How long it takes to digest our food is not something we think about very often. But if it’s taking too long, it could be a sign that your digestive system isn’t working as it should.
Some foods, such as fruit and vegetables, naturally pass through the digestive system quicker than other foods, such as red meat, that takes more work to break down. It takes on average six to eight hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine. It can then take a further two days for the food to pass through the large intestine (the colon) and then be eliminated as waste.
So, how long should it take the basic food groups to pass through the small intestine?
- Water and juices: 20–30 minutes.
- Fruit, smoothies and soups: 30–45 minutes.
- Vegetables: 30–45 minutes.
- Beans, grains and starches: 2–3 hours.
- Meat, fish and poultry: more than three hours.
What does it matter, you may ask?
Well, if you have a slow digestive system, gastroparesis, to give it its proper name, could cause you a lot of pain or discomfort. Symptoms can be nausea, vomiting, feeling full as soon as you’ve swallowed a mouthful, bloating and abdominal pain. It could also lead to weight loss or malnutrition, as your body isn’t getting the right nutrients.
What should you do about it?
Obviously, you should consult your GP if any of these symptoms are ongoing, but you can also do a simple test at home to see if your digestion is slow. All you have to do is eat a spoonful of sweet corn and see how long it takes to make its way out the other end. As sweet corn isn’t digested, and has the advantage of being bright yellow, you will see it quite clearly in your stool.
If it takes more than two days to leave your system, then it is likely that your digestive system is sluggish.