You probably do not think too much about what actually happens to the food you eat. This section will describe in depth how what you eat is digested. The desired end result for the learner will be an integrated understanding of the process. This will require higher levels of thinking, but will prove to be well worth it in the end.
- 3.1: Digestion at a Glance
- Digestion is the process of breaking down food to be absorbed or excreted. The gastrointestinal (GI, digestive) tract, the passage through which our food travels, is a "tube within a tube." The trunk of our body is the outer tube and the GI tract is the interior tube. Thus, even though the GI tract is within the body, the actual interior of the tract is technically outside of the body. This is because the contents have to be absorbed into the body.
- 3.2: Mouth to the Stomach
- Digestion begins in the mouth, both mechanically and chemically. Mechanical digestion is called mastication, or the chewing and grinding of food into smaller pieces. The salivary glands release saliva, mucus, and the enzymes, salivary amylase and lysozyme.
- 3.3: Stomach
- After going through the lower esophageal sphincter, food enters the stomach. Our stomach is involved in both chemical and mechanical digestion. Mechanical digestion occurs as the stomach churns and grinds food into a semisolid substance called chyme (partially digested food).
- 3.4: Small Intestine
- The small intestine is the primary site of digestion. It is divided into three sections: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum (shown below). After leaving the stomach, the first part of the small intestine that chyme will encounter is the duodenum.
- 3.6: Large Intestine
- We have reached a fork in the road. We could follow the uptake of the digested compounds into the enterocyte or we could finish following what has escaped digestion and is going to continue into the large intestine. Obviously from the title of this section we are going to do the latter. As we learned previously, fiber is a crude term for what has survived digestion and has reached the large intestine.
Thumbnail: An illustration of the digestive system in an adult. Image used with permission (CC BY-Sa 4.0; BruceBlaus).