The Normal Time for Food Digestion

Your digestive process can be as individual as your personality, and a number of factors depend on how food passes from your mouth to your esophagus, stomach, intestines and outside your body. If you are concerned you may not be digesting food as efficiently, understanding the typical time frame for your digestive process can help. Always speak to your physician if you are concerned you may not be digesting foods properly.

Family eating dinner together at the dining table. (Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Total Time

Depending on your individual digestive factors, the entire digestive process from eating food to excreting it via your stool can take between 24 and 72 hours, according to MayoClinic.com. Passing food from your stomach to your small intestine takes about six to eight hours. From there, the stool passes to your bowels, which includes the colon.

Colon Elimination

When food particles enter the colon, it is possible some food matter still needs to be digested. Healthy bacteria that live in the colon can break down remaining food matter. The colon also is where some water in your stool is absorbed. Digestion through the large intestine typically takes longer than the stomach and small intestines -- about 24 hours, according to MayoClinic.com. From the colon, the digestive material is moved to the rectum, where it remains until you have a bowel movement.

Diet and Digestion

One of the chief factors that influences digestion is what you are eating. "A steak dinner can take you two, maybe three days to get out of your intestines," said Dr. Mehmet Oz, a physician and health expert interviewed in a 2006 article in "O, the Oprah Magazine." "On the other hand, if you eat vegetables and fruits, they're out of your system in less than 12 hours."

Influencing Factors

A number of factors in your diet can speed up or slow down your digestive process. For example, the more fiber you eat, the quicker your body typically digests foods because fiber binds with your stool to help it move more easily through your body. If you do not eat enough fiber-containing foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, your stool can become hardened and dry, making it difficult to pass. Physical activity also can speed the digestive process by stimulating the movement of stool through your intestines. Factors that can slow your digestive process include taking certain prescription drugs, drinking caffeine or using products that contain nicotine.

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