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Joy McCarthy

Nicholas Collister

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Many North Americans suffer from constipation and what some might call slow "transit time." As a nutritionist, this is one of the most common problems I see with my clients – straining to have a bowel movement, or BM.

Beyond constipation, have you ever thought about how long it takes from the time you ingest a food substance to the time it takes to exit out other end? Perhaps not, but this is called your transit time and it provides some valuable insight to your digestive health.

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From the time you eat, it should take about 12 to 24 hours for your digestion system to break the food down into its smallest elements, deliver the nutrients exactly where they need to go and then eliminate the waste products when you have a BM.

If you've checked out your BMs, you may have noticed that it is tough to figure out if yesterday's dinner has in fact made an appearance. Most BMs are chestnut brown and don't typically take on the colour of what you most recently ate. Beets and a few select other foods are the exception.

The Beet Test

The best way to figure out your transit time is to eat some beets. Not just any beets, because those pickled beets you buy from the grocery store are usually far too processed with added sugars and they won't have the same effect as cooking them yourself. Instead, buy some raw beets and simply wash and peel them. Keep in mind however that you don't have to peel them because the skin is edible, full of nutrients and detoxifying fiber.

Two ways to prepare them:

1. Eat them raw: Using a cheese grater, grate half a beet into a salad or on top of fish or chicken.

2. Bake them: Heat your oven to 350F and place beets into a covered baking dish chopped into bite-size chunks. Bake for about 45 to 60 minutes until they are fork-tender. You can season them with some sea salt and pepper and drizzle some olive oil once they are ready to enjoy!

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Discover your transit time

The second half of this experiment is to take a look the next time you have BM and take note of the colour. Don't be alarmed if you notice any red pigment in your urine or BM, because that's what beets do.

If you're not seeing red within 24 hours, then your body is taking too long to move waste through your digestive system. When waste sits too long in the gut, reabsorption of cholesterol, hormones and waste products can occur.

Improve your transit time, if needed

Are you wondering how to get the BM out faster? The best natural solutions for improving your transit time are:

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat fibre-rich and water-dense foods including fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. Some of my favourite fibre-rich, nutrient-dense and hydrating foods for improving your transit time are: apples, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chia seeds, kale, pears, sweet potatoes and watermelon.
  • Reduce stress. Your gut takes a vacation when you are stressed out, which can result in one of two results: slow transit time, or super-speedy transit time – neither are desirable.
  • Identify and eliminate common food sensitivities.
  • Increase fermented foods and talk to your natural healthcare practitioner about the right probiotic for you.
  • Exercise, especially yoga. There are yoga poses that help to stimulate the digestion system.

Joy McCarthy is a certified holistic nutritionist (CNP, RNCP), founder of the wellness clinic, Joyous Health, and a faculty member at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. The author of Joyous Health: Eat & Live Well without Dieting, she is also a nutrition expert on Global TV's The Morning Show and CBC's "Steven & Chris." You can follow her on Twitter here, Instagram here and on Facebook here.

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