The human stomach makes the protein pepsin to digest food proteins. These pepsin amino acids are important for protein digestion and amino acid absorption. Dietary supplements like protein powders can be processed in just a few hours. However, foods like beef and pork take more time for the body to process by breaking them down into amino acids. The process is very complex but it’s helpful to know the basics of how food is digested. This helps to explain how different macronutrients like protein are broken down.
Fun Fact: Food can take up to 48 hours to digest completely. The process is quite complex.
The body’s process of breaking down food into stuff it can absorb is quite complex. For example, proteins are first broken down into stuff called “peptides.” Then those peptides are broken down into amino acids. It’s a complex process that can take two hours or two days depending on the protein’s form. Meat takes the longest time to process, which partly explains why options like pork and beef are considered “heavy” foods. These are some of the best protein sources in terms of nutrition but also take more time to process than other options like whole grains, nuts/seeds, beans, and dairy.
How Does the Body Digest Protein?
The process is very complex and to understand it fully you’d have to be a chemist. However, it helps to know the basics. The process starts when you start chewing the protein source. There are two key enzymes in the mouth’s saliva.
The teeth are important for grinding up the food. However, saliva is also critical because they start breaking down carbs/fat. This is important because these are the other two macro-nutrients. The human body uses these nutrients differently but they also provide the body with energy.
When the protein gets to the stomach there are enzymes and acids that start breaking down the proteins into smaller peptides. These peptides are made up of amino acid chains. The main takeaway is that protein first gets reduced to peptides, then those peptides are broken down more to become amino acids. These are easier for the body to absorb.
The amino acid chains from the stomach then keep moving to the small intestine. When this happens the pancreas gives out enzymes and other stuff that makes digested food less acidic.
What’s the big deal? This process is important since enzymes can break down the chains of amino acids more into single amino acids. It continues the process of the food getting broken down into stuff the body can absorb more easily.
Then the small intestine starts absorbing protein. There are finger-like structures there that allow the small intestine to work better at absorbing food. It makes it easier to absorb nutrients like amino acids.
After the amino acids are absorbed they then get released into the body’s bloodstream. They move them to other body parts. This is part of the process of building muscle and repairing tissue.
You can take steps to absorb more protein. They include picking complete proteins like meat/fish eggs, and dairy. They include all 9 essential amino acids (EAAs).
Pepsin Amino Acids
Pepsin is a protein that the stomach makes. The function is to digest food-based proteins. Fun Fact: Pepsin was the first enzyme discovered.
It’s inactive when it’s made but then an acid known as HCI makes it activated within the stomach. Other proteins found in the small intestine start breaking down the proteins more.
Amino acids are connected by peptides. Meanwhile, these peptides connect together to make proteins. There are big and small peptide chains. It’s a very complex process. What’s important to know is that peptides and other stuff are critical for breaking down protein.
Enzymes are important because they help to speed up the process of breaking down proteins. Pepsin is a digestive enzyme that starts breaking down protein within the stomach. There are other enzymes that are also part of the process.
Each of the enzymes has an important role in the process. For example, pepsin is responsible for breaking down certain kinds of amino acids. This differs from other enzymes that break down other amino acids. The result is the process is more efficient since each enzyme targets certain amino acids.
In fact, the whole process of food digestion/absorption actually happens before we consume food. When we taste/smell food this triggers the body’s production of juices and hormones that are part of the process.
This process is important because protein molecules are simply too large for the body to absorb. This explains why the body must first break down proteins into peptides, then break those peptides into amino acids. After the amino acids are broken down, they then are broken down into smaller amino acids.
After that happens the cells in the small intestine can then absorb them. Afterward, the body can then use the cells to become nutrients for different body parts. It’s a very complex process that involves pepsin amino acids.
Tips for Improving Digestion
1. Reduce high-fat foods
The reason is that these foods usually slow down digestion, which can result in constipation. Make sure to go with a healthy fat like fatty fish, nuts/seeds, avocado, and olive oil. It’s a good idea to pair high-fat foods with high-fiber foods so the digestive system can process them better.
2. Maintain an eating schedule
Try to do this for your meals and snacks. This can improve the digestive system. When possible consume your meals/snacks around the same times daily.
3. Get soluble/insoluble fiber
These are two different kinds of fiber that you should consume. Insoluble fiber (roughage) is the kind that the body can’t digest. However, it’s still important for digestion and actually reduces the total carbs in foods since it can’t be digested.
Then there’s a soluble fiber that takes in water. This can help to prevent other digestion problems so it’s also important to consume this kind of fiber. You can get it from foods like beans, nuts, and bran. The key is to make sure you’re getting both kinds of fiber.
4. Go with lean meats
While it’s important to consume protein you should pick lean meats. This can improve digestion. Some options include skinless chicken and pork loin. Besides improving digestion they’ll also be lower in saturated fat. The body needs some of this kind but it’s better to consume more unsaturated fat.
5. Consume a high-fiber diet
Studies show that this is key for better digestion. Make sure to include options like whole grains, beans, veggies, and fruits. This helps food to keep moving in the digestive tract better. That helps to prevent digestion issues like constipation.
Another benefit is it can help to prevent more serious digestion problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). When you literally keep the (digestive) juices flowing this also helps to prevent weight gain along with other stuff like pepsin amino acids.