What Digestion Is All About: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Jan 16, 2018

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician.  I’m here today with health tips for kids about: digestion.

Do you know what your digestive tract is? 

It’s the part of your body that starts at your mouth and ends at your butt.  It’ a great big system that has two major jobs.  The first job, called digestion, is to take your food and turn it nutrition and energy.  The second job is to get rid of food we don’t need, and we do that by pooping.

Credit Nvainio (CC-BY-2)

The beginning step of digestion happens in your mind, your nose and your eyes.  Just like your dog does when you pick up its food bowl, humans get pretty excited when they know food is on the way.  When you smell delicious food (think about freshly baked cookies sitting on your kitchen counter), your mouth and stomach wake up and get ready to digest.  You might even make saliva (also known to some kids as spit), and that’s where the expression ‘mouth-watering food’ comes from. 

The next step in digestion is your mouth.  In particular, it’s your teeth, tongue and saliva.  Your teeth bite your food into small pieces.  Your tongue moves the food around so your teeth can keep chewing it.  Your tongue also is where the sense of taste comes from; it lets us know if food is sweet or salty or bitter.  Your tongue can also tell if something is too hot or too cold.  Saliva comes from little glands under your tongue.  They squirt saliva out and it starts dissolving your food right there in your mouth.  For good digestion and to get the best nutrition out of your food, you have to chew slowly and chew lots of times so saliva can do its job. 

Next is the esophagus.  E-S-O-P-H-A-G-U-S.  The esophagus is a tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach.  The esophagus is what swallows your food.  When you swallow, the walls of the esophagus squeeze together and move food down into your stomach.  If you gulp your food, the muscles of your esophagus might not work right and you can choke or have pain.  Something fun to do is to think about your esophagus the next time you eat and see if you can feel it working.

When food gets to your stomach, acid dissolves it into a liquid.  Your stomach is really, really acidy.  If you stuck your hand down there and left it for a while, your skin and muscles would dissolve into a sticky liquid, kind of like glue.  That’s what happens to meat and oil and ice cream and tomatoes and squash and French fries – they all get dissolved into a liquid that passes into the next chamber of your digestive tract.  It’s called the small intestine.

In the small intestine, more substances, called enzymes, get dumped into your digestive tract.  They come from your gallbladder and pancreas.   The small intestine is really long – in adults it can be 25 feet long – and it’s all coiled up inside your belly.  Good things like vitamins and minerals, fats, protein and carbohydrates get carried through the walls of the small intestine and into your blood to keep you healthy and growing.

Finally, leftover food your body doesn’t want goes into the large intestine.  Liquid is sucked out and unwanted food turns into poop.  And you know what happens to that!  Out it comes and away it’s flushed.

So that’s how we turn food into energy and nourishment.  Your digestive tract works all by itself.  All you have to do is put food in your mouth and really chew it up.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, and I’m wishing you well.