Maah, USA, Asks – “About how long does it take for a kid to digest a meal? Does it take longer for an adult and an elderly person? Do certain foods like fruits take less time? Is snacking discouraged then because it comes between meals when the previous meal may not have been completely digested? “
Healthy eating habit for kids
What Ayurveda says?
Ayurveda opines that as long as there is undigested food in the stomach and intestines, it is not healthy to take food. Because, the digestive enzymes (referred to as Agni (fire) – in Ayurvedic literature), are busy digesting the food that is already there in the gut. Hence they can not take an overload of next dose of meals. It may lead to indigestion.
There is a natural cycle of things that happen in digestive system.
- Digestive enzymes are produced in saliva, stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines at a specific time.
- Food is received into the stomach, undergoes first level of digestion, and then it enters intestines, where it undergoes second level of digestion.
- Nutrients are absorbed into the blood from the gut, which gets spread across the body.
- Once the previous food is digested, signals are sent to brain, again enzymes are secreted, person starts feeling hungry.
According to Ayurveda, as long as the person is obeying this rule of eating only when the previous food is digested by the digestive enzymes, and there is secretion of new set of enzymes, he will remain healthy and fit.
If this cycle is broken and if we take food before we actually feel hungry, then indigestion sets in leading to undigested food in the gut, it mixes up with half formed enzymes, leads to free radicals etc. The enzyme system is also hampered, natural body rhythm is disturbed and disease process sets in.
Factors influencing digestion
Few Factors that influence the time taken for digestion, in a kid –
Exercise and physical activity – If the kid is indulging in games, body will be burning huge amounts of calories in faster, and hence the time taken for digestion will be less. Whereas, in an inactive kid, whatever he eats, nutrients are only stored in the body, there is energy reservoir, readily available, hence, less enzymes produced, longer time for digestion.
Nature of food – According to Ayurveda, certain types of food undergo quick digestion like pomegranate, some take a longer time to digest – example – meat.
Spices – If you are taking food along with ginger, pepper, etc food tends to undergo faster digestion.
Mood of the child – If the child is stressed, then digestion power will be low, takes longer time for digestion.
Recommended eating frequency
So considering all these, an eating frequency with a gap of at least 5 – 6 hours is good for a kid.
That is, for a kid, breakfast at about 8 am, lunch between 1 – 2, evening snacks with energy drink between 5 – 6 pm and dinner between 8 – 10 pm, looks a good schedule.
But this rule is not universal. It varies from one child to the other, based on his / her level of physical and mental activities, kid’s natural eating habits, nature of food etc.
For example, if your kid had his lunch at 2 pm, went out for playing, and comes back tired at 5 pm, there is no point in waiting till 7 pm. The kid needs some quick energy. Give him something to eat and drink.
Kid has taken light breakfast with Ginger and garlic Chutney, at 8 am, which are natural appetizers, he might feel hungry by 12 noon only. Do not wait till 1 pm.
Signs of undigested food
Signals to watch if the previous food is not yet digested –
Heaviness in the stomach and body
Aversion towards food
Thick white coating on the tongue
General dullness and lesser physical activity.
Signs of food digestion
Signs to know that previous food is digested –
Kid feels hungry
Feeling lightness of stomach and body
Clear belching, without any flavour of previously taken food
Does it take longer for an adult and an elderly person?
If the quantity of food is kept constant, the time taken by an adult to digest same amount of food is lesser, when compared to a kid.
Do certain foods like fruits take less time?
Yes. For example, pomegranate digests fast, where as jack fruit takes a longer time. I will revert back with full details on this.
Is snacking discouraged because it comes between meals when the previous meal may not have been completely digested?
If there is a minimum gap of 3 – 4 hours between lunch and evening snacks, I think it is just fine.
Snacks should not be too heavy. Of course, it should not be junks.