How Do We Digest Fat?
How Do We Digest Fat?
Starting in the Mouth
Fat digestion starts in the mouth, as the saliva has special enzymes in it that help break down fats. This is called chemical digestion. Fats are made up of different kinds of lipids that do not dissolve in water. Of course, the mastication of the food, or chewing, is an important part of breaking down fats as well. The most important chemicals that help with breaking down fats in the mouth are called phospholipids (transforms fats into small drops), and lingual lipase.
Next: The Stomach
The next step in digesting fats happens after the fats are swallowed, in the stomach. Gastric lipase is an enzyme in the stomach that breaks down the fats further into diglycerides and fatty acids. The stomach is very efficient at this, and can complete about 30 percent of this conversion within 2-4 hours of ingestion.
Then: The Small Intestine
By a process called peristalsis, the fats and other stomach contents then travel to the small intestine. The liver helps out by releasing bile, which is made up of bile salts, lecithin, and emulsifiers, all of which further break down the fats. Here’s the time for the digestive enzymes to shine. Lipase, which is released by the pancreas, breaks down fats into fatty acids and monoglycerides. Then the bile from the liver move the fats to the small microvilli of the intestine, which are hair-like projections that will absorb the broken down fats.
Now the body absorbs the fats, which are going to regroup into what is called triacylglycerols. These combine with phospholipids, cholesterol, and a protein to form what is now a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins then move to the lymphatic system, which releases them into the bloodstream. However, if a person’s digestive tract is not working normally, as is the case with disorders of the liver and small bowel syndrome, the body will have a harder time both breaking down (digesting) and absorbing fats. People suffering from these conditions may have fatty stools.
Which Fats Are More Difficult to Digest?
A study published in 2018 found that fats that are solid at room temperature—like butter—are harder for the body to digest than fat droplets. This research, done with a digestive model, showed that solid fats broke down half as quickly, suggesting that solid fats can cause more digestive problems. However, the study did not use humans, but a digestive model, so it was not conclusive.
Improving Fat Digestion
There are ways that you can improve how your body processes fats, such as:
- Try a lower fat diet—Surprisingly, another 2018 study showed that a high fat Western diet actually promoted the growth of a gut bacteria that caused people to absorb more fat. So, when you can, avoid eating non-healthful fats. These are fats from things like processed food, red meats, and fried food.
- Increase healthful fats—These fats can be found in foods like nuts, fish, avocados, and coconut oil.
- Protect your liver—The bile salts that your liver makes are essential in digesting fat, so be kind to your liver by consuming less alcohol and refraining from recreational drug use.
To Sum It Up
In order to effectively digest fat, your body needs all of its systems working correctly, especially the liver, pancreas, and small intestine. If you think you are not breaking down the fats that you are consuming, be sure to consult a doctor right away, as this could be a symptom of a serious illness that needs to be treated.
On : 11.5.20