unable to detect if your stomach is empty.

 

Sometimes, although your stomach may not be empty, you might still feel hungry. You might experience this when you have high levels of hunger hormones circulating in your body.

 

In other cases, even when your stomach is not empty, some medications that cause appetite and hunger (such as prednisolone) may increase your appetite and your cravings [12].

 

Pro Tips to improve digestion

If you want to prevent constipation and diarrhea and want to enjoy a healthy digestive system, you should consider the following pro tips to improve digestion:

Eat a balanced diet

Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet, such as fruits, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, helps keep your digestive system moving quickly. In addition to their nutritional value, they also help prevent constipation, stimulate the growth of gut bacteria and promote weight loss.

 

It is hard to digest meat (specifically red meat), so be sure to limit your meat intake.

On the other hand, processed and fast foods are often rich in fat, causing digestive problems. In addition, these types of food are also high in sugar content, which leads to disturbing the bacterial balance in the gut.

 

Additionally, these foods also contain additives that may cause stomach upset, resulting in poor health conditions for some people.

Stay hydrated

It is beneficial to drink enough liquids throughout the day, such as water, teas, smoothies, and juices. These liquids help to prevent constipation and also keep food moving throughout the digestive system. See Benefits Of Drinking Water.

Stay hydrated with water in glass

Try to avoid mixing slow and fast-digesting foods.

Foods with fast and slow digestion rates should not be mixed in the same meal. Having fruits first, followed by slow-digesting complex carbohydrates, will allow you to digest fruit faster. Consuming fruit after a heavy meal, especially one that is slow to digest, can result in it fermenting and causing stomach problems.

 

It can be uncomfortable to eat while your body is still digesting the previous meal, as you risk overfulfilling your stomach.

 

Make sure to eat meals that are easily digestible for breakfast and dinner. The body shouldn’t be overstressed after waking up or digesting food when you’re trying to sleep.

 

Since the body is at its most productive around the lunch hour, it’s best to eat foods with a variety of digestion times. Having a cashew cheesecake for lunch is a great time to eat it, even though it might not be a perfect food combination.

Take probiotics

During the digestive process, probiotics (known as beneficial bacteria) reduce the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, thereby restoring the balance of bacteria in the body [13]. Here are some probiotic-rich foods:

 

  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natural yogurt
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Supplements are also available containing probiotics.

 

Ensure to eat foods containing probiotics and fibers. Because fiber-rich and prebiotic-rich foods will support the healthy bacteria already in your colon and the probiotics you consume. See 8 Best Probiotics For Vegans.

Regular physical activity

Getting regular exercise benefits your digestive system and the rest of your body. Many people find that taking a gentle walk after meals makes them feel less bloated, gassy, and constipated [15].

Exercising

Stress management

It is thought that stress slows digestion and contributes to symptoms like heartburn, cramps, and bloating. Practicing meditation and deep breathing can help to reduce stress levels. Why Is Stress Management Important? 

Even taking simple deep breaths before eating can significantly impact stress levels. In addition to getting enough sleep every night, it is also crucial that you avoid stress and aid digestion [14].

Dental hygiene

The digestion process begins with chewing in the mouth, so any problems with the teeth can prevent it from taking place. Due to dental issues, older adults are more at risk of improper chewing techniques. Ensure to keep your teeth clean and healthy by brushing and flossing daily and scheduling frequent dental visits.

Digestive enzymes

Supplements containing digestive enzymes may benefit those with chronic stress, low stomach acid, digestive diseases, and other conditions. Despite the availability of enzyme supplements in health stores, it may be helpful to consult your doctor before beginning a program.

Manage digestive conditions

It is possible to have digestive problems due to a variety of medical conditions. If you have any of these conditions, you should always work with your doctor to reduce digestive distress and manage your symptoms.

Digestive issues

Indigestion can completely spoil your day. You shouldn’t worry about an occasional flare-up but speak with your doctor if you’re having issues regularly.

Types of indigestion:

Gas 

Nausea

Bloating

Heartburn

Stomach Cramps

An overly full feeling

Diarrhea or Constipation

 

Following are some common factors that may be behind the digestive issues.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products. An enzyme called lactase helps your body break down sugar. Between 30 and 50 percent of Americans do not have this enzyme [16].

 

You may suffer from lactose intolerance if you feel uncomfortable after each ice cream cone. You may experience these symptoms:

 

  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Celiac disease
  • Stomach cramps

Gluten Intolerance

Wheat, rye, and barley are all foods high in gluten. When gluten enters the small intestine, celiac disease patients experience an autoimmune reaction. The body attacks gluten (identifying gluten as a foreign object)as soon as it gets in contact with it [17].

Symptoms typically include:

 

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fatty-looking stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Unusually bad-smelling stool

Acid reflux

In order for acid reflux to occur, your lower esophageal sphincter needs to close appropriately. Acid from your stomach is allowed to pass into your esophagus this way [18]. 

 

In case of acid reflux that occurs more than twice per week, you might suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The prevalence of GERD is about 20 percent among Americans.

 

Certain foods can trigger GERD, including:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Chocolate
  • Acidic foods (such as tomatoes)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

This condition irritates the bowels, just as its name implies. Up to 20 percent of Americans suffer from IBS in some way. Females are more likely to suffer from this condition [19].

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain

You can manage IBS symptoms with dietary and physical changes, but there is no cure for IBS.

Takeaway

Food digestion can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending on several factors. Consume a balanced, high-fiber diet, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and manage digestive conditions to enjoy optimal digestion.

It is necessary to see a doctor if digestive distress symptoms are severe, persist, or change over time.

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References

 

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  8. Holesh, J. E., Aslam, S., & Martin, A. (2017). Physiology, Carbohydrates.
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