16 Mar Bloating or Fat? Understanding digestion times
When your tummy is bigger than you would like, sometimes it is hard to know if it’s due to bloating or fat!
How do you know if it’s bloating or fat?
Helpfully, there are four clues that should tell you whether it’s bloating or fat that is the cause:
- Does your tummy feel hard to touch?
- Is the swelling just in one area
- Does the distended look come and go?
- Is your tummy tender to touch or does it feel sore?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then it could well be that you are suffering from bloating which can be caused by digestion issues and water retention
In this article, we’ll look at why your digestive system may be the cause of bloating and what you can do to relieve it.
What is digestion?
Put simply, digestion is the process by which food is broken down into nutrients – the body’s ‘building blocks’. Digestion is an essential process as it allows nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The digestive system is made up of five main parts:
- The mouth – where food is chewed into a ball-like mixture called ‘bolus’
- The oesophagus – the muscular tube that food enters when it’s swallowed to get to the stomach
- The stomach – where stomach acid breaks down food
- The small intestine – where enzymes break food into nutrients so they can be used by the body
- The large intestine – where excess water and any unwanted nutrients are converted to waste, ready to be expelled by the body
Every body is different
All sorts of factors affect how quickly we digest food. These include our physical health, metabolic rate, age and even gender.
Food intolerances and digestive issues like Celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and lactose intolerance can also affect both bowel transit time and digestion time.
If you suffer from digestive issues, understanding digestion rates can help you to make informed choices about which foods to steer clear of to avoid bloating.
Bowel transit time versus digestion time
When people talk about digestion rates, this can refer to two different things.
Sometimes it’s used to describe the time between food entering your mouth and leaving your body as waste: this is your ‘bowel transit time’.
In general, bowel transit takes 24 to 72 hours. For some people though, it can take up to five days. Of course, bowel transit time is heavily affected by what types of food you’ve eaten and in what quantities, as well as how you’re made.
More commonly, digestion time refers to the rate at which food passes through your stomach, sometimes referred to as ‘gastric emptying’ and this is the time we’re referring to in this article.
If you frequently suffer from diarrhoea, you will probably want to slow down digestion time to give your gut more solid foods to work with.
However, if your digestive system is sluggish, or if you spend a lot of the day sitting and don’t move around much, it is better to choose foods that your body can process quickly.
The key is to find which type of foods are right to help reduce bloating for your body.
The digestion times below are the approximate times that it takes for food to move through the mouth, oesophagus and stomach, and reach the small intestine.
Water – 0 minutes
Water takes next to no time to pass through an empty stomach, which is why many dieticians recommend starting your day with a big glass of water to flush out your digestive system. Drinking plenty of water is essential if you want to reduce either bloating or fat around the abdomen as it helps flush out toxins.
Juice – 15 – 20 minutes
Fruit and vegetable juices that have been extracted from the fibrous pulp pass through your stomach in record time – less than 20 minutes.
Soups and smoothies – 20 – 30 minutes
Soups and smoothies which have not had the fibre removed reach your small intestine in 20 – 30 minutes.
Watery vegetables – 20 – 30 minutes
Vegetables with a high water content like cucumber and salad leaves travel through your stomach extremely rapidly. In 20 – 30 minutes they’ll be sitting in your small intestine.
Most fruit – 40 minutes
Fruit like apples and bananas which have a little more texture to them take around 40 minutes to transit through the first three parts of your digestive tract.
Eggs – 45 minutes
Eggs pass through the stomach relatively quickly. They’ll have reached your small intestine within around 45 minutes.
Fish – 45 – 60 minutes
Fish spends far less time in the stomach than meat. It travels from mouth to small intestine in 45 – 60 minutes.
Steamed, cooked and root vegetables – 50 minutes
Cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest. Within 50 minutes, they’ll have passed through your stomach. The same goes for root veg like carrots.
Starchy carbohydrates – 60 minutes
Starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash are digested more slowly. It can take up to an hour for these to leave the stomach.
Peas and beans – 90 minutes
Bringing up the tail for the vegetables, peas and beans should reach your small intestine in around 90 minutes.
Dairy and soft cheese – 90 – 120 minutes
Soft cheeses like feta and ricotta, as well as other dairy products like milk, ice cream and chocolate, take somewhere between 90 – 120 minutes to make their way through your stomach.
Chicken – 90 – 120 minutes
Of the meats, chicken passes through the stomach most quickly – in 90 – 120 minutes. In under 2 hours, it will have reached your small intestine.
Seeds – up to 2 hours
Seeds should wind up in your stomach around 2 hours after you eat them.
Nuts – 1.5 – 2 hours
High in protein, nuts take 1.5 – 2 hours to transit through the stomach.
Red meat – 3 – 4 hours
Red meats like lamb and beef spend 3 to 4 hours in your stomach.
Hard cheese – up to 4 hours
Like a bit of cheddar, parmesan or manchego? Hard cheeses like these sit in the stomach for up to 4 hours.
Pork – 4 – 5 hours
One of the slowest foods to digest, pork, takes a staggering 4 to 5 hours to make it through to the small intestine.
Why we need balance to avoid bloating or fat
Eating too many foods which are quick to digest can cause you to put on weight as they pass through so rapidly that they quickly leave you feeling hungry again and mean you’re more likely to overeat.
At the other end of the spectrum, slow-digesting foods make your digestive system work extra hard, putting your body under a lot of pressure and potentially leading to discomfort, indigestion and bloating.
Beating bloating with herbal medicine
If you want to help keep your digestion on track, using a herbal medicine could help reduce bloating, particularly if you feel that you’ve over-indulged.
HRI Milk Thistle™ is a herbal medicine that comes in tablet form and can be taken daily to support a healthy digestive system, or used to relieve uncomfortable symptoms like indigestion or bloating after a heavy meal or when you can’t move around to aid your digestion.
Bloating can also be exacerbated by fluid retention, which in women, in particular, tends to be most noticeable around the tummy area. If you aren’t sure whether your tummy is distended due to fluid retention bloating or fat, you can find out more in our helpful article How to stop water retention.
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