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  • Sophia Kamveris, MS, RD

How Long Does it Take for Food to Get Digested?

I talk a lot about digestive health in my practice. I have had IBS for a long time now, so I have a special interest in knowing how my insides work. Everyone’s gastrointestinal system is different but as a general rule, it can take up to 72 hours (3 days!) from the time food enters your mouth to the time it exits as stool.

Some people have medical conditions that can alter what we refer to as transit time, or the time it takes for food to enter and exit the body. For the sake of general interest, this post gives you a basic, medical viewpoint of the journey a morsel of food can take as it travels through your system.

Digestion begins the second you take your first bite of food by the saliva in your mouth. Your teeth grind the food and your tongue moves it along into the esophagus, the long tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. There’s a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that opens (one way) to allow food to enter the stomach. Food can spend up to 2 hours churning away in the acids and enzymes in your stomach, eventually forming a thickened paste called, chyme.

Chyme passes into your small intestine (which measures 20-22 feet long) and stays there for 2 to 6 hours. The small intestine is the powerhouse section of the digestive system, where vital nutrients are absorbed. Your pancreas, liver and gallbladder all work in sync to secrete the necessary enzymes and bile to break down food in the small intestine. The precious nutrients that are retrieved by the small intestine are vital for the body to function.

When the small intestine has completed its job, what remains are waste products that includes plant fiber. This mass passes into the 5-foot long large intestine (also referred to as the colon) where water and sodium are reabsorbed. Good bacteria help to keep the bowel in balance as undigested food residue can hang around here for up to 2 days, waiting to get eliminated from the body.

The longer stool stays in the colon, the harder it becomes as it continues to lose water, so it’s so important to have a routine bowel pattern. Sleeping in and traveling can definitely affect the efficiency of this well-tuned digestive process. Drink plenty of fluids, enjoy a high fiber diet, and keep your body keep "things" moving!

For more information on how your digestive system works:


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