Food digestion takes anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to pass through the entire digestive system. Furthermore, the denser the food, the longer it takes to digest.
In most cases, food digestion takes longer than 30 minutes to digest food. In fact, the entire digestive process can take several hours. Only simple carbohydrates, such as plain rice and pasta, take just between 30 to 60 minutes to get digested in the stomach.
It typically takes food more than 40 minutes to pass through the stomach. After that, the food stays in the intestine anywhere from 40 to 120 minutes, or sometimes even longer.
While these are just estimates of the time required to digest food, the actual transit time depends on the density of the food, which pertains to the protein or fat content. For example, peanut butter, avocado and eggs can take two to four hours to leave your stomach.
What is digestion?
The digestion process breaks down food into its components called nutrients that the body can use to function. Food passes through the digestive tract, which is made up of different organs that work together to digest food.
The digestive system is made up of five parts that include:
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
Digestion typically begins in the mouth when you start chewing the food, which mixes with your saliva and makes it easier to swallow. However, the real digestive process starts in the stomach where the food mixes with water and various digestive enzymes from the pancreas and liver. Then the food passes into the small intestine, where the water and nutrients are absorbed. After that, the large intestine takes care of the remaining waste, which is expelled from the rectum in the form of bowel movements.
What factors determine the transit time food takes to digest?
Not everyone takes the same duration to digest food. Many factors influence the total transit time food takes to pass through the digestive system, such as:
- Your body type
- Your metabolism
- Genetics (some people are naturally born with faster metabolism)
- Age (with aging, metabolism slows down)
- Types of foods you eat (liquids leave your stomach quickly while solids take a longer time)
- Medications that you are on, such as
- Your level of physical activity
- Your stress level
- Past surgeries
- Hormonal levels (especially thyroid hormone)
Among liquids too, the duration of leaving the stomach differs. Plain water takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Clear juices, tea and sodas take 20 to 40 minutes. Smoothies, protein shakes and bone broths typically require 40 to 60 minutes.
How do you know your stomach is full?
Pay attention to the feeling in your stomach when you finish eating the food on your plate. If you have eaten an adequate quantity of food, you should feel a gentle pressure in your stomach that says it is time to stop. If you feel an uncomfortable bloating sensation, it means you are overeating. You can sit for several minutes in front of your plate to understand this reaction.
You should also be aware of certain conditions that may make it feel like your stomach is full. These conditions include heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain. In many cases, a healthy diet of probiotics can help alleviate the adverse systems of digestive conditions.
Can you know when your stomach is empty?
Usually, your stomach is likely to be empty several hours after you have had a meal. However, it may not always be possible to tell if your stomach is empty.
You may still feel hungry even if your stomach is not empty. This happens when you have high levels of circulating hunger hormones.
Some medications, such as steroids (for example, prednisolone), can increase your appetite and your hunger even when your stomach is not empty.
Medically Reviewed on 9/1/2021
Cleveland Clinic. How Long Does It Take to Digest Food. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-long-does-it-take-to-digest-food/