Having a good understanding of how quickly your food digests can often help you achieve the results you’re looking for. Different people would like to see different results. For example, some parents would like to understand how quickly their kids’ foods digest to know what to pack in their lunches or to feed them before sports. Sometimes, we’d like to know what’s going to keep us fuller longer, say if we aren’t losing the weight we are hoping for or if we just feel hungry all the time—which can truly be frustrating.
So often, parents tell me that their kids are endless pits and always hungry. They assume it’s directly related to growth, and it can be, but it can also be related to the foods they’re choosing. For instance, most kids are carbohydrate friendly on their diets. Aka: bread, crackers, snack foods, fruit. In many circumstances, this is what they’re craving and all they’ll eat. But if you add a slower-digesting food to their diet (with healthy fats and high fiber), they may be satisfied longer.
Same with adults. So many adults are still focused on calories. Carbohydrates carry half as many calories as fat, but they don’t sustain you, so you tend to eat more of them and more frequently. All calories aside, let’s talk about which foods digest the fastest and which digest the slowest.
Fastest to slowest
Juice and other sugar-concentrated liquids
Think of your digestive system and all the organs included (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, etc.) as a water hose. If you just send water or liquid through the hose, it’s going straight through. Same with a lot of smoothies … hello juice and sherbet combined.
Some fruit absorbs and digests much faster than other fruit. As a basic rule of thumb, the more fiber, the slower it absorbs. With fruit, melons and bananas are lower in fiber and high in glycemic load, and in turn digest quickly.
Veggies like lettuce, cucumber, and peppers digest about as quickly as fruit. They contain a lot of water, and it pushes through the system quickly. Root veggies and cruciferous veggies like cauliflower take quite a bit longer to clear the digestive system.
High in protein and fat but low in fiber. These foods can digest pretty quickly compared with other protein and fat sources.
Grains and other concentrated and resistant carbohydrates take much longer to digest. They contain a great deal of fiber and also a good amount of protein, slowing digestion.
With the high fiber and fat content, nuts and seeds take twice as long to digest as grains.
Meat can take up to five hours to digest, which is a very long time. This is why pure protein is good for weight loss, because the longer it takes to digest, the longer you stay full.
Cara Clark is the owner and primary Certified Nutritionist of Cara Clark Nutrition. Cara works with individuals and groups to promote overall health and to manage a wide range of nutrition-related issues. With a ‘non-dieting’ approach, she has helped clients manage weight, energy, performance, diabetes, thyroid related disease, allergies, eating disorders, and more.
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