The bowel movement beet test: How to measure your digestive ‘transit time’

A few beets on a salad like the one above (red beets, orange, chives and pecans) can be a good test of your body's "transit time.". JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – If you’re as excited about using the colour of your urine to tell your overall health as the thousands of Global News readers who clicked on this article today, you’re going to love the “beet test.”

All you need is about half of a raw beet, and the stomach to glance into your toilet after a successful bowel movement sometime in the near future—hopefully between 12 and 24 hours after you chow down on that beet.

Holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy said it’s a simple way to “check your transit time.”

“What I mean by that is when you eat a food, how long does it actually take to come out the other end?” explained McCarthy. “This is a good indication of how your food is being processed and if you’re constipated.”

READ MORE: Colour of urine can tell a lot about your overall health

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McCarthy said even though a lot of people are “regular,” they’re not eliminating effectively. The beet test allows you to get a sense of whether you fall into that ideal 12-24 hour range, since you’ll be able to see the bright red pigment in your stools.

Fiery red poop 24 hours or more later means you’ve got a “slow transit time,” also known as constipation—a common result of the beet test.

“That food is sitting in your gut for that many days,” said McCarthy, who suggested increasing the fibre in your diet as one solution. Eating chia or flax seeds, more vegetables, pears or berries can combat constipation, but don’t overdo it if you’re not used to it.

AP Photo/Dean Fosdick

“If you’re not someone who eats fibre, then you want to increase these fibrous-rich foods slowly because it can also have the opposite effect,” she said.

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Drinking water is another key method to improve your digestion.

“A lot of people have the slow transit time because they’re just not consuming enough water. Their intestines just get very dehydrated and food just doesn’t move through effectively.”

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Less common is if you’re seeing those beets in less than 12 hours. McCarthy said that means you’re not really absorbing all the nutrients from your food. You might be eating too fast and not fully chewing your meals, which will leave you with food particles in your stools.

Or you could have too many stimulants in your daily life, like coffee.

“You have less absorption of nutrients when you consume stimulants because they basically force food through the gut much faster,” she said.

So take your raw or roasted beets—peeled or unpeeled—and eat them as you wish: in bites or grated as a salad topping (for more on the beet method and a beet recipe, check out McCarthy’s book here).

McCarthy warns against using pickled beets from a jar since boiled, over-processed beets don’t have the rich red pigment that will stand out in your lavatory.

Another helpful at-home strategy to promote digestive health is lemon and water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It won’t do anything weird to your body waste, but McCarthy said it’ll give you a better quality bowel movement. (A BQBM, if you will).

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The bowel movement beet test: How to measure your digestive ‘transit time’ - image

“Lemon helps stimulate the liver’s detoxifying enzymes. And it really helps to stimulate you to have a good bowel movement, because the lemon actually stimulates your gallbladder to produce bile, and bile—along with fibre—is a carrier of toxins.”

McCarthy said she recommends this for clients who have heartburn.

“You think that heartburn is excess acid, but 90 per cent of people who have heartburn actually don’t produce enough acid,” she said. “They’re digesting by fermentation, which as a byproduct causes gaseous substances to push up through the esophagus and cause pain. So lemon and water is really helpful for preventing that.”

Use a quarter to a half of a freshly squeezed lemon in a cup of room temperature water, and drink it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning—for maximal absorption.

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And after drinking all the lemon water and eating the beets, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy digestive experience, and loaded up with a helpful tip to share at your next cocktail potty, er, party.

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