How your food is digested

The digestive system is where your body breaks down the food you eat into nutrients that can be absorbed into your body.

The digestive system is a series of hollow organs which form a continuous link from your mouth to your anus. These organs include: the oesophagus; stomach; small intestine (duodenum, jejunum and ileum); and the large intestine (colon, rectum and anus). Other organs that are part of the digestive system are the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

Find out about digestion of your food by viewing the diagram below for each part of your digestive system.

gastrointestinal system

1. Salivary glands

These secrete saliva, an alkaline fluid, to soften food, moisten the mouth and help swallowing. An enzyme called amylase starts to break down carbohydrate.

2. Oesophagus

Food is pushed through the oesophagus by muscular contractions and relaxations.

3. Stomach

The stomach is a holding tank. Special muscles enable it to move food around and break it down into smaller pieces.

The stomach lining secretes acidic gastric juices to digest carbohydrate and protein. Then the semi-digested food is delivered to the duodenum.

4a. Pancreas

This produces enzymes which are secreted into the duodenum to digest protein, starch and fat.

4b. Duodenum

Food can be digested here in only small amounts, so it's released from the stomach gradually when there is capacity to process it.

Pancreatic enzymes and bile finish off the chemical breakdown of the acidic stomach contents.

The inside surface is folded to increase the area for absorption of fats, sugars and amino acids.

5. Jejunum and ileum

Fats and other nutrients are absorbed here through the intestinal wall and are carried to the liver in the bloodstream.

The inside surface area of the jejunum and ileum is increased by folds and also by villi and microvilli (finger-like projections).

small intestine showing villi

6. Liver and gallbladder

Incoming blood from the gastrointestinal tract brings glucose from food breakdown which is stored as glycogen.

Bile, which is involved in digestion and absorption of fats, is made in the liver.

The gallbladder, a small sac located on the under-surface of the liver, stores and concentrates bile. The consumption of fatty foods triggers the release of bile from the gallbladder into the intestine via a series of ducts.

7. Large intestine

The large intestine is made up of the caecum, ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon and sigmoid colon and rectum.

Content from the small intestine comes in as fluid and gradually becomes solid as water and salts are absorbed out as it travels through the large intestine.

Mucus is secreted to aid the passage of faeces to the rectum.

The digestive system in more detail

The diagram below shows identifies more of the organs of the digestive system.

digestive system

Last Reviewed: 12 December 2012


1. Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA); Digestive Health Foundation (DHF). The digestive system; 3rd Edition, August 2010. (accessed Mar 2013).
2. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Your digestive system and how it works (updated 23 April 2012). (accessed Mar 2013.)


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