Often when we feel bloated, cramped, suffer from diarrhea or constipation; we consider what we ate recently as the culprit.  Although this might be the case, some foods take up to 3 days to work through the digestive system and cause issues along the way.  What we eat and how much we eat dictates how long the process will be.  Other factors such as gender, metabolism, and health of your digestive system also play a role.

Your digestive system is made of five main parts: mouth; esophagus; stomach; small intestine; and large intestine.

As you chew, glands in your mouth release saliva that contains enzymes that breakdown the food to make it easier to swallow.  The esophagus allows food into your stomach, and stops stomach acids from leaving the stomach.  Stomach acids break the food down further and prepares it for the small intestine.  Within the small intestine juices from the pancreas break down the carbohydrates, fats, and protein.  Bile from the gallbladder dissolves the fat.  Vitamins, other nutrients, and water move through the walls of the small intestine into your bloodstream.  The remaining undigested parts move into the large intestine.  The large intestine absorbs any remaining water and nutrients and the rest goes through as waste.

Food initially moves rather quickly, taking only 6 to 8 hours to move through the stomach, small intestine, and into the large intestine.  Once in the large intestine the partially digested food can take over a day to breakdown even more.

Meat and fish can take as long as 2 days to digest completely, as proteins and fat take longer to breakdown.  Fruits and vegetables, which are high in fibre, can move through your system in less than a day. Processed, sugary foods can fly through your system in a few hours (leaving you hungry and unsatisfied).

To keep food moving smoothly through your system try these tips:

Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains:

Foods rich in fibre help food move through your digestive system more easily.

Limit red meat and processed foods:

Add probiotics to your diet:

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that will help keep your digestive system healthy and operating properly.

Exercise daily:

Moving your body helps keep things moving through your digestive system.  Taking a walk after meals will often prevent gas and bloating.

Get lots of sleep.:

Manage stress:

Stress can increase chances of digestive problems such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.

Understanding what we eat and how different foods impact our body’s digestive system can help you understand when and why you are experiencing discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.  Sometimes all it takes are slight adjustments to our diets to feel better and have a properly functioning digestive system.