Print Friendly, PDF & Email
digestion - kids eating food

Kids eating food (thanks to USDA) – get ready to digest food!

How do you digest food?

When animals, including people like you, digest their food, they use an oxidation reaction to break down big hydrocarbon molecules like sugar into different molecules.

Cell digestion
Digestive system
What is an oxidation reaction?
All our chemistry articles

Why do we need oxygen?

In order for your cells to break down sugar molecules made of hydrogen and carbon atoms, they have to combine the sugar with oxygen, just like wood needs oxygen to make a fire and iron needs oxygen to rust. That’s why you have to breathe to stay alive: without oxygen, your body can’t break down sugar to make energy to keep you going.

How do fires work?
What is rust?
Respiration (breathing)

From oxygen to carbon dioxide

Your cells mix oxygen molecules with sugar molecules and get an oxidation reaction – a slow reaction where the atoms combine in new ways to make carbon dioxide molecules and water molecules, with some leftover energy.

What is carbon dioxide?
More about water
Poop and pee – excretion
All our biology articles

The cells then poop out the carbon dioxide molecules, along with any water they don’t want, into your blood. Your blood carries the carbon dioxide molecules to your lungs and you breathe it out. Your blood also carries the water to your kidneys, for you to get rid of as pee. The cell keeps the energy to use itself.

children running in a game

Children playing a running game

Why do we need energy?

Digestion gives off just the same amount of energy as burning the same amount of food in a fire. Inside your body, though, you use that energy to power your muscle cells and keep your heart beating and your brain working, instead of using it to make a fire. A lot of the energy you use goes to your big brain – about 1/5 of all your energy. But it depends what you are doing. Thinking hard uses a lot more energy than daydreaming does. Your liver, heart, kidneys, and muscles use most of the rest. But there’s still plenty of heat from the oxidation reaction to keep you warm, too.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about how we digest food? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by Doing – yeast digestion
More about digestion
More about oxidation reactions

Bibliography and further reading about how we digest food:

Biology home