Why Is Your Food Slow to Digest?

Grilled vegetables and silverware
Grilled vegetables on a plate. (Image: karandaev/iStock/Getty Images)

Your digestive system is a hardworking bodily function that involves your stomach, intestines and other important organs. Certain foods digest slower than others. Speed of digestion is not as important as efficient digestion. The ability for your body to use energy from foods should take precedence over quick digestion times. For most healthy adults digestion time is between 24 and 72 hours. Complete elimination of any food you eat can generally take up to 24 hours. Several factors can affect the speed and efficiency of food digestion.

Glycemic Index

Foods that have a high-glycemic index are digested much quicker than foods with a lower index. If you eat low-glycemic foods, your digestive tract will take longer to break them down into usable components. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, high-glycemic foods are made up of simple carbohydrate bonds that are easier for your body to break down and digest than more complex carbohydrates. High-glycemic foods include watermelon, white rice, pasta, juices, cookies and pastries. Fast digestion is not always appropriate for proper health as it can lead to weight gain or diabetes.

Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digested by your body but helps aid digestion. High-fiber foods digest much slower in your body. Low-glycemic foods are typically high in fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water from your digestive tract and forms into a gel that helps to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. Some examples of high-fiber foods include oats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Exercise

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, when you exercise soon after eating, you force blood away from your digestive tract into working muscles. This can slow down digestion and cause cramping, gas and bloating -- an unfavorable consequence. Try to wait 90 minutes after eating before you exercise. Exercise does help strengthen muscles of your abdomen and stimulates your intestines to push food through to be eliminated.

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions may cause your digestive tract to improperly digest food. Gastroparesis is a medical condition that occurs when your stomach does not properly empty its contents. If food remains undigested for too long, bacteria can grow and cause infection. Crohn’s disease can affect the speed at which food passes through your digestive tract. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping and blood in your stool. If you notice any of these symptoms contact your physician.

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