We often hear the importance of choosing nutritious foods so we can receive all our essential vitamins and minerals. Yet, how do we utilize these nutrients and where do they go? The digestive tract is the body’s way of breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating unwanted waste.
The digestion process begins as soon as we walk into the lunchroom and breath in the tasty aroma of our meal. The smell tells our body to begin producing saliva before we even eat! Once we take the first delicious bite, the enzymes in our saliva being working together with our strong teeth and tongue, making the food easier to swallow.
The food then enters the esophagus, a long, muscular tube that extends from the back of the mouth to the stomach. The epiglottis is an important flap that covers our windpipe, preventing food from entering.
Once the food travels down the esophagus it is emptied into the stomach. The acid produced by the stomach walls combined with the churning continues to break down the food into smaller and smaller pieces.
The food then arrives at a 22-foot long tube called the small intestine. The only thing small about the small intestine is its 2inch diameter. When stretched out it can cover a tennis court! As the food travels through the small intestine all the nutrients found in the food are absorbed. However, It does not work alone! It uses the help from other organs including, the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. These organs release enzymes that help in the breakdown process, allowing absorption to occur. This means all the nutrients that filled our food are extracted and absorbed so they can be used by our body.
INTERESTING FACT: The small intestine is composed of a duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.
After the long journey through the small intestine, the nutrients leave the intestine and enter the blood. Once in the blood they head straight for the liver. The liver is where all the decisions are made. It determines what will be stored, what will be used for energy and what nutrients to send out to other parts of the body.
The calcium in the milk we drink will be used to build strong bones, the vitamin C in our fruit will be used to fight off illness, the carbs in our wheat bread will be used for energy and the protein in our grilled chicken will be used to build strong muscles.
INTERESTING FACT: In your lifetime, the digestive system will handle over 50 tons of food and liquid!
Anything that was not absorbed in the small intestine will be excreted through the large intestine. Much shorter in size, the large intestine is 5 feet long with a large diameter of 4 inches wide. It is here that the body has one last chance to absorb any water or minerals it needs before being excreted.
For additional resources and interactive movies and games on the digestive tract visit-