Nutrients must be broken down to a size capable of being absorbed into a microscopic cell. Each type of nutrient has a basic building block that can be absorbed. For sugars, this basic unit is a monosaccharide. For proteins, this is an amino acid. Lipids in the form of triglycerides are broken into glycerol and fatty acid chains, while cholesterol is absorbed intact.

The wall of the digestive tract is made up of four major layers: mucosa, submucosa, muscularis, and a connective tissue covering called a serosa or adventitia. Each section of the digestive tube has specific functions. The mouth and esophagus ingest and transport, and the stomach blends the material with digestive juices. The final breakdown of the food is completed in the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed. The large intestine salvages most of the water from the intestinal contents and prepares the solid waste for elimination.

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