Digestion is one of the vital bodily processes. It breaks down food components into smaller particles so that the essential nutrients from the foods can be absorbed in the bloodstream. Different kinds of foods digest at different times. They sit in the stomach for a particular period of time before they move into the intestine for digestion.
Food digestion usually happens within 24 to 72 hours. However, there are various factors that could affect the speediness or delay in digestion. These are the following:
- Type and amount of food – There are foods considered as slow-digesting foods such as protein-rich and fatty foods. Examples are meat and fish. On the other hand, foods that rapidly digest include fruits, vegetables, and sweets.
- Gender – Men digest food faster than women.
- Digestive/gastric issues – Digestion may be slowed in people with problems in the digestive system such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, and Crohn’s disease, to name a few. (1)
How different foods are digested in the body:
- Water – It is the most digestible of them all. It immediately enters the intestines and the digestion process starts right away.
- Fruits and vegetables – They are digested at a different pace. Raw vegetables may take about 15 to 20 minutes to digest. On the other hand, cooked vegetables usually take 40 minutes to digest. Starchy vegetables are slow-digesting foods as it may take around two hours to completely digest them. Vegetable and fruit salad with oil usually takes an hour to digest.
- Healthy grains – Brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa takes two hours to digest making you feel full throughout the day.
- Meat – The body digests meat at a different pace. The digestion process of fish is between 45 to 60 minutes. Chicken takes two hours, beef three hours, lamb four hours, and pork takes five hours to digest.
- Dairy products – Dairy goods and alternatives are digested in the body within two hours.
- Nuts – It would take around three hours for nuts to be dissolved by the body. (1)
Why is it important to determine how fast the body digests foods?
How soon the body metabolizes food determines how long you will remain satisfied after having your meal. Slow-digesting foods make you feel full for a few hours after eating them. To rate how long the foods take to digest is referred to as the glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index digest sooner than those with a low glycemic index. So, if you eat high glycemic index foods, you will soon feel hungry. On the other hand, foods with a low glycemic index make you feel for a long period of time.
It goes to show that fast-digesting foods will not make you feel full leading you to unnecessary food craving throughout the day. It is the reason why you are gaining weight. On the other hand, slow-digesting foods are achieved by the body at a steady pace thereby preventing unnecessary food cravings throughout the day. (2)
Facts about food digestion
- It would take around 24 to 72 hours for the body to digest foods.
- The digestion process starts the moment foods enter the mouth.
- The stomach acid/gastric acid in the stomach plays a vital role in food digestion.
- Once the food enters the small intestines, it is exposed to the components of the liver and pancreases like bile, enzymes, and digestive juices.
- Digestion allows the body to get the essential nutrients from the foods and drinks such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins are turned into amino acids. Carbohydrates are break down into simple sugar and fats into glycerol and fatty acids. (2)
List of slow-digesting foods
A lot of vegetables are considered slow-digesting foods. They contain complex carbohydrates that are low in glycemic index. In fact, many vegetables contain a few calories. Examples of vegetables that are slow-digesting are:
- Sweet potato
- Sweet corn
- Kidney beans
- Green lentils
- Red lentils
- Pinto beans
- Butter beans
Some vegetables have a high glycemic index and do not stave off hunger such as parsnips and pumpkins.
White bread is high in glycemic index and high in calories. On the other hand, bread made with whole grains is tagged as slow-digesting foods. Examples of bread made with whole grains are wheat bread, rye, and linseed. They contain complex carbohydrates, which make you full for a long period of time. They prevent unnecessary craving. White bread is made from processed flour, which is tagged as simple carbohydrates. Since it is simple carbohydrates, the body can easily digest it. Brown bread, especially the grainier and earthier feel are good at keeping you full for extended hours.
Many fruits are simple carbohydrates, which make them easily digestible. However, there are a few fruits with a relatively low glycemic index. In other words, the body may take some time for them to digest making them slow-digesting foods. Examples of slow-digesting foods are strawberries, apples, peaches, pears, and oranges. Fruits that are easily digestible include bananas, grapes, cherries, and watermelon. The rule of the thumb is the sweeter the fruits the more digestible it will be.
Meat is high in protein, which makes you feel full for up to four hours or so depending on how much you consume. What’s great with meat is that it does not have carbohydrates and glycemic index. If you consume a large portion of meat, you will feel full for an extended period of time. It is the principle used by people who are into a ketogenic diet. (5)
5. Nuts, grains, and edible seeds
They are low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. Slow-digesting nuts, grains, and edible seeds include the following:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat pasta.
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Squash seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sprouted seeds (6)
6. Beans and legumes
They have a glycemic index of under 55 making them a slow-digesting food. Aside from having a low glycemic index, these foods are also a great source of protein, which is perfect for people who don’t eat meat or those following a vegan diet. Examples of beans and legumes that may take some time to digest include:
- Black-eyes peas
- Baked beans
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
7. Dairy and non-dairy alternatives
Dairy products that take some time for the body to digest are full-fat milk, skim milk, cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, and yogurt. Almond and soy milk are slow-digesting foods too.
Difference between slow-digesting foods and fast-digesting foods
Slow-digesting foods contain a high level of fiber. They release sugar slowly and prevent the possibility of excess sugar being stored as fats. On the other hand, fast-digesting foods are those with high starch content. It also includes highly processed foods. Since foods are digested at a rapid rate, there is a high possibility that excess sugar can be stored as fats leading to unwanted weight gain. Examples of fast-digesting foods are white bread, white rice, white pasta, and potatoes.
Fast-digesting foods should be eaten in moderation as too much can lead to health issues. On the other hand, eating slow-digesting foods have a positive impact on one’s diet and overall health. Although slow-digesting foods have a lot of benefits, it is still important to have a balance of everything. Devote one day of the week for your cravings – be it a fast-digesting food. Consider it as your cheat day. You can have the entire six days for slow-digesting foods.
What are the benefits of slow-digesting foods?
- Blood sugar management – Slow-digesting foods helps in stabilizing blood sugar level. The carbohydrates from the foods are slowly turned into sugar so the body has ample time to process the sugar and burn it off. Keep in mind that the faster the sugar is digested, the higher the chances of a blood sugar spike and storing them as fat.
- Improves satiety level – Slow-digesting foods are high in fiber, which makes you feel full for a long period of time. They will improve your digestion and curb your appetite.
- Weight loss management – Slow-digesting foods are filling to the tummy. You won’t feel the need to eat as many foods as you used too, which could be a big help in people who are trying to lose weight.
- Healthy food choices – Slow-digesting foods are natural. They are less processed. In fact, many of them are unprocessed. They don’t have any chemicals, preservatives, or other artificial additives. (6)
What to keep in mind when eating slow-digesting foods?
If you want to switch your eating habits from fast-digesting to slow-digesting foods, one rule of thumb to follow is to focus on eating unprocessed foods. You don’t have to memorize the glycemic index of every food. You just take a look at it. If it isn’t white and looks unpolished/unprocessed, then it is a slow-digesting food.
There are many foods that tagged as slow-digesting and one of them is protein. It has a complex structure that takes longer to digest and makes you feel full for an extended period of time. Animal meat is a great source of protein. People who don’t eat meat can increase their intake of protein-rich vegetables. Power up your breakfast with a protein-rich meal so that you can get going throughout the day without unnecessary craving. You can have an omelet and add your preferred vegetables and toppings. (3)
Not all carbohydrates are bad for your health. There are slow-digesting carbohydrates, which are essential for weight loss and blood glucose management. Carbohydrates keep you going and without a sufficient amount of carbohydrates, you will leave feeling tired. Slow-digesting carbohydrates include whole grain like brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread, barley, and crackers. They provide extended-release energy and make you feel full throughout the day.
Beans are an integral part of healthy eating too. They are one of the superfoods because they are packed with essential nutrients. They contain proteins, fiber, and complex carbohydrates and will make you feel full for a long period of time. Some of the beans you should include in your day to day diet includes black beans, pinto beans, green beans, and lentils.
Food digestion may not be a concern of everyone, but those who are trying to lose weight or want to keep their sugar at bay pay attention to how the foods are digested in the body. Foods with a high glycemic index are easily digestible and do not make you feel full for a long time frame. So, chances are, you are going to eat more just to achieve satiation. On the other hand, slow-digesting foods have a low glycemic index. They are digested in the small intestines, which cause the digestion process to take some time. It makes you feel full for an extended time period and keep your blood sugar at a stable level. Eating slow-digesting foods lessen the insulin requirement and enabling the body to burn carbohydrates and stored body fat. It is one of the reasons why people who want to lose weight should consume slow-digesting foods. (4)