Your gastrointestinal tract, also known as your bowels, or gut, is involved in the process of digesting, absorbing and eliminating food. From top to bottom, your gastrointestinal tract runs 25 feet in length. It takes time for food to travel such a distance, and the amount of time is related to your diet, specifically to the amount of meat and fiber you consume. So when it comes to which is easier to digest — meat or vegetables, several factors need to be considered.
Bowel Transit Time
Bowel transit time, or digestion time, is the term doctors use to describe how long it takes for food to pass from your mouth to your anus. Regardless of what you eat, the vegetable and meat digestion process begins the same way. Immediately after ingestion, food travels relatively quickly and, within six to eight hours, the food has moved from your stomach through the small intestine and to the large intestine. The partially digested food can then sit for more than a day while it’s broken. down The average digestion time food spends in the large intestine varies by gender, the average being 33 hours for men and 47 hours for women, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many factors contribute to digestion rate and can vary individually depending on what you've eaten. Proteins in meat and fish can take as long as two days to fully digest, while fruits and vegetables may move through your system in less than a day due to the higher fiber content.
Vegetarian or Meat for Digestion Time?
Diets higher in fiber are associated with faster passage and bulkier stools, according to MedlinePlus. Since vegetarians consume more fiber than meat-eaters, likely because plant-based foods make up a greater part of the vegetarian diet. Plant foods are the only good sources of fiber, which helps move food through your intestines at a more rapid rate. The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research says that vegetarians tend to have faster bowel transit times and more frequent bowel movements than omnivores and the difference in transit times can be attributed to the amount of fiber in the diet. According to the USDA Dietary Reference Intake table, you need 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily. Any less may cause slower transit times, especially with the digestion of meat in the human digestive system.
The Bacteria Connection
You have bacteria living throughout your body, but the 300 to 500 different species that live in your gut have the biggest impact on your health says WebMD. Bacteria line your entire digestive system including your intestines and colon. They may have an affect on your overall metabolism, mood and immune system.
Bacteria in the gut prefer carbohydrates, found in fiber. With a shortage of carbohydrates to consume, food takes longer to pass through the colon and harmful bacterial are produced because the bacteria start to feed on leftover protein instead, as indicated in a study published in the Journal of Nature Microbiology. When the transit time is shorter, the colon renews its inner surface quicker. Results of the 2016 Denmark study confirmed that transit times are a key factor in the activity of intestinal bacteria and a healthy gut.
Dietary Fat Causes Slow Digestion
Another reason for a delay in transit time experienced by meat eaters relative to vegetarians may have to do with the amount of fat consumed. Animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs typically contain higher amounts of fats than fruits, vegetables and grains. Fats takes more time, effort and extra specific enzymes to be broken down and digested when compared to protein or carbohydrates, according to University of Washington. Due to the insolubility of fats they tend to rise and float in the stomach so are acted upon last, which tends to slow digestion.
Drink plenty of water and consume a diet rich in fiber to shorten transit time. Limiting your intake of meat can also help as does exercise to maintain the health of your digestive track.
- Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Bowel Transit Time
- British Journal of Nutrition: Fibre and Bowel Transit Times
- Livestrong.com: List of High-Fiber, Low-Calorie Foods
- Livestrong.com: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
- Journal of Nature Microbiology: Colonic Transit Time is Related to Bacterial Metabolism and Mucosal Turnover in the Gut
- GI Society: Diet Plays a Big Role & Other New Insights
- USDA Dietary Reference Intakes: Fiber
- WebMD: What Your Gut Bacteria Say About You
- The Mayo Clinic: Digestion: How long does it take?
- Livestrong.com: Does Fat Slow Digestion?
- University of Washington:Digestion and Absorption of Fats
- Livestrong.com: Diet for Lazy Bowels
- Livestrong.com: Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Livestrong.com: Fats