How Long Does Food Take to Digest?

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Food digestion takes approximately six to eight hours. The length of time depends on several factors, including type of food eaten, gender and digestive issues, such as diverticulosis or lactose intolerance, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Eating provides the body with the essential nutrients it needs for optimum health, including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Digestion is influenced by the amount and type of food consumed. Foods rich in protein or fatty, such as fish and meat, take longer to move through the digestive tract than high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates like sweets and crackers move through the system the fastest.

A 1980s Mayo Clinic study found that the amount of time food stayed in the large intestine was 47 hours for women and 33 hours for me on the average. Digestive issues also affect how food is digested, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance and gastroesophageal reflux disease, among others.

Three Stages of Digestion
Oral - The teeth and tongue work together to break down food and lubricate it with saliva from the mouth lining as well as three other glands. This mixture forms food into a rounded mass called a bolus that is easy to swallow, as noted in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gastric - When the bolus arrives in the stomach via the esophagus, the pepsin enzyme helps break proteins into smaller pieces. The stomach also acts as an enforcer by killing any bacteria or viruses present in ingested food that can cause foodborne illnesses.

Intestinal - Nutrients and water are removed from digested food as it moves through the small intestine walls, and they enter the bloodstream to help repair and build many areas of the body. Food that is not absorbed or digested moves to the large intestine. The remainder, called a stool, is stored in the rectum until anal muscles expel it in a bowel movement.

Tips for a Maintaining a Robust Digestive System
Eat healthy - One of the best ways to keep the digestive system on track is to stay hydrated and eat a diet filled with fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, unprocessed seeds and nuts and vegetables like beans, notes Everyday Health. These foods aid digestion by moving food through the digestive system rapidly, they help prevent constipation, feed gut bacteria and help with weight loss.

Eat sparingly - Avoid foods, such as processed or fast food, because they are difficult for the body to handle. High-sugar foods upset the balance of gut bacteria, resulting in constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating or cramping.

Probiotics - Probiotics help restore the gut's balance by reducing the growth of harmful bacteria. Many foods are naturally rich in probiotics, including natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and fermented vegetables, such as pickles.

Exercise, stress management and sleep - The digestive tract responds well when exercise such as walking or swimming is done on a daily basis. Meditation, deep breathing and yoga help reduce stress and aid digestion. Quality sleeps lets the digestive system relax and restore itself between meals and the digestive cycles present throughout the day.

Dental hygiene - Chewing is the first step taken to break down the foods that provide the body's nutritional needs for optimum health. It is important to brush and floss daily and see a dentist regularly.