5 Things You Need to Know About Digesting Foods

1. Each Part Works Together Toward the Same Goal

When you eat food and chew it into small pieces, digestion, or the breakdown of foods, has begun. This process creates nourishment and energy for the body by building cells. Many organs, or parts of the body, work together in this process. They include the mouth (saliva), esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine (or colon), gallbladder, rectum and anus. Lining each part is mucosa, which produces juices to help digestion. The colon also has smooth muscle that aids in digestion. Two very important organs that regulate this entire process are the liver and pancreas.

2. The Journey Never Really Ends

Through a process known as peristalsis, or muscle contraction within the digestive organs, the food moves from one organ to another. Food is swallowed in the mouth and pushed through the throat and esophagus into the stomach via the pyloric valve, a special passage between the esophagus and stomach. In the stomach, food is turned into liquid, mixed with the digestive juices and emptied into the small intestine, where it undergoes further breakdown depending on the type of food it is.

3. What Is Being Transported in the Body

Different foods are digested at different rates. Carbohydrates–such as bread, potatoes and rice–are digested the fastest, and proteins–such as meat, eggs and beans–and fats spend more time in the stomach. They mix with the digestive juices from the pancreas, liver and colon to further digestion. Fats are a rich energy source for the body. Fiber, also known as the waste product from undigested food, and older mucosa cells are pushed into the colon and emptied as feces in a bowel movement.

4. The Digestion Police

They are known as hormones, and they help to control the digestive process. They include gastrin, which helps the stomach produce an acid and helps cell growth in the colon; secretin, which tells the pancreas to produce a digestive juice to make the stomach less acidic for digesting foods and stimulates bile production in the liver; and cholecystokinin (CCK), which tells the pancreas to produce enzymes and empties the gallbladder. Other digestion police include ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite and is produced in the colon and stomach, and peptide YY, which minimizes an appetite.

5. More Water, Please?

Drinking more water will aid in digestion. Almost 70 percent of the body is made up of water, and it aids in digestion, particularly in the small intestine, where it is absorbed and the salt from the digested food is dissolved. So the next time you’re out, ask for more water. Your organs will thank you later.

About this Author

J.N. Barlow has worked in the public health field in the areas of women’s health, disabilities, health policy, health communication and health disparities. With a Bachelors of Arts in English and a Masters of Public Health in Maternal & Child Health, she enjoys good, live music, reading biographies/autobiographies and cherishing family, friends and the great outdoors.