The Beet Test - A Step-By-Step Guide for Determining Your Gut Transit Time

The Beet Test: A Simple and Effective Way to Measure Gut Transit Time

If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes for something you eat to travel through your system and come out the other end, look no further – you’re in the right place!  (You’d be shocked how often people wonder about this.)  Knowing your digestive transit time can tell you a lot about your gut health, hormones, detoxification, and overall well-being. Enter: the “beet test” – an unconventional but straight-forward, cost-effective, easy-to-perform method for measuring your transit time.

In this article, I’ll explain what exactly gut transit time is, why it matters, how the beet test works, and how you can interpret the results. (Warning: you might look at beets in a whole new way, after reading this.)

What is digestive transit time?

Digestive transit time or “gut transit time” refers to the amount of time it takes for food to travel through your digestive system, from the moment you consume it to when it’s eliminated as waste. (The difference between these two times = your transit time.)

Your gut transit time tells you how effectively and efficiently your body is processing and absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste.  We don’t want it to be too long or too short.

What’s a healthy gut transit time?

According to a 2014 report from the Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility, it should take an average of between 10 to 73 hours for food and its remnants (respectively) to travel all the way from your mouth through your entire digestive tract, and eventually into the toilet. (1)  

  • This reference range was based on the average of most Americans.

Since it’s safe to assume most Americans aren’t in optimal health, in my field of functional medicine and functional nutrition, we don’t like national averages to set the standard – we prefer to strive for optimal health!

Anecdotally, based on what I’ve observed in clients via my functional nutrition practice, a more optimal gut transit time frame falls within a tighter range of ~12 to 24 hours. I’ve also heard some of my holistic and functional medicine colleagues say they prefer a range of ~10-18 hours.

Let’s settle on an optimal gut transit time frame of ~10-24 hours, for the purposes of this article.

Why care about gut transit time?

Having an optimal digestive transit time is crucial for a healthy gut (and subsequently a more balanced immune system, happier hormones, more positive moods, less anxiety, better focus, and lots more!).

  • Too fast a transit time (less than 10-12 hours) indicates poor nutrient absorption, maldigestion or malabsorption.
  • On the other hand, a too-slow transit time (more than 24 hours, or especially greater than 48-73 hours clinically) is correlated with constipation, gas, bloating, reflux, nausea, poor detoxification, hormone imbalance (i.e. “estrogen dominance”) and/or other issues.

Bottom line: Understanding and optimizing your gut transit time is a key part of a healthier mind and body, and overall better quality of life.

Introducing the beet test

The beet test is a simple at-home method that involves consuming a relatively large quantity fo beets, and then tracking how long it takes for their distinctive red color to appear in your stool. 

How it works:  Beets contain a red pigment called betacyanin, which isn’t fully broken down during digestion. By monitoring how much time lapses between when you ate the beets and when the red color appears in your stool, you can estimate your digestive transit time.

Performing the beet test: step-by-step

Step 1:  Choose your beets

Opt for ~1 cup of fresh or cooked beets, alone or as part of a meal. (Don’t do this with fermented beets, since they don’t contain all the same key constituents that give you an accurate reading!)

While canned beets could technically work for this test, I’m generally not a fan of them cause of the higher sodium level – but you do you!

Step 2:  Preparation

Wash the beets thoroughly, peel off the skin, and cut them into small, bite-sized pieces.  

If applicable: roast the beets in the oven (optional: with some olive oil and spices) for about 30 minutes, at 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit.

3 tasty beet recipes to try

To make this experience a little more fun and enjoyable, consider trying out one of the following beet recipes:

Step 3:  Consumption

Consume a significant amount (at least 1 cup) of beets in one sitting. This could be in the form of a beet salad, 100% beet juice, or roasted beets. 

Make sure to note the date and start time when you consume the beets.

Step 4:  Observation

Over the next few days, keep a close eye on your poop. Watch for any changes in color and note when you first observe a reddish hue. 

Make sure t note the date and time when you see this.

Step 5:  Interpretation

The appearance of a red color in your poop (which may even resemble blood) indicates that the beets have reached the end of your digestive system. 

The time between when you ate the beets to when you see the color change will give you a pretty accurate estimate of your digestive transit time.

Less than 10 hours

If the color change happens within 10 hours or less, it suggests a relatively fast transit time. 

Usually (but not always), people with a too-fast transit time also tend to see loose and/or light colored stools which would further indicate maldigestion/malabsorption. 

Loose stools and a too-fast gut transit time often occur in cases of diarrhea–predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatic/gallbladder issues, or hydrogen-dominant / hydrogen sulfide-dominant small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

If your digestive transit time is too fast, you should consider consulting a doctor to further investigate why this is happening.

10 to 24 hours

A transit time between 10 to 24 hours is considered optimal and indicates a very healthy digestive system. Nice work!

25 to 72 hours

If the color change takes longer than 24 hours but less than 72 hours, it suggests a functionally slower transit time. While this isn’t usually a clinical concern, people who fall within this range may be more prone to mild constipation, hormonal imbalance, acne, or other “functional” chronic health burdens.

Consider consulting with a functional dietitian and/or holistic nutritionist who can help you to optimize your gut transit time and overall health.

Greater than 72 hours

This is indicative of a too-slow transit time.  This may be a clinical concern and sign of constipation/IBS-C, methane-dominant small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and/or inefficient nutrient absorption. 

Consult with a qualified healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Other ways to measure gut motility and transit time

Okay, so beets aren’t for everyone.  I get it!  They’re earthy and they have a very distinct flavor and texture.

If beets aren’t your cup of tea, no need to panic! There are other ways you can effectively measure your gut transit time without having to force down a bunch of beets.

Feel free to explore the following alternative ways to measure your gut transit time:

Fundamental tips for improving your gut transit time

If you’re among the millions struggling with constipation, it may be implementing the following fundamental lifestyle habits if you aren’t already! 

Eat a balanced diet: Include fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help promote regular bowel movements.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your stools soft and easy to pass.

Exercise regularly: Physical activity helps stimulate digestion and promotes healthy bowel movements.

Manage stress: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga on a regular basis, to reduce stress levels.

Consult a healthcare professional: If you experience persistent digestive issues or have concerns about your digestive transit time, seek guidance from a qualified healthcare provider. (Call me biased, but finding a clinician who is professionally licensed and trained in functional nutrition and holistic health will give you the best of both worlds!)

More resources 

I’ve got lots to say about all things gut health and gut motility! Please take it upon yourself to nerd out on any or all the following holistic gut health nutrition articles:

Final thoughts

Monitoring your digestive transit time through the beet test is a simple and informative way to assess the efficiency of your digestive system. By understanding how long it takes for food to pass through your body, you can tweak your diet and lifestyle to promote better digestion and overall well-being. 

Remember, digestive health plays a vital role in your overall health, so take care of your gut, and it will take care of you!

Next steps

Let’s stay connected! If you’re navigating gut issues, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. Join my private community of holistic-minded folks on gut healing journeys in my private Facebook group! I hope to see you there.

Repair Your Gut With Holistic Nutrition and Herbs - Jenna Volpe - Facebook Group

XO – Jenna

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