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Child eating a yogurt. © INRA, Laurence Prévosto

The fate of food in the digestive tract

Updated on 12/02/2015
Published on 01/31/2013

The digestive tract is an extraordinary tool for transforming matter. As it is highly compact and adaptable, it ensures the transformation of ingested foods into nutrients that can be absorbed by our digestive mucosa through mechanical, chemical, biochemical and biological processes. INRA currently possesses a combination of knowledge and tools that make it possible to integrate all of these events to create an in silico model of the fate of food in the digestive tract.

The aim is to improve our knowledge about the digestive process: What is the role of the "structure" of a food at different scales, on the availability kinetics of "molecules of interest" during digestion, and what are their effects on humans?

More information about Cepia research can be found on the Cepia "Results" website page.

100 results to understand the fate of food in the digestive tract

Within this research network set up to increase our understanding of food digestion, more than 100 peer-reviewed papers were published between 2009 and 2012. The key results obtained so far, are highlighted in a leaflet providing scientists interested in food science and nutrition with the opportunity to share a global view of the breakdown of food in the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the large intestine, as well as the mechanisms leading to physiological impacts on humans.

résultats du programme Modaltub. © INRA

Read now :  100 results to understand the fate of food in the digestive tract

The objective of the network, called Modaltub, is to determine the role of the "structure" of a foods at different scales, on the availability kinetics of "molecules of interest" i.e. nutrients and bioactive compounds during digestion and to emphasize the effects of these molecules on humans. The general strategy developed consists in modifying the structure of foods by playing with their processing conditions and then following the disintegration of the food matrix in the different compartments of the gut (mouth, stomach, intestine) using in vitro and in vivo (animal, human) digestion models.

Digested samples are characterized at different scales, from the molecular to the macroscopic level. Integration of the entire cascade of events occurring in the gut during digestion is accomplished by mathematical modeling. Understanding the disintegration of food in the gastrointestinal tract and its physiological impact on humans will allow the development of new foods dedicated to specific sub-population (infant, elderly, athlete…) by a reverse engineering approach

système digestif. © Fotolia_12581987, fotolia.com
système digestif © Fotolia_12581987, fotolia.com

The breakdown/re-assembly mechanisms of food matrices and of their constituents in the digestive tract, associated with the physiological effects of targeted molecules of interest.

the fate of food in the digestive tract. © inra, isabelle souchon,didier dupont
the fate of food in the digestive tract © inra, isabelle souchon,didier dupont

•    Axis 1: Food matrices and physiological targets
How to structure a food in order to increase its sensory and nutritional properties?
Priority 1: Exploring structure effects through "data mining" and enriching the "food" database  
•    Axis 2: Breakdown of food in the digestive tract
What are the effects of food composition/structure on the kinetics of food bolus formation and digestion?  Can they be modelled/predicted?
Priority 2: From what exists towards more complexity (model food vs. complex food/food intake)
Priority 3: Understanding the food/microbiota relationship.  What is the role of the food (protective vs. selective) in the adaptation of the ecosystem to the host?
•    Axis 3: Tool development
What methods and tools should be shared to monitor bioactive molecules in digestates and to identify "key" mechanisms?
Priority 4: Evolution over space and time: Enzymatic kinetics in a heterogeneous environment.
Obtaining efficient tools: sensors, imagery, analytical techniques, digestors and databases

Detailed presentation

Devenir de l’aliment dans le Tube Digestif, p (english version coming soon)

visuel action cost infogest - CEPIA. © INRA
visuel action cost infogest - CEPIA © INRA
Cost Action INFOGEST Improving Health Properties of Food by Sharing our Knowledge on the Digestive Process


INFOGEST aims at improving the current scientific knowledge onhow foods are disintegrated during digestion. This improved knowledge will help the scientific community and the industry to design new foods with improved nutritional and functional properties.

INFOGEST will provide a timely opportunity to fulfil the need for developing a trans-European network to improve dissemination of critical research findings, develop truly multidisciplinary collaborations and harmonise approaches between groups and discipline areas spanning the main stages of food digestion.

Up to now (July 2013) INFOGEST gathers more than 260 research scientists from 90 institutions in 32 countries (EU, Argentina, Australia, Canada, New Zealand…). It is open to new participants.

Infogest is coordonated by Didier Dupont, Science and Technology of Milk and Egg, Inra-Agrocampus Ouest, Rennes

Scientific contact(s):