The way our body digests food is most comparable to a huge food processor that utilizes different chemical and mechanical means to break down the food we consume into nutrients and energy for our bodies. This process can take up to 40 hours and is imperative for us as humans in order to receive these key nutrients to ensure effective cell function. However, it is not an identical process for each of the food products we consume. In fact, the process varies greatly depending on the food groups you’re often consuming.
The first type, and one of the four major macronutrients our bodies need, are carbohydrates. Carbs provide a significant source of fuel to the body. You’ll find carbs in a number of products that include high sugars and fiber, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, nuts or seeds, and legumes. In order for our bodies to properly digest these carbs, our mouths produce salivary amylase which is an enzyme that is responsible for breaking down the chemical components of the carbohydrates known as polysaccharides.
Our digestion process continues as the food that was broken down by the enzyme from our saliva moves through the duodenum of the small intestine. The pancreas then releases amylase in order to further break down the polysaccharides into disaccharides. However, in order to break down these disaccharides into single sugars (known as monosaccharides) that are able to be absorbed into the small intestine, more enzymes are released by the pancreas. Lactase, sucrase, and maltase are responsible for this job. The remaining carbs that were consumed are either used immediately by our bodies for energy or are stored in the liver, our muscles, or tissues for use in the future.
Another major macronutrient that our body desperately needs is fats. Fats support a number of the body’s functions in addition to supplying it with a source of energy. Similar to carbs, the body’s digestion process of fats begins in the mouth. However, rather than enzymes breaking down the fats, it’s short-chain lipids. The broken-down mixture of these fats then moves its way to the small intestine, where similarly to carbs, the pancreas releases an enzyme known as lipase to further breakdown these fats into fatty acids.
As mentioned previously, not every individual’s body has an identical set of digestion processes. Your lifestyle and the foods you decide to eat have a significant effect on the way your body digests these foods. In order to make sure your digestive system is operating as effectively as possible, consuming enough fiber is imperative. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are often high in fiber. Consuming foods like these that are high in fiber often makes you feel more full and will make the process of digested food exiting your body more pleasant.
If you’re having trouble with digestion, another method to improve digestive health is probiotics. Probiotics are live micro-organisms that help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria and can aid in the digestive process. Often found in yogurt, kombucha, and other fermented foods, these are recommended for those struggling with digestion. For more information on how our bodies break down the food we eat, in addition to more tips for proper digestion, check out the accompanying infographic below. Courtesy of Quadro Liquids.